Sunday, January 29, 2012

Potpourri #8

A friend of my dad came through town in mid January with a tour group that was going through Peru, Chile, and Argentina.  (Their trip is over now, but you can see their exploits at  I met up with them for a really nice dinner in a high-class section of Providencia.  It was a lot of fun seeing a group of Americans like that, and getting a good meal out of it was icing on the cake.
For the first time in 6 months, I felt short and brown-haired once again.

Anyway, from the dinner he gave me a remote-controlled helicopter.  My dad's been raving about them since Christmastime, so I was excited to get this one up and running.  The next day, I went to my local pharmacy to pick up some batteries for the helicopter.  After walking into the store though, I realized I had no idea what the Spanish word for "battery" is.  Oh well, I thought.  I'll wing it.

I walked up to the counter and noticed a couple different boxes of Duracell batteries behind the pharmacist.  One box had 4 double-As, and one box had 2.  "Disculpe," I started, "dame 2 cajas de Duracell".  The lady behind the counter gave me a timid grin (odd, I thought), and asked me if I wanted a box of 6, or of 3.  I furrowed my brow, clearly seeing boxes of 2 and 4 behind her.  "No, please, I'd like a box of 4, and of 2".
"That's not possible," she replied. "6 or 3?"  Mildly annoyed at this point, I asked for a box of 6. 

She nodded, and then reached under the counter and handed me a six-pack of Durex condoms.

"No, Duracells!"  I responded with a laugh, pointing to the packages behind her head on the wall.  She turned around, and her cheeks flushed ever so slightly.
"Pilas."  She said to me, as she grabbed one box of 4, and one of 2 off the wall rack.
"Gracias.  Pilas."  I smiled, and quickly exited the store.


My morning classes with teenagers just ended last Thursday.  It was a fun class to teach, but it galvanized my belief that I never want to teach in a traditional school.  With the exception of a few girls who actually wanted to learn, most of them had the attention span of butterflies.  I had a couple kids skateboard inside the classroom, and if I ever left the whiteboard marker out while assisting students, I would turn around to find pictures of ducks smoking joints.

I came back from break on the last day to find a page from one of their notebooks which just said "Teacher te amo teacher rico me encanta teacher..." etc etc over and over again.  It was pretty adorable, but I didn't feel comfortable taking a picture of it.  Best to leave that sort of potentially indicting evidence undocumented.

Top row: Camila, Matias, Tamara, Valentina, Carla, Valentina, Joaquin, Cristobal, Catherine, Alejandro, Valentina, Oriana.  Bottom row: Kenji, me, Panchito, Samir

Monday, January 23, 2012

Surfing in the Pacific

I spent this past weekend with my buddies Felipe and Wasi out on the coast.  There's a string of cities along the coast just outside Santiago that are very popular during the summer months.  Everybody wants to get out of the heat created by the walls of mountains encircling Santiago, and the cities of San Sebastian, Isla Negra, Algarrobo, Vina del Mar, Valparaiso, and others are right on the Pacific Ocean about 30 mins away; the perfect weekend escape.

The high point of the weekend were the surfing lessons that Felipe and I took.  A friend gave us the name of a local who informally taught surf lessons out of a little lagoon close to Isla Negra.  We set up an appointment for Friday evening, and made the trek out to the coast.

Following the directions the instructor gave us, we turned off the main highway into a little residential neighborhood.  The roads twisted and turned around in such a way that it was extremely difficult to tell if we were still on the correct road (one of the annoying things about driving in Chile - the streets are practically never labeled) or not.  We flagged down a couple families walking along the sidewalks and asked if they knew where our beach was located.  Every one of them looked at the rest of the people in their group, and gave us a shrugging "no".  It was not the most reassuring of responses.

After bobbing and weaving through the streets in our truck, we finally reached the dead end described to us by the instructor.  It was a small extension on a dirt road with an end railing made out of large debarked tree sections.  We parked, and walked through the pine forest in front of us.  Upon coming out the other side, we found ourselves atop a steep cliff, overlooking a large touristy beach on our right, and our surfing lagoon directly in front of us.

This was the lagoon in which we'd be surfing.  The two sides acted as a funnel for waves that came in, and amplified them enough to surf even on calmer days (like the one we were there for).  After walking down to the shore, we met our surf instructor, Gabriel.  He'd been surfing for 15 years, and had all the mannerisms and attitude one would expect of a surf instructor.  It never ceases to amaze me how certain activities translate themselves to certain personalities, regardless of language, culture, or location.

We started with some basic stretching.  The pictures will do a better job of explaining the stretches than I could.

As you can see, the stretches Gabriel had us do ranged from the mildly useful to the clinically insane.  Doggy paddling on dry land isn't exactly how I'd plan to warm up for surfing.  After getting through our retarded gauntlet, Gabriel decided it was time for us to get out into the ocean.  We strapped into the boards, and headed into the lagoon.

Sadly there aren't any good pictures of us up on the boards (that's a 16 year old kid whose out there every day swimming.  I was able to stand a couple times, but it was too short-lived and not really glamorous enough to have any pictures taken.  Despite that, it was magnificent being out on the ocean.  The lagoon was beautiful, and every so often a flock of sea birds would fly overhead.  We would know when a wave was worth surfing, as it built itself up at the mouth of the lagoon, and slowly roll into the shore building steam.  It felt like slowly ascending the first hill the front car of a roller coaster, until the ride was finally upon you.  At this point, it's safe to say I've been bit by the bug.  I look forward to my next trip out.

As we were leaving, the sun was setting over the lagoon.  A fitting ending to such a day.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dunkin Donuts in Chile

I've recently started teaching English to a CEO of a local university.  Classes are held at her house in Los Dominicos, an upscale neighborhood in Western Santiago.  She's a total Spanish type-A personality, always interrupting and interjecting her ideas when I'm trying to explain a rule or a concept.  We've had about 6 classes now, and I have yet to reach a verbal period on any sentence.

However, hanging out in the upscale part of town does have its benefits.  As I was wandering back to the bus stop one day, look what I found!

One of the funny things about living in a foreign country is you get excited about seeing common super-chain restaurants from the US.  And one of the funny things about seeing Dunkin Donuts down here was what was on the menu.  Or rather, what wasn't.
I always get a kick out of seeing menus like this, because they use the same symbol for the Chilean Peso as they do for the US Dollar.  I picture some ignorant tourist coming in and going "1,280 dollars for a latte?  So overpriced!"  But I digress.  Take a close look at the menu, with respect to the "Cafe" section.  I'll give you a clue, "cafe" is Spanish for "coffee".

That's right.  There is no coffee.  Dunkin Donuts in Chile does not sell coffee.  They have lattes, expressos, and every other kind of fruity, saccharine monstrosity that 14 year old girls love to pretend is coffee EXCEPT for the backbone of Dunkin Donuts.  The universe is clearly playing some cruel joke on me.

I asked the lady behind the desk about it, who seemed thoroughly confused that I could possibly want a coffee from Dunkin Donuts.  She went and asked her manager, who said that all she had to do was water down an espresso, and it would be the same thing.  I wanted to smack both of their heads together like a 3 stooges episode.

Anyway, I ended up getting my "coffee", and it turned out to be pretty good.  At least, it was as bad as a normal Dunkin Donuts coffee in the states.  A little burned taste of home.

Also interesting down there was the selection of Donuts.  They had some of the same ones as the US, but many donuts were different than their Bostonian counterparts.

This one in particular seemed quite Chilean to me - the "Chocolate Volcano"
Sadly, no Boston Creme Pie donuts.  Once my Spanish is up to snuff, the owner of this branch can expect to receive a VERY strongly worded letter from a frustrated patron.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

On the horizon

Sorry for the lack of posts recently - I'm trying to get grad school applications in.  I promise to start again strong in a week or so.

Monday, January 2, 2012


One thing Chileans love to do is use salt on everything.  Anything that goes on the grill, it is salted to the point where you can see the white stuff piling up on top of the meat itself.  I've seen a man sitting on a park bench with an apple in one hand, and a saltshaker in the other.  Before each bite, he would dust up the meat of his apple, and then sink his teeth in. I watched him eat about half the apple this way before my stomach demanded I move along.

I made pasta the other night, and while reading the directions (in Spanish), they recommended I bring a pot of heavily salted water to boil before adding the noodles.  Feeling crazy, I followed their directions.  As I was waiting for the water to boil (not watching it, for obvious reasons), I started thinking about how this would change the makeup of my pasta.  My reasoning went something like this:  adding a substrate like salt would increase the boiling temperature of the water.  Increasing the boiling temperature of the water would cause the water to cook the pasta quicker, thus the noodles would be a little softer after the allotted time of 7 minutes.  Interested to see if my hypothesis was correct, I took a couple noodles out after 6 minutes, and a few at 7 to see if there was any noticible difference in the texture of the noodles.

With my first bite, I thought "This tastes...salty."

It never even crossed my mind that the pasta would taste salty.  Forest: missed for trees.