Monday, May 31, 2010

a solid weekend

Anna left this afternoon. She'll be back for a week in August, when we'll stay at the same place, and then she's looking for another weekend in October.

Totally worthwhile.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

she made it

Anna's flights all worked out okay, with some re-booking and useful delays, so she got in yesterday morning as planned. She's in South America. How weird is that?

We're staying at Hostal Caracol, which I can't really oversell for how beautiful and comfortable it is. It's old, dark wood, lots of glass in between rooms, everything decorated in perfect, saturated, solid colors. There's an enormous modern woodstove in the living room, that puts out tons of heat and has a huge window to see the fire.

(It's a Bosca Chimenea 650. It is awesome.)

I want a house exactly like this.

Anna's being here is a bit disorienting on all sides. There's a superficial pressure to make the time be really intense and active, because it's just a few days and we haven't seen each other for a while. So first we're setting that aside, because it doesn't make any sense: we don't really like having time be really intense and active.

That said, yesterday we had lunch with my host family up at the house, then went to Heather's host parents' 20th anniversary asado over in Quilpue. Today we're more determined not to do much of anything: a bit of a walk, maybe some coffee, and I have to do some lesson planning and materials prep.

It's weird. I've been spending the past few months, in particular the months since coming to Valparaíso, adjusting to teaching, which is new and challenging, and to living and working in a foreign country, where yes, I do speak the language, but it's a difficult dialect, and people rarely take the time to listen carefully and make sure we're understanding each other. It pretty much takes all my attention to make this work, and I don't have anything left over for WorldTeach deadlines or paperwork, or traveling on weekends, or a whole lot else.

Now, however, Anna is here, my life at home flown to Chile for comparison. It turns out that my life here is actually kind of hard for me. I've just been too busy doing it to notice.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

just as well

I taught my 8am class today, dry mouth and all--it's surprisingly disruptive, in a language class, to have to drink water, because I do choral repetition:

Chris: "Eraser."
Class: "Eraser."
Chris: "Table."
Class: "Table."

Then I drink some water.

Class: "Agua."

And that's with a well-behaved class.

I left after that class, bailing on the two remaining classes and English Club (which for right now is kind of like another, advanced class). When Oscar got home he said that the teachers' meeting, which was on the calendar for 3pm, had actually started at 12, canceling the second half of the day, so I didn't miss anything and would have had a half-day anyway. (I don't bother with the teachers' meetings, since I'm not a full teacher. It'd be nice to know if a strike is approaching, but I can't understand what they're talking about.)

Tomorrow, though! Tomorrow for sure. Two classes, A and J, teaching material I've now taught several times. It's like a small vacation.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

a quiet day at home

I'm feeling quite a bit better today, and the head congestion has fallen off and is trying to move into my chest, as usual. My voice is extremely croaky, but apparently I need to teach at least one class tomorrow to get credit for the day, because to miss more than one day invites complications. In training they said that after the first day we need a licensia from a doctor, which is commonly granted for absurd lengths of time (e.g. 2-3 weeks for a cold). Basically it keeps you from being fired.

"You're feeling better, right?"
"Yeah, but my voice will be gone tomorrow."
"But you can go into work?"
"I feel better, but my voice won't work."
"Can you teach one class, and then take off? So you get the day."
"Oh! Sure."

Sometimes I feel bad that I don't get the nice hints everyone is dropping for me.

Of course, that one class tomorrow is the super-fast section of curso C, so I have to actually design an ambitious lesson for them. That's okay, though, I think I'm getting the hang of what works for me. And if it doesn't work, they get a bad class. They'll live.

Normally when I'm sick I try to get out for a little while, go for a walk or grocery shopping or whatever. That would cause unwanted conflict here, though, and I was a little worried about going nuts staying home all day. It turned out I had plenty of cool crap to read on the Internet, so I managed to fritter away the day doing that, instead of making a couple new signs for the classroom, or doing my Spanish lesson. Oh well.

Mostly I just want the next few days to be done because then Anna will be here. =)

Monday, May 24, 2010


My little bit of sick turned into a full-on sick. I made it through the first couple of classes with some croaking and a lot of water, and then I figured I'd power through the afternoon, but Oscar basically sent me home, and I won't be working tomorrow either. I feel bad for the kids, especially since I'm starting to develop a vague idea of what I'm doing, but it's hard to conduct a speaking class (especially a rowdy one) when my voice doesn't work.

I've got nose congestion and an incoming hacking cough. But for now I get to sleep as much as I need.

This opens up a new vista in the family relationship, though, which is them trying to take care of me, and how I respond to that. They have some ideas of what I need to do to get better, and why I got sick: for the former, stay in bed all day, and for the latter, the change of temperature from my classroom to the teachers' lounge (compounded by not wearing a scarf, and if I walked around without shoes, that would also be culpable).

I resist people taking care of me, and I especially resist someone specifically telling me what to do. So that's interesting.

I'm trying to think of how I could teach aikido at the school. The big problem is a surface to fall on, since proper mats are too expensive, but I think some heavy carpets would do reasonably well, maybe with some layers of carpet foam.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


The feel of our household is slowly shifting a bit, gelling into a more cohesive unit. Last night Oscar built a big fire to heat up the living room, and when he called me to come in, I discovered choripan on the table, as a sort of post-dinner munchie thing. (I guess you could have called it once, though I don't know. Our family eats at pretty random times.) Apparently in the winter, when they cook meat, they do it in the fireplace. I explained how Dad has been known to go use the grill while it's snowing.

Today at lunch, everyone acknowledged that the family washing machine has died. It's been making horrible noises and leaving strange stains on my clothing (hopefully my expensive khakis are salvageable). They're buying a new washing machine today or tomorrow.

Oscar: Chris, how many more days are you single?
Chris: Five.
[discussion about how Anna is getting to Valparaíso]
Chris: I'll have to hide all my Chilean girlfriends.
Oscar: We should talk about how much money it will take for me to keep quiet about that.
Chris: How much is a new washing machine?

Finally, a joke that translated well enough that Oscar had to laugh. There's hope!

Oscar is building a sort of lean-to next to the house where we can hang the laundry even in the rain. I went back to hang out and enjoy the stunning clear day, and we wandered around the property a bit, which turns out to be really big, with lots of random crap on it even beyond the piles of scrap wood and sheet metal (which seem de rigeur for Latin America anyway). There's an old concrete water fountain, some kind of small pool that might have been a really deep, tiny fish pond, and then what Oscar says was a watering trough. The house is 50 years old, and as recently as 40 years ago, the area was all countryside. It's similar to, and as hard to imagine as, the San Francisco Peninsula being mostly orchards.

I'm feeling pretty good about teaching tomorrow, which is funny since I'm sick. I imagine I'll be cranky again after curso G at the end of the day. But it feels like I'm getting the hang of it, and also tired of being stressed and deciding not to do that.

Friday, May 21, 2010

upcoming events

I'm having a lovely day off. Apparently some of the volunteers are here for Steve's birthday; I'll join them eventually, at least for a little while. Or they're coming here to pre-game it before they go out for the serious drinking? Our trademark poor communication has been more in effect than usual for this weekend.

I won't be drinking much or at all, regardless, since I have a little bit of the sick going on, and I don't need more. The post-nasal drip makes my voice croaky, especially after a night of breathing chilled air. Sufficient sleep is the order of the weekend.

You may remember my story about teacher strikes. Well, last week, I walked into the teachers' lounge during a class period to discover that most of the teachers were there, having what turned out to be a union meeting. All I could catch was that they were going to send a letter with a demand to someone about something, and that everywhere except Valparaíso had or hadn't already sent the same demand, and had or hadn't been turned down.

(Good thing I didn't care that much, eh?)

At lunch today, Oscar told us how the students take over the building every year for a few days and blockade the classrooms and everything, and that they would do it again this year. They do it to protest something, but the conversation moved on before I could ask why. He also said there would definitely be another teachers' strike this year, which is ominous since last year it lasted a couple of months.

I have no idea what I'd do for two months without having to work. But, distinct possibility.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

grab bag

I haven't had a longer story in a while, I think since I'm in day-to-day survival mode as I manage my emotions around teaching. It's not mentioned much, maybe because society likes to pretend we don't exist or there's something inherently wrong with us, but I think teaching is sort of predictably hard on introverts.

Yesterday Sara, one of the teachers at school, gave me an iced tea "for breakfast, so you're not drinking water". I swear Chileans think drinking water is bad for you.

Sacha the cat has discovered that if I make a move near her, she can remain inside by running under the buffet in the kitchen. Comepoco and Comenunca haven't figured this out, or just don't care that much.

Allyson, the WorldTeach Chile field director, started site visits yesterday, and I was first, so she sat in on one of my classes: G, the hardest one. Just like I always am, she was amazed that they could be such little fuckers and yet still learn the material. (We check. We practiced introductions, and at the end of class they had to get up in pairs and do introductions from memory, and they pretty much all did.)

We did the debrief over dessert followed by dinner, and she had a bunch of useful suggestions. The most striking was that I need to become more of a disciplinarian: that I'm so nice that I put up with too much chaos. That's my plan for next week.

She also met briefly with the director of the school, who said numerous wonderful things about me. I told Oscar about it at lunch, and he said, "Yes, that's because I've been telling him about you. I tell him you're really friendly and nice and helpful, very organized and you work very hard, because that's how I see you."

Hat tip to Oscar for reminding me yet again that the way I see myself is crap.

(The way you see yourself is crap, too. But see? It's not just you. It's the human condition.)

For dessert I had a cappuccino vienese (mediocre Chilean espresso with a few cubic inches of whipped cream) and a tiramisu (which is cake soaked in espresso), and then joy of joys, the green tea at the sushi restaurant turned out to be bitter, strong matcha.

I didn't sleep very well last night.

Luckily tomorrow is a holiday, the "Day of Naval Glory", so I get to sleep through the clusterfuck of traffic with the major thoroughfares closed for President Pinera's visit. On the way home tonight it was hard to get either a micro or a colectivo, because there was no flow of traffic.

I don't miss the United States. I miss Anna, aikido and Zen and all the people in all my communities. I want a Snickers bar, since they cost about $1.90 here and I can't make myself pay it. I also know that I'm not staying here, and I'm generally pretty patient, so I can just enjoy Chile for what it is--I ate a hot dog last week!--knowing that the Bay Area will still have Mexican food, and Aikido West has been keeping the light on for me, and basically everyone else is carrying on as usual while I drop off the continent to go do this thing that felt epically important at the time, but now I'm too much in the middle of it to view in any kind of grand terms.

Anna is visiting on the 28th! Just for a few days. We're very excited. We're staying in this cute colorful hostel up on Cerro Bellavista, which doesn't have much on it, but it's cheap and pretty and a short walk to downtown. Everyone at school is very excited to meet the girl who's jumping hemispheres to see me for three days. Anna's excited for her big adventure, and I'm excited just...because. It's Anna. Here. In Chile. Wacky. Awesome.

teaching update

I haven't written about teaching in detail for a while, it looks like. I'm not sure I've detailed the process or how I feel about it specifically.

WorldTeach gave us this incredibly awesome lesson plan template, which I really like, and I never use it because trying to fill it in makes me freak out. It would be great if I could come up with its level of detail, or if I could make its model of class flow work, but right now neither of those are true.

I started using a plain-paper notebook, and after seeing Sharon's lesson planning I've been going down a similar road. I outline the stuff I want to go over, and make notes about how I want to do it. I add some extra stuff to fall back to for when things fail or they go through them too fast. It's a lesson plan, just in a more spare outline form, with less text. It's kind of like a jazz score where I give myself the chords--the material and the exercises I'll do--and I'm improvising the details.

I'm fine with the actual flow of class. It varies depending on how prepared I am, whether the class burns through all my material, etc. I have 60-minute classes now, which is a long, long time and I don't like it. But the teaching part is working.

The in-between parts can be kind of a bitch. I get jolts of stress hormones as the clock ticks down to my next class. To use the Buddhist term, it's aversion, mighty and old. It's the dense stuff I knew would come up, and that's one reason I came. Every day I get better at letting it sit and working with it.

Long story short: the teaching is ever-improving. And I'm less miserable! Everyone wins.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

quiet night out

Last night Steve and I hung out with our fellow volunteer Lauren and her boyfriend Jorge. We went to Bar Kabala, one of the not-cheap, low-key little pub-cafes on Almirante Montt over on Cerro Bellavista. They had a couch, and a decent little cover band, and nice drinks and food. It was my first night out in Valparaíso, because, well, I don't like going out all that much.

(Jorge is from Argentina. He says that when he first moved here, he couldn't understand anything Chileans said either, so English-speakers are in good company.)

At lunch today (weekend lunches the family eats together) Oscar asked when we got back. I said, "Almost 2."

Aurora said, "Wow, so early."

It also turns out Oscar was about 100 meters from us (and got home about a half hour earlier), down at Restaurant Hamburg, which is a nice place with tablecloths and a bunch of naval memorabilia about Arturo Prat and the War of the Pacific, and something to do with Germans.

I was checking it out today, and a late-30s Chilean guy saw me, sort of smiled/smirked, and kept walking. He noticed we were going the same direction, looked at me and said, "Nazi bar."

Ooookay. I said, "Really? This many years after the war?"

With a reservoir of disgust, he said, "Fascists. During the dictatorship."

He smiled before he walked away.

"But the beer is very good."

Friday, May 14, 2010

maybe why it's not so big here

At the Y yesterday I finally plowed through my shyness--I know, hard to tell by looking at me, isn't it? it's also why I take so long to call you the first time--and went to see the Sports Director to ask about offering aikido classes. The Y had an aikido class, and it's still on the website with a broken link, but the desk lady told me they hadn't had aikido in about 4 years.

The director, Mr. Valderrama, said that they were the first to offer aikido in Valparaíso, and it was hugely popular. They had so many people that they were ready to buy tatami mats, which would probably have been a relatively permanent installation, since they're a pain to move around. (If you're using tatami in an aikido dojo, you usually put it on some kind of a sprung floor and then cover it with rubberized canvas or something. It's not exactly like falling into a pile of pillows, but it gets the job done.)

He said, and I had to double-check this a few times to make sure I heard right, that "aikido" is a registered trademark in Chile, belonging to Aikikai Chile, and that their head at the time, Jorge Rojo, had said that if they wanted to put "aikido" on their building or materials, they had to pay money to the organization. I think they may have wanted some control over the instruction as well, I'm not sure.

It's sad that someone would take something that was intended to be shared, that can be such a positive force in the world, and limit its growth for money. And it's absurd that you could trademark the name of a martial art you didn't create.

Then again, I wonder if that's the full story. Does the Iwama dojo in Viña that I went to pay some kind of fee, with their disdain of anything named "Aikikai"? The other dojo in Viña I haven't been to yet? I don't know.

But it looks like I won't be teaching aikido at the Y, at least.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


The aversion is back this week; partly, the switch to 60-minute classes has upset what little groove I developed last week. Lots of stress and tension floating around, enough that I skipped breakfast this morning and didn't drink tea with the teachers, much to everyone's shock. I think it's a common Chilean belief that if you don't have enough refined flour and tea in your diet (minimum RDA: twice per day) you'll get sick.

Besides being unhappy and very much not wanting to do the thing I'm here doing for the next six months, the other difficulty is that Chileans are incredibly sociable, and under stress I get even more introverted. I get more irritable, and not wanting to either dump that on other people or take energy talking to them, I stop wanting to talk to them, especially here where so few people look past the language barrier to try and listen for the person on the other side. So I find myself in the teacher's lounge, surrounded by people who want to chat (often at me rather than with me, though they mean well) with no space for my emotions. If I latch onto that (or anything), I can get more cranky, but I'm usually pretty good at not doing that.

I may be revising my history, but I think I was feeling okay until curso G yesterday. Maybe they're my primary teachers while I'm here.


I hauled myself to the Y today after school, because it's been another rough week and I needed to get the stress hormones out of my muscles. I'm on the fence about the Y. It's expensive compared to just running (US$50 vs. zero), and actually not really convenient. It's about a mile away from my school, and I don't want to leave my school stuff at school, so I'd be left lugging all my stuff either on the walk, or on a micro or colectivo. So the couple times I've gone, I've gone home, changed into street clothes, gotten my Y clothes, and gotten back on the micro. So if I'm taking an extra trip up or down the hill, I might as well go down the hill, run some miles on the flats (there's a fantastic running path along the water all the way to Viña del Mar), and then come home.

I did the rowing machine for 21 minutes, which sort of felt like a warm-up. Then a little random weight-lifting, Then 25 minutes on some fancy computer-controlled auto-adjusting exercycle thing. I set it for "cardiovascular workout", and I'm in the middle of the hard part, sweating and all, and this nice guy comes over.

"You need more muscle mass."
Okay, I'll bite. "Why?"
"You're so skinny!"
"Farmacia Ahumada has a GNC kind of thing..."
"Yeah! To help you build more muscle. Have you always been skinny?"
"No, for several years I was fatter. My body has two modes: fat and skinny."
"Mine too!"

He was really nice. But such a weird cultural value. Why does muscle mass matter? It's more that the muscles I have aren't conditioned for bicycling. I don't want more muscle mass. I like being compact and flexible.

Maybe he missed me doing 20 minutes on the rowing machine as a warmup.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

up, down, center

My new schedule adds 8 AM Mondays to 8 AM Wednesdays, so I don't really have time to do zazen in the morning and still have enough sleep to maintain my sanity. This is unfortunate, since I have curso G on those days, and I could use the extra centering practice before I meet with them.

I lost Monday to Students' Day. Yesterday was just B and C; B is okay, and C is like a teacher's dream, focused and interested and calm and mature.

This morning, it was cold and dark and early, and I wanted to be anywhere with Anna rather than going into school. But I had the other half of C, and I stepped up, knowing they would. Then a free period, and then curso G.

Curso G is...challenging. It's not just me. All the teachers acknowledge it whenever they come up. I don't get it: these are all high school freshmen, and since they haven't gotten any grades or chosen a specialty, they're assigned into cursos randomly. Somehow, the chemistry can turn out really well, or not.

After G, I was right back into wanting to be anywhere else. But...hey, that's kinda weird. Why would I feel differently? It's not like I had a brain injury from one class to the other; the mood change was my response to the experience. It's all in my mind, a reaction to the world not being the way I want it. So what do I think should be different, that prevents me from allowing the current situation to unfold however it will?

I didn't get a clear answer, but it's a helpful way to look at the situation. And my afternoon class was C, which left me feeling better.

And then I had English Club! Which is apparently English Club, and not (yet) "Let's prepare for the English 'debates' the Ministry sponsors". I had no idea what to do with them, and they have no idea what they want: they just want to learn more English than they can learn in their regular classes. So there were 8 of us, with no sense of direction, but it was entirely up to me to provide some. Plus, I have no idea how to teach English to motivated, focused students: they can handle all kinds of grammar and structure stuff that I don't know anything about. There are 3 kids who can do free-form conversations, and then the others seem to have understanding above the "Low Basic" level that's about the average. We went a few rounds of me asking them questions like "Where are you from?" and "What's your favorite flavor of ice cream?" which went pretty well, and on request, I explained the future tense, which turns out to be the easiest thing in English. (Take the "basic form" of the verb, which we don't bother learning as native speakers, and put "will" in front. That's it.)

I was glad for the day to be over, but at least my mind was interesting to watch.

interlude: link farming

I still find time to read much of what Google Reader brings my way.

Michael Kimmelman has a fine piece in the New York Times about Greece's latest request that Britain return the Elgin marbles, and more generally about the nature and motives of those kinds of arguments.

This is a nation with priorities. My school is planning to run the games throughout the building to five big projectors.

I'm not the only one who goes on quests in foreign cultures. This guy tried to take a book out of the Delhi library.

More motivation to go make a ton of money somehow.

And finally, here's a guy who had an opening experience, and kept going with it to discover what's underneath. Not a perfect article, but it's pretty good.

Monday, May 10, 2010

In Which I Become Famous

When I was little, I once asked Mom why there was Mother's Day and Father's Day, but when was Kids' Day? Mom replied that every day was Kids' Day, which I see more clearly now that I've been an adult around little kids. They do suck up all the attention, pretty constantly. Supposedly you have to feed them yourself, instead of leaving them in the woods overnight with a Buck knife and a piece of string. Children these days just don't learn self-sufficiency the way we did.

Today was Students' Day at school. I don't know why there's a Students' Day for the teachers to do stuff for the students, but I think it speaks to how the feel of the school is in many ways less hierarchical that I'm used to. Teaching is always a cooperative endeavor, but teaching in Chile seems to be even more so, and it often seems like a less functional cooperation. Either way, classes went until 1pm (which meant I had no classes today), and then there was, you guessed it, an acto. But not just any acto, no. This had the teachers performing.

Rene does a killer Frank Sinatra impression, and while he was singing, Eduardo, the computer teacher, waved me over and started telling me something in very fast Spanish that ended with "and you say, 'They say they're very excited to be here in Chile, and they wish you a very happy Students' Day.'" I had my suspicions, and yes, after a few iterations, it turned out that he and another computer guy were going to do a rap act, and they wanted me to quickly "translate" their English-sounding intro babble into Spanish for the crowd.

I thought about it for a minute. I could have said no, but Eduardo seemed convinced it would be hilarious, and turning him down wouldn't have been in the spirit of the day.

It was great, of course. I got through without insulting anyone's mother. And if any of the 1800 students didn't know who I was, they know now.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

how could you not notice?

I'm watching James Clavell's Shogun, which is an excellent book, though I've not yet seen the miniseries. As I remembered, a huge chunk of it is in un-subtitled Japanese, to give the flavor of what Blackthorne is experiencing with not knowing what's going on. Of course, the parts that are in English are dubbed in Spanish. But right now I'm not missing much.

(Reading tip: Blackthorne is based on the Englishman William Adams. Giles Milton's Samurai William is the fun book about him.)

It occurs to me as I watch this that I am constantly shocked that people act as though I speak their language, even when I tell them I don't, or when clearly I don't understand. This happens all the time:

Chris: [carefully enunciated, mid-speed Spanish]
Chilean: [blur of 50 words at high speed] mi hermano. ([something] my brother.)
Chris: Mas lento, por favor? No entiendo. (Slower, please? I don't understand.)
Chilean: HER-MA-NO. Entiendes "hermano"?

Yeah, thanks, the one word you took more than 4 milliseconds to say, the one I learned my third month in Spanish class, the one at the end of the sentence? I understood that one.

I wonder what causes the disconnect. And what do they see when I don't understand? Someone who's just not very bright? It's like they think I need repetition in order to understand them, rather than slower speech or simpler words. I don't get it.

notes on language

I've been here about 7 weeks. When educated Chileans are speaking at normal speed, I can catch about 25-30% of the conversation. That goes down significantly for lower socioeconomic classes.

We say "Chil-AY-an," but that's apparently limited to North America. Chileans and British or British-esque speakers say "CHILian". No one knows why. The British put accents in all sorts of wrong places, but I don't know why Chileans picked it up.

I'm not americano in Latin America, because (depending on location) either people resent the United States claiming the name of the continent for its nationality (Mexico), or they're in South America and of course you have to disambiguate what americano means. So in Mexico I was norteamericano, and here I'm either gringo (an inoffensive word in South America) or the delightfully stones-skipping-on-water estadounidense (after Estados Unidos, the United States).

The hottie dojo girl in Santiago said that when Chileans talk about their language, they sometimes call themselves los rotos, "the broken ones". This matches with what Allyson and Rad were on about, occasionally saying that these words Chileans use "aren't even Spanish". It's weird for me because that presupposes that there's some ideal that you can call "Spanish" and use as a metric for comparison, and that's not true of any language. There are just dialects, and usually some dialect becomes culturally privileged and declared to be "Standard". So we have Standard English (with American and British Commonwealth variations), Standard Spanish (spoken in Spain), Standard German. But the English spoken by urban blacks and rural Southerners is still English, in a somewhat circular definition that English is whatever is spoken by native speakers. Chile is very obviously a Spanish-speaking country: if everyone slows down and reverts to simple enough vocabulary, there's no more trouble establishing communication than there is between Americans and British or Australians. So whatever Chileans speak is recognizably Spanish, no matter how many unusual words or usages they have.

Most Chileans also say they speak castellano, which is the Spanish of Castile, around Madrid, in Spain--they don't name the language espa~nol like everyone else. Castilian is the Standard Spanish, what we learn in school. They absolutely do not speak it here. I do not know what they're talking about.

Many words have different meanings. I haven't found a non-gringo place for Mexican food, so I don't know how they work with the following:
  • tortilla - an enchilada.
  • fajita - a tortilla.
  • taco - a traffic jam. (I'm not making this up.)
Though there's not universal agreement on this.

Other common words:
  • ocupar - usually "to occupy/keep busy with", means "to use".
  • tratar de - what we all learned for "to try", but unused here. It's intentar, which is also "to intend," or pretender, which is also "to pretend".
  • weyón - also huevón or hueyón. comes from using huevo ("egg") for "testicle", and has a usage roughly the same as cabrón in northern Latin America.


Spanish can make verbs "reflexive," which often means that either the speaker is doing the action to themselves, or is having it done to them. In the uninflected verb form (the infinitive, which doesn't exist in English because we barely inflect our verbs), you add se to the end: lavar "to wash" becomes lavarse "to wash oneself." Quitó la televisión "he took the TV" becomes se quitó la televisión "the TV was taken." Easy!

Okay, so I want to say "I stop myself": naturally I reach for pararse, the reflexive form of parar "to stop." Oops! Pararse means "to stand up." And there's a lot of those.

It's also an opportunity to recognize that speakers of other languages hear something different than we do when we hear the translation. In English, (even if we slept through writing class and we're not sure why, the passive construction "the TV was taken" sounds weak to us, and we wouldn't use it in conversation anyway: we'd say "someone took the TV". But the analogous Spanish construction isn't weak. And "someone took the TV" probably isn't what a native Spanish speaker would say.

For example, Obama's campaign slogan was "Yes We Can!". This is a rousing English sentence, full of vigor and confidence and open-ended possibility.

His campaign posters in Spanish, though, said "Sí Se Puede!", which uses the reflexive and literally translates as "Yes, It Can Be Done!", or "Yes, It's Possible!". To us, that doesn't sound like much, but in Spanish, not only does it recall the same slogan used by César Chavez way back when, but it just hits the Spanish-speaking ear in a different way. The weakness that we feel in a passive construction just isn't there.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


The Ministry of Education sends every English Opens Doors volunteer a box full of school supplies. Last year, the boxes arrived pretty close to the end of the year, which was less useful, and much like our stipends, we were told not to count on them. But mine came last week! I finally opened it, and unlike many colleagues, mine hadn't already been opened and raided. (I already bought a bunch of supplies in Santiago, because of the uncertainty, and in fact I needed them.)
  • 3 rolls Scotch tape
  • 2 rolls brown packing tape
  • 4 quality blue ball-point pens
  • 1 white-out pen (these things are awesome)
  • 3 packs skinny markers
  • 4 sharpened pencils
  • 1 rubber eraser
  • 2 stab-bind folders
  • 1 large graph-lined notebook
  • 12 whiteboard markers (3 each black, blue, green, and red)
  • 2 little packs of staples (no stapler)
  • 2 pairs of scissors
  • 2 large gluesticks
  • 2 sizable bottles of glue
  • pack of colored paper, roughly a meter square
Kind of a random collection of stuff. What should I do with the staples? Why do I need two pairs of scissors?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

days off are for food

For my day-off excursion, I went into Viña del Mar again today; I meant to go into Limache, but that got rescheduled for tomorrow evening. In Viña I figured I'd go to McDonald's and successfully get a burger this time, and maybe hit up Starbucks and see if they might relieve the inevitable disappointment of Chilean espresso.

(Chilean establishments tend to let the espresso machine run a good 45-60 seconds, instead of 28-30. I think the theory might be "more is better," but what you get is espresso that is both watery and very bitter. The technique is bad enough that I can't tell anything about the quality of the beans. It's very sad.)

Instead, I tried out the allegedly Mexican restaurant across the street from Starbucks (which is, in turn, a few doors across the corner from McDonald's). It was tasty enough in its way, but it was bland, not Mexican in any way except for the presence of an okay guacamole. I don't know if this is Mexican food the way Chileans like it, similar to how much American Chinese food is severely altered for the American palate, or if someone just decided to open a Mexican restaurant without bothering to buy a cookbook or even ask Wikipedia what spices and ingredients might be involved.

I have to say, I will resume my ranting about Starbucks when I get home, but two months in Chile gives me a new perspective of where they stand on the quality scale. And here, they're not killing local businesses; they're remote, lonely outposts of American culinary imperialism, which is nowhere near as successful as our other imperialisms. In Latin America, a coffee shop that does not serve Nescafe is going against a pretty powerful stream, living in a principled state of rebellion, or at least in a built-up tourist town.

I looked at dress shirts in the department store. They're comparably priced to home, maybe a bit more expensive. However, they're all Chilean-sized, which means the sleeves are all 33/34, and basically no 34/35. A 33/34 sort of fits me, mostly, kinda, though it feels a little tight; 34/35 doesn't look tailored or anything, but it's more comfortable. But honestly, 4 little retail islands with hundreds of dress shirts, all with sleeves 32/33 or 33/34. I'm not that tall.

Oscar, head of the household and sub-director at my school, finally understood my (extremely sparse) teaching schedule tonight. He said, "Ésto, no me queda", which comes out as "I'm really not okay with this." I told him I've told several people the school can give me 26 classroom hours instead of the 8 I've got, but no one was understanding or listening and I finally gave up and figured I'd come back to it later. I'm not sure he understood that I told people, or that it matters particularly. I'm not sure they understand how opaque the operation of the school is for me: how little I understand in rapid conversations, or how little information anyone on the staff ever thinks to try to communicate to me.

Anna is coming to visit! At the end of the month. It's a big adventure for her, getting herself across continents and then from the airport to the bus station and then to Valparaíso. And then I get to kiss her, which I'm pretty sure will be awesome, and then I can show her some of the Land of Sugar, Salt, and Mayonnaise, all things she doesn't like.

As an added bonus, coming off Wednesday's good teaching day, I'm not dreading class tomorrow at all! It's the little things that make such a difference.

daily life

I live with Steve, another WorldTeach volunteer, in Valparaíso, Chile. We live on Cerro ("hill") Rocuant, in Barrio ("neighborhood") O'Higgins. (Bernardo O'Higgins is the great hero of Chilean independence.)

Our "host parents" are Oscar, the sub-director of my school, and Ximena, a Spanish teacher there. They're educated and urbane and not terribly traditional in most ways, so we don't experience most of the stuff we learned about as possibilities in a Chilean family: overprotectiveness or lack of privacy. We call them "Oscar" and "Ximena" instead of "Mom" and "Dad" (as many of our colleagues do with their families) because that's more of the relationship we have.

Aurora is Ximena's mother, lives here and helps with keeping house. I assume she goes out and plays poker or something when we're not looking, she's pretty active.

Ignacio is Oscar's son, age 13, who lives with us full-time. He's pretty quiet and plays a lot of video games, but has relaxed around us more over time.

Jaime is Ximena's older son, a very tall and athletic 17, who comes for weekends or half-weeks.

Álvaro is Ximena's younger son, age 11, quirky and charming. He loves to say "Hello, Chris,"and I think that's the only English he knows.

Three very odd dogs: El Duque, La Princesa, and La Chiquitita. Like everyone else's dogs, they're there to bark at people who walk past the house. They don't like dry food, so Oscar actually "cooks" something for them every night, which is vegetable trimmings and human-food leftovers and wheat flour and I don't know what else, simmered. Sometimes it smells good. Sometimes it looks and smells like that soup made out of human body parts in James Earl Jones's evil serpent temple in Conan the Barbarian.

We're down to three cats (they found a home for a kitten): La Sacha, Comepoco ("eats little," seemingly the parent), and Comenunca ("eats never," the kitten). They're all outside cats, but would very much like to be inside cats, so they find their way in through slightly open windows, or they lie in wait by the front door and run past on their way in. I'm allergic and so is Jaime, so they're not allowed in, but they're incredibly friendly, and they understand that once inside, they will be removed. They always let themselves be evicted, with no scratching or struggle, just a stream of resigned, reluctant meows.

In the mornings we have breakfast, which is tea or coffee, and bread. Steve and I usually eat at the dining room table, because that's where they put out stuff for us, and I guess it's expected; I'm not really sure what's up with that. Dinner happens at random times between 7 and 8:30 PM, and that is also usually just me and Steve, at the dining room table. Oscar and Ximena eat in the kitchen as part of their couples-chatting time, and Ignacio eats in the kitchen, in front of the computer, at the dining room table--who knows. Occasionally Oscar and Ximena join us at the dining room table, especially for lunches on weekends, which seem to be the family times. I think this is probably representative of an educated, two-working-parent blended family in Chile.

I have very few classes right now, which I'll try to remedy now that I've kind of got my bearings a bit. I have time for 40 minutes of morning zazen every day except Wednesday, when I have class at 8ish and I go down the hill with the family at 7:15. Right now I have Thursdays free, which is pretty great. Thursdays or weekends, I go eat something nice, and have some espresso, and read Don Quixote or write blog entries, run errands.

At different times I miss Anna and J and aikido and my sangha and good coffee, but it's a life. I like it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I think I'm a teacher now

I had my first good teaching day! Here's what happened.

Yesterday, I ended up with 45-minute classes instead of 90 minutes. My co-teacher and I met and talked about needs and concerns, and decided that next week we could try 60-minute classes (which I'm far more comfortable with), and we'd just consider Monday a awkward, strange mistake in the past. Yesterday's classes were okay.

I busted out the Curso Competition chart: if a class section behaves well, they get star for the week. At the end of the semester, the section with the most stars gets a "surprise". (To be determined: I'm thinking a party with cake, Heather is thinking cookies.) The class gets one warning, where I write "CLASS" on the board if they're in peril of losing the week's star. Monday's G section were bad this week, but I also forgot to tell them about the chart, so I'll offer that if they can do 4 straight good weeks, I'll give them the extra star so they can catch up.

This chart turns out to be the secret sauce. Chilean kids are competitive by default; even when you don't set something up as a competition, they really want to be first. I've been running a matching exercise this week and I've almost gotten knocked over a few times by pairs of kids running at me to show they're done. The Curso Competition combines their natural worldview with positive reinforcement, so the class polices itself: if you can get their peers to tell them to shut the hell up, instead of you, that's way better.

Anyway. After a week of teaching, I have a better sense of how to present material, how to move around the classroom and keep them working, and how to respond to the flow of the class. I'm also remembering my Performance Mode of years past (now new and improved by actually being at ease in the world), and the kids buy into it. Seriously, I've spent 5 hours doing "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" and the Hokey-Pokey this week. Some of them take some time, but I keep looking at them periodically and they warm up to it, and then usually start enjoying themselves. I think they respond really well to my smiling lack of shame and the fact I care about them.

And then they learn stuff! I teach stuff and they learn it! And if they're not learning it, I slow down and they learn less stuff, but they still learn it. It's amazing.

There was one girl who couldn't remember "ears". I modeled the difference between just sitting there saying "ears," and actually grabbing your ears when you say "ears," so she started grabbing her ears just like I was (it gets the whole physicality kinetic memory mumble mumble engaged). Then, when they were leaving, I was doing a "ticket-to-leave," blocking the door until they identified a body part or its name from the card I drew. I happened to pull the picture of ears for her, and she looked frustrated for a moment, grabbed her ear and then said, "Ah! Ears!" and smiled before leaving at top speed. It was awesome.

Maybe I'm over a hump, maybe not. I still have to plan for 60-minute classes next week. But I think I know what successful teaching feels like now! Sweet.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

another martial arts excursion: ninjutsu

I went to the ninjutsu class at the Y tonight! Like aikido, ninjutsu is a modern Japanese martial art, and coming from the mainline Japanese tradition, they're sort of cousins, and I've wanted to try it out for a while.

The modern Japanese arts are generally focused on budo, the development of the person and the use of martial arts for protection instead of warfare. One of the many unusual things about aikido is extending that protection, if possible, to the person who attacked you, who is probably suffering themselves quite a bit. Or, if you can't protect them while still protecting everyone else, hurt them if you need to. It's a sliding scale. You do what you can.

Other martial arts are typically in the "they attacked you, go ahead and maim or kill them" camp. Aikido explores all the many possibilities in between "avoid a fight entirely" and "destroy another human being." I can't generalize about ninjutsu, really, but here are the things I noticed about how this guy was teaching this class:
  1. He was demonstrating a lot very advanced variations interspersed with the basic forms, even though the students were only doing the relatively basic forms.
  2. He switched techniques very quickly, leaving students very little time to actually practice a given technique.
  3. He inflicts a conspicuous amount of pain on the people he's demonstrating on (I qualified for this about midway through class). He's "taking care of them" in the sense that they (we) are not injured beyond some bumps, so I don't think it's a self-gratification thing. I mentioned it to an experienced student afterward, who said "Sure, if he didn't, it wouldn't be true." So I think they actually think the pain is necessary for effective training.
I think his and my conceptions of "budo" diverge in subtle but important ways.

He was obviously a lot easier on me than with his experienced students, but I have no desire for the kind of training they're getting, and I'm pretty sure I won't go back, even though it was a fun and interesting way to exercise for 2 hours.

The instructor also trained at the Iwama dojo I hated, so I think he's unaware of the possibilities for what aikido can be: a relatively small set of basic techniques, with infinite variations and embellishments. At one point he had one of his guys show how he could roll out of an aikido pin; I was thinking, "Yannow, I couldn't see if you did it right, but I have about 15 different ways to solve that problem." He encouraged the students to finish off techniques by using the weight of their bodies on someone else's body--say they're on the ground, if you put your knee on their face and lean in, it'll hurt a lot--something we refer to often at Aikido West, but which is obvious enough, and outside the primary goals of our training, that we don't bother going into detail.

There was some of the fabled ninjutsu sneakiness. At one point he took the lit incense stick off the altar, walked around and used it to poke people who weren't paying attention to their surroundings (which was everyone--Cyndy does the same thing with foam pool noodles), and then used it as a weapon/distraction in a technique, to point out that "you don't need big things; sometimes small things work". But a lot of it was grabbing fingers, and variations on stepping on someone's foot and pushing them. Those are excellent things to know, but kind of...shallow, when I'm used to a lot of intuitive and attentional training about connection and conflict resolution. Don't even get me started about the metaphysical worldview this guy referenced.

At some point, when he was demonstrating on me, he was digging into the muscles in my arm, which hurt, but not nearly enough to make me lose my grip; and then later as he was doing something else that left me squished with some joint locked up and a wooden knife in my back; I noticed that I didn't think he could take me in a fight. That's a very male thought, possibly delusional, and not one I was expecting about a martial arts teacher, but in that entire class, I didn't see anything I felt like I couldn't successfully respond to with the skills I have. More than that, I felt...fiercer.

It's a moot point, anyway: if he attacked me, I bet I could outrun him.

Monday, May 3, 2010


When I told people I would be teaching English in Chile, they always asked, "Have you ever taught before?". I'd say, "No. I might suck! We'll see."

Yesterday, I realized that I said that, but wasn't actually letting myself believe it. I've been holding myself to a standard of what kind of teacher I think I should be, how I think the class should run, what kinds of lessons I think I should be able to plan, what I think I should be able to do with the kids.

Notice the word "think" in there? That's a sign that whatever you're talking about is crap, pure mental fantasy that has no right interfering in your direct experience of moment-by-moment reality. Normally we don't even get that far. We concretize (or, in wankier language, "reify") our thoughts to the point where we think they're real. We don't say "the kinds of lessons I think I should be able to plan." We just say "I should be," and we don't notice that it's just an idea we're holding onto in our minds.

So last night I started lowering my standards, reducing my expectations, for myself as a teacher. My class will suck sometimes. I'll have awkward pauses. Some number of kids won't get it and I won't sufficiently check their understanding, or I won't have some brilliant creative flash that makes it happen for them. And that is genuinely and truly okay, in a way I didn't accept 48 hours ago. I'm letting go.

Letting go is how we end our suffering. And it's coming in handy right now, as I was just told today that in fact my classes are going to be 90 minutes, not 45. Not only that, but without damaging relationships, there's no way to change it for tomorrow. So I have, at least, two 90-minute classes. With a 45-minute lesson plan that's already difficult enough for me to create and execute.

No wonder I'm doing this now. Ten years ago I didn't have the training to keep calm when my world is kinda nuts and pushing all my buttons.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

a long night's asado

[asado basically means "grilled", and an asado is a Chilean-style barbecue.]

Bennett's host mom was having an asado for her 50th birthday. At the last minute I decided to go. He lives in Catapilco, which is sort of near Zapallar, maybe, but we didn't really know. He's also not one for detailed communication, so our directions were something like "Take the micro toward La Ligua, get off at La Laguna, do something else, and then get off where there's two fruit stands." What actually happened:

  1. Steve and I meet Heather in Viña.
  2. After some debate about where this might land us and at what time of day, we get on the micro for La Ligua and ride for well over an hour.
  3. In Ventanas, where Leigh Ann and Jeremy live, the micro stops. As I'm looking out the window, I realize I'm looking at Bennett, Leigh Ann, and Jeremy all jogging to get on our micro. This helps our confidence considerably, since we're going to Bennett's house.
  4. We all get off at La Laguna and wait for the direct micro to Catapilco.
  5. When it comes, Brandy and Carol are already on it.

We probably reinforced any stereotypes that the gringos all know each other.

Corrie was already at Bennett's house, and I felt a little weird about throwing a horde of gringos at his mom's birthday party. We rivaled the family for size: 10 of us, maybe 17 of them. I think it was Brandy who reminded us that while it was a big reunion for us, it was Rudy's birthday and we should keep that in mind.

I finally had chorripan! This is just grilled chorizo on a certain kind of roll, with optional toppings; the chorizo with the salty bread here somehow makes it unthinkably delicious. Then a bunch of other food, and then we discovered the difficulty in going to a party at a tiny house with a lot of people out in the country where you can't go home: Chileans very casually stay up incredibly late, and if you want to separate yourself from the party early, you're probably out of luck. I dozed a bit sitting upright outside on the patio, then around 2 AM I crawled onto Bennett's bed with a few other people, and then finally around 4:30 or so, the family started thinking about clearing out places for people to sleep. They were all down by 5 AM, and I slept a fine sleep until 8:30 or so. By 9, Heather and Leigh Ann and I were on our way out to the micro stop, and I reached Valparaiso around 11.

I can't take too many more of that kind of weekend, unfortunately.