Saturday, February 27, 2010

rumble rumble

I woke up this morning to a tsunami advisory for the California coast in my EDIS mailbox, and then email from one of my fellow volunteers worrying about the 8.8(!) earthquake in Chile and wondering if the Field Director was okay. (She's fine, busily trying to assess thing and figure out if any plans need to change.)

8.8, you say. That seems to put it at #7 ever.

President Bachelet says things are under control and they don't anticipate needing international aid. Unlike Haiti, Chile is a generally high-functioning country: building codes in the mid-90s mean that more modern buildings can handle a quake, low corruption means office buildings are not made out of duct tape and bubble gum, and a working government means they can get aid where it's needed. So while it's surely a mess (the Washington Post has some pictures), I don't think it will be the axe to the head that Haiti's was, and I suspect it won't affect the WorldTeach plans.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Went running this morning, had lunch with Anna and Leslie, spent a couple hours scoping out clothing options at REI and Redwood Trading Post, did Cyndy's aikido class, and spent 15 minutes after class taking high falls for one of the guys.

My body feels well-used.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

21 days

Nope, I'm not ready, but things are progressing well enough. I also don't know where I'm going; not that it really matters, it doesn't affect any of my preparations, and except for the biggest cities (where we won't be) in the central region, the city names are all meaningless to me. It's pretty well guaranteed that there won't be aikido or Zen established wherever I'm going, and that it's going to be a multi-hour trip into one of the big cities...and those are really the only two questions.

WorldTeach has sent us details about the first hostel we'll be staying at, in "a quaint little neighborhood" in the center of Santiago. Ten days of training, then we're off to a different hostel for some amount of Ministry of Education training.

I went to Nordstrom Rack today and actually did clothes shopping. I still don't have khakis I like, but I did get a pair of grey slacks and a pair of slightly more formal black wool gabardine slacks. I'm not sure how practical those are, since they're allegedly dry-clean only, and they're very much like a pair I already have, but these will fit properly. And I bought a blue dress shirt that actually fits: my sweet spot for off-the-rack shirts appears to be 15/33. I think I've got 5 normal dress shirts, and one out-to-the-bar dress shirt; I think I'll get one or two pairs of khakis, one or two shirts/pants from Ex Officio or something similar, and call it done for clothes.

Anna and I are taking good care of each other. Being apart seems more real and less fun every day, but that's no surprise. We'll adjust.

I'm making the rounds and trying to spend time with my friends before I go. If you're in the area, come to the Dutch Goose in Menlo Park from 7-10pm (give or take) on Sunday, March 7th. There will be beer and food and awesome people and stuff. I'm hoping someone brings cake in some form.

(HINT: I enjoy cupcakes, both chocolate and vanilla; not a fan of lemon, or fruity cakes in general.)

(If you bring me an ice cream cake, I'm never speaking to you again, even when I no longer have the excuse of living in South America.)

Monday, February 22, 2010


A while ago Anna had the brilliant idea that we should go someplace for a weekend before I leave. It was my job to arrange it, so I eventually settled on Bolinas (Google map), this wacky little place in a corner of Marin County. It's not unlike Provincetown, where, as one gay man on Cape Cod told me, "Oh no. Those people live at the end of the earth, and there's a reason they live at the end of the earth." Every time CalTrans would put up a sign on Highway 1, Bolinas residents would steal it, and eventually they gave up and there's no sign.



On Saturday night we gave a guy a ride into town, because he hitchhiked by standing in front of the car with a flashlight. Older gentleman, looked like he walked out of the Irish countryside: Van Dyke beard, tweed jacket and vest, classic flat cap. Also drunk (and according to Anna, gay). He sort of pushed his way in: I had to clear the seat from passenger-related stuff, and as Anna started to say "I don't know if we have space" he interrupted in the middle and said, "Oh, that's all right, that's fine" and started occupying space as I cleared it.

I asked him what he was heading in for, and he said, "Oh, only on Sunday nights, there's an OPEN MIKE, and I am going to take advantage of it! I'm going to read some poems."
"Whose poems are you going to read?"
"Well, I have some fresh ones here...yes! Sunday night!"

Anna and I sort of looked at each other: he was very excited, but it was Saturday, not Sunday.

I said, "You know, it's actually Saturday."
"It is?! Are you sure?"
"Yep. Want us to turn around?"
"Oh, Saturday! Then I'll be dancing! They always have a band on Saturdays, and I'll be dancing! Marvelous!"

And just think, after dancing, he still had Sunday to look forward to.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

crazy crazy crazy

The New York Times investigates the small-town courts of New York State, where justices are elected, and don't have to have any legal training, or even a high school diploma. Also, no oversight and very little accountability.

What. The. Fuck.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

why you shouldn't start fights with people

This is a video of a fight on the East Bay's AC Transit. There's blood, but no one gets maimed or killed. There are so many moments of human failure and lameness that I feel compelled to write them down.

  • Epic Beard Guy (as we'll call him, following this video) doesn't seem very nice, and quite possibly did say something racist.
  • Black Guy views violence, or the threat of violence, as the correct response to someone being a jerk.
  • Epic Beard Guy is a jerk.
  • Black Guy seems to get lost in his self-image and does not properly consider that a very large enraged white man might be able to fight effectively.
  • The black woman recording the video says "Beat the shit out of the white boy!", but when Black Guy starts losing, shouts "Stop hitting him!".
  • Black Guy, bleeding profusely, says "Imma fuck you up" to the guy who just beat the crap out of him.
  • The woman recording the video steals Epic Beard Guy's bag that he left behind on the bus. What the hell?
Classy people.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

28 days

Cool link of the day: large optical illusion sculpture.

Departure is coming up fast. I have a long list of things yet to do, but I've decided not to be stressed about it. I also seem to have decided that trying to get individual health insurance is not worth the trouble: that even if I'm accepted, they'll easily find some cause for rescission if I actually need to make a claim. I'll find some travel insurance for the overseas part, anyway.

(Factoid: it kind of looks like having health insurance doesn't make a difference in your mortality rate; economists investigate, with links here and here. Note that this doesn't say anything about the desirability of insurance, or measures of your health or quality of life; it's just "are you more likely to die".)

The mailing list for the Chile group is...a fountain of insights into my fellow travelers. At least two are middle-aged women, so my theory about it being mostly younger twentysomethings seems to be wrong. Among other things, there have been a variety of views about how prepared we should be, what we should bring, that sort of thing:

  • "I don't know what to pack!" (the thick booklet they sent us has at least 2 pages of packing lists and recommendations.)
  • "I grilled the volunteer who interviewed me, and she said she only brought one skirt and two shirts and she was fine. And she packed the night before she left." (certainly a valid approach, though not one I'm a fan of.)
  • "I know we're all worried about the cold, but I just checked the weather and it's 80F in Santiago. Stick that in your burrito, compadres. I think we can relax and have some fun first!" (possibly my favorite. I'm pretty sure they don't eat burritos in Chile, and the quotes from past volunteers go on at length about how it's not only cold, but they don't do much for heating.)

The Field Director sent out a long email with more details about meeting us at the airport and such, along with a gentle but firm reminder that it does get extremely cold and they don't heat the buildings, and past volunteers have neglected to bring warm things and have had to have them sent from home.

There are 17 of us. There are only 2 down in Patagonia, which is why I didn't get into that one: it's fully-funded, and they had a lot of applicants.

We're volunteering directly with the Ministry of Education, but before the Ministry training, we have ten (10) days of WorldTeach training. I don't know how long the Ministry training is, or where my placement is.

We're expected to round out our classroom teaching by starting extracurricular stuff. Normally it seems that's a drama club or something English-related, and technically I could do that (I'm a bad conductor, but probably up to the task of teaching people some a cappella singing if I needed to). But in reality the things that are important to me that I have enough skill to share with people are aikido and Zen practice. So I'm thinking more and more about that, especially aikido which is more universally accessible...hopefully I get a chance to teach people how to play with me.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

where I might be going

No, I don't know yet, but since I couldn't remember what the broad description was (after all, I ended up in this program after being turned down for Patagonia and then the other program being canceled), this is from the Placements and Housing section of the Program Profile:

Volunteers will most likely be working in small towns to medium-sized cities like Zapallar, Santa Cruz, Quilpue, Limache, Pichilemu, San Felipe, La Calera and La Ligua. Inglés Abre Puertas [English Opens Doors, the Ministry of Education program] will match volunteers to teaching sites according to the needs of the schools and the experience and interests of the volunteers.

Those places are 2-4 hours outside Santiago, often closer to Valparaíso (city names have links to Google Maps with distances to the big cities). It could be that as a Spanish speaker, they'll want me to go someplace more remote (and I did indicate a preference for a not-as-big community); then again, maybe they'll want someone there who has actual teaching experience.

Now you know what I know.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

what's needed at the time

Anna taught in the city tonight, so I watched the kid for a little while before Cem came to take over. (I was originally going to the dojo, but some friends had dinner in Sunnyvale, and I realized I needed some socializing and I see them far less than I see the dojo.)

My shift involved dinner, and I discovered that even if you're in a funk, nothing motivates you to take action like having to feed a small person before they get really obnoxious. As my friend Eric said, "Good job preventing your funk from becoming a living, screaming nightmare."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

someone else's culture consumption

The checkout machines at the library give you a receipt when you're done, listing everything you checked out. It's a pretty useless and wasteful thing, and as far as I know we all throw the receipts out immediately. Today someone left theirs, and it was really interesting.

This isn't light reading for anyone, even a dedicated economics nerd. Keynes and Galbraith are two of the towering figures of 20th-century economics. The General Theory is one of the landmarks of economics for all time: when you make a list, you start with Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, then a few centuries later comes General Theory.

Excellent movies, but pretty intense.

I guess at the end of the day, we all have to relax.

Monday, February 8, 2010

blog notes and miscellanea

You can comment on blog posts: there's a little "Comment" link on the bottom. I'm thinking of using my departure as an opportunity to get off Facebook, so blog comments will probably be the way to respond to whatever I write.

(I'm assuming that once I'm in a foreign country, I'll write interesting things. Otherwise I'll have to go find more caskets in old cop cars to take pictures of.)

All my photos from Massachusetts in January are posted at Flickr. They don't all have titles or anything because I got bored, and many are blurry and should be deleted, but whatever.

living together, day 3.

I hadn't expected to find somebody I wanted to see every day, but given that, it's nice to actually see her every day.

08:11 > <anna> this whole "seeing you across the breakfast table" thing is kind of addictive.
08:11 <jwb>aw
08:12 <jwb> <fuz> don't get used to it, i'm going to antarctica
For my part, I like that when I want to kiss her, well, there she is.

Sometimes I'm really disoriented by the overwhelming lack of my stuff in the apartment (the kitchen and stereo/TV are familiar, and the bed would be, except it's in the living room), and I think the living-together project will be even more fun sometime when we're actually merging households and I'm not about to leave town for a year. But this was my idea, and it was a good choice.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

so.much. chaos.

Anna moved her stuff in yesterday, and almost all of my stuff is now down in the garage, most of it in easily-accessible identical clear plastic bins (which you should go out and buy, the ones with locking handles, because it makes a world of difference in managing and relating to your stuff). It's a little odd because we're not actually merging households this time around: essentially Anna and J are moving in, and I'm moving out and couchsurfing (okay, bedsurfing) until I leave.

So far living with the girlfriend gets a big thumbs-up. We'll see how it goes when the Kidpocalypse happens on Monday. =)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


This afternoon: I'm sickish, I'm not packed, I'm moving to Chile in 6 weeks, my girlfriend and her kid are moving in this weekend, the chicken stock seems to have failed (though less spectacularly than the veggie stock), and the new computer came infected with Windows and I can't get a useful operating system installed.

That was a little frustrating. I got the computer working (sort of), the chicken stock is weak but edible and tastes better after sitting for a while, and while I'm not packed, I guess I can be packed enough by Friday for Anna to move in.

Last year I was explaining to my somewhat-incredulous mother that cupcakes are a cultural Thing[tm], at least in cities; to the extent that a city like San Francisco supports multiple cupcake boutiques. To combine memes, people have made an array of Lost-related cupcakes (none of which will make much sense unless you've seen the show, and as mentioned, I don't actually recommend it). And back in 2007 (ah, before the crash) there was a San Francisco cupcake tasting tour.