Saturday, July 31, 2010

things that are different

Powdered Milk
We're a powdered milk household, for economic reasons. I'd only used powdered milk on Outward Bound before. It's weird that you add water to powder and it turns into fat, and you can choose whether you get a creamy syrup, or something like skim milk. Big secret: even starting with a slurry, the only way to get rid of all the lumps is to strain them out.

Dogs With Testicles
People don't sterilize the animals here. There's growing acknowledgement of a problem, though, since Valparaiso has 320,000 people and 80,000 dogs, many or most of which live on the street (though usually fed and cared for by the neighborhood). It finally struck me after a few weeks that almost all the animals I see in the States are neutered, and I'm just not used to seeing dogs with testicles.

Used Toilet Paper Receptacles
I did get used to this in Mexico. Whatever the reason, almost no buildings have plumbing that can successfully flush toilet paper. Used toilet paper goes into a (hopefully covered) bin next to the toilet.

Simple Food
Chile often feels like a land without spices. One time Steve made guacamole, and Aurora said, "It's good, huh?". I said, "Yes, but it needs red pepper," and she said, "Red?! There's black and white." There's garlic, onion, the dimensionless South American hot pepper aji, sometimes oregano, maybe basil if you're someplace fancy. The tradeoff is that the ingredients are typically of good quality, because they're providing all the flavor. (Well, maybe not all: Oscar uses a lot of soup mixes for a base.)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

teaching, learning, failing

This week has seen a lot of failed lessons, but not in a bad way. It's good for me to remember the kind of quiet that falls over a classroom where students have no idea what's going on. The advantage of being in a sort of low burnout period is that I'm feeling extremely mellow and communicative about classroom flow. To the kids who were bugging me today, I said in Spanish, "Look, I'm telling you to be quiet, and you're not. Today I have no patience," and then promptly put them a couple notches closer to being kicked out of class. Easy-peasy.

I've been doing a names exercise at the beginning too, and it's really nice to know their names, even if I only remember for that class. I also have lots of time to use up, both with Marcela's randomizing the class length, and the not-quite-good lesson I'm working on.

I'm trying to do "Family" stuff with them, and while they have no problem with "Do you have any brothers or sisters?", even being able to say something like "I have three brothers and five sisters," the failure comes with questions about a family tree like "Who is Rosa's wife?". The possessive is screwing them up, notwithstanding that they "learned" it in Marcela's class. In every class I take a shot at explaining it, watched them drift off the way they do when Marcela explains things, then punt and move on to the quiz game for reviewing last semester's stuff. I'll have a stab at figuring out an interactive way to do it.

On a related note, Oscar asked today if I had time to work with some remedial students from another English teacher, who haven't had any English and as a result are doing even worse than the rest of the class. I said:
"I might have time, yeah. The thing is, the problem with English instruction here is that it's not tailored to the level of the students, so in terms of actually using the language, a student with no English is at roughly the same level as a student with two or four years of English. The stuff that I teach, or to be honest, that I know how to teach, is basic and doesn't really mesh with the school's material."
Oscar nodded, but we agreed we can look at the materials and see if I could be helpful.

This would put me in the fascinating position of teaching Chilean students how to succeed in Chilean English classes, which is completely different from teaching them English. I'd be helping them attain the same mechanistic lack of usage that their peers have. I'm on the fence: in the sense it would help them in school, it would be good for them. For me, I think it might be a little painful.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

back to school

I'm glad I only had two classes, and that curso B is pretty cool and curso C is awesome, because boy, did I not want to be there today. I didn't do a stellar lesson plan, Marcela sent the kids down 15 minutes early--
"I can't take them for an hour and fifteen minutes."
"I know, but I need to start my class. Just send them back."
"So I can just send them back early when I'm done?"
"Okay, I can do that, but that's different from what we were doing last time. You have to tell me." [This is a recurring theme with us.]
--I've got a cold, and pretty much all day I've been thinking, "Wow, four months would have been plenty. Was eight months really necessary?". I'm also considering whether now is really the time to do a practice period at Tassajara: it looks good on paper, because it's rare to have a 3-month period where I'm not working and I don't have an apartment to take care of. But Anna and I have already been apart several months, and have a few months yet to go, and I'm feeling the strain of being away from her and all my other relationships and communities. Tassajara has the additional strain of being Internet-silent; we'd be communicating by writing letters.

When I started sitting zazen a few years ago, I finally settled on sitting for 40 minutes, which I describe as "ten minutes past 'comfortable'." After 30 minutes, I can start to feel a little twitchy, but also my mind runs itself out of energy, like an exhausted fish caught on a line. It's tempting to get up and stop sitting then, especially if there was any kind of emotional upwelling in the first 30 minutes. But the last 10 minutes there's just peace and quiet, and that turns out to be the most important part.

So I'll see how the rest of the school year goes. If I don't go to Tassajara now, it'll probably be a few years before I have another chance; but relationships in the here and now are more important than theories and stories about the future.

Monday, July 26, 2010

I hate meetings. so. much.

Oscar is my host dad, and also the chief inspector (head of discipline and attendance) and the sub-director, as well as being supervisor of the physical plant. He's accumulated all these jobs over the years. Sometimes he exhibits an overly strong sense of How Things Should Be Done:

Today was a teacher planning day, before classes actually start tomorrow. There were meetings, and time for teachers to plan out the semester. I didn't think I needed to go, and I asked my co-teacher Marcela, who said she didn't know what the meetings were, but that I didn't need to go. So I didn't, because any meetings would be (a) about material that didn't concern me, and (b) in Spanish at my 50%-or-less level of comprehension. (I don't go to the English Department meetings for those reasons.)

This came up at tea this evening. Oscar said I should have gone to school today, because there were "experts" there to explain how to do grades and long-term planning and other important things.
"Right, but I don't do those things."
"You don't do grades?"
"Well, I gave the kids a test, but Marcela is the teacher of record, she gives them their final grade. Plus it would all be in Spanish I can't understand."
"Oh, no, he'd be going really slow, pointing at slides on the board and stuff."
Why on earth would a Chilean, talking to a room full of Chileans, talk slowly?

The absurd sense of responsibilities is strong with this one.


Enough about me. What's the Internet been up to?
  • The special nature of a Chinese ghost town.
  • The latest moral panic: special music to induce "drug-like effects". There's so much stupid in that article I don't know where to start. Dear Parents: I realize you have to protect your kids. Now grow the hell up and act like rational adults.
  • Birdemic: Shock and Terror
  • Martin Wolf of the Financial Times explains why supply-side economics is bullshit, and why it's politically successful, and why that's a bad thing.
  • The 10 Most Important Things They Didn't Teach You In School. On self-defense: "Oh, there are guys out there capable of kicking ass. They're called criminals. They're good at fighting because they have poor impulse control and anger management, and thus are constantly getting into fights. If you, on the other hand, are going to be civilized and successful parents and homeowners and taxpayers, the odds are overwhelming you will not ever be good at fighting. This fact is thus reflected in our curriculum."
There you have it. I read the Internet, so you don't have to.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

almost back to work

Yikes. I may or may not have to be at school tomorrow for the start-of-semester teacher meetings. I can't imagine why I would, and neither can anyone else, but the forces of habit and duty are strong in Chile. (There's a meeting for all the teachers, which will be in Spanish I can't understand, about responsibilities I don't have. I feel like I could stay home and sleep in and I'd be fine.)

I trucked in to Santiago yesterday morning to be on the Volunteer Panel for the WorldTeach Semester volunteers. They were a little quiet about asking questions, but that's okay, because it was me, Bennett, and Jeremy, and I've started to realize the depth of chemistry in my volunteer group, because we can just go on for 20 minutes at a time telling stories or laughing amongst ourselves. Talking for 2 hours about our experiences was pretty easy.

(FYI, I write this blog in part so I don't spend days trying to tell everybody all my stories when I get back.)

I got to meet Ryan, the fabled old friend of my housemate Steve, and he's pretty great, both with and without Steve.

I got to meet Katie, finally! She also seems to be pretty awesome, and I'm glad we got along in person. I'm looking forward to taling to her more.

It's fascinating what a different group dynamic they have: it's hard to get this group to talk, whereas it's hard to get my group to shut up. I'm really interested to hear about their placements and their experiences of settling in and adjusting.

In the evening after the panel, we had dinner at Las Vacas Gordas, which, after the Mendoza trip, I now know is an Argentine restaurant, though nowhere do they tell you that. The filete parrillero was some amazing variety of grilled tenderloin.

Afterward, I figured I'd go home and sleep in my own bed; this was the weekend I learned that the last bus for Valparaiso/Vina del mar leaves at 10:30pm. I actually took a taxi home, of all things, for CH$10,000--the bus is CH$3200, so it wasn't so bad--and it was cramped, but only an hour or so.

It was, again, good to be home.

I stand corrected

You know how in talking about Chilean food, I always say you've never seen a Chilean restaurant anywhere?

Well, I'll keep saying it (and it will be true), but if you've got a hankering, Jessie informed me that there's one in Berkeley.

(Seriously, go eat a pino empanada. They're great. I also recommend charquican, and I haven't had pastel de choclo yet but everyone raves about it.)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

aaaand we're back

Here's something interesting about visiting Argentina: I missed Chile. It's home, at the moment. I'm used to the dialect, the mannerisms, the money, the history, the weather. I'm even used to the food, which I'll continue to mock, but isn't that bad with the choices I make. Argentine produce is just sad by comparison. I wanted sopaipillas (disks of fried dough you buy on the street), and Argentina's sweet tooth dwarfs Chile's at a level I couldn't have imagined.

I wanted to live abroad so my cultural and mental habits would stand out in greater relief, and I've been sort of curious that in Chile that hasn't really happened. I've missed Anna, I've been extremely cranky about not being able to do aikido, but since I speak Spanish and everyone's really nice, I haven't felt a ton of cultural friction. Apparently, I had to get used to Chile and then go to yet another country to notice the changes.

Visiting Mendoza was 5 days of traveling when I really only wanted 3. (And the last day sucked reasonably hard: I'm writing this in my 10th hour on this bus, after 4 hours of delays while we waited to see if they'd open the pass through the Andes instead of forcing us to go back.) My schedule there was determined more by when bus tickets were available, and unhelpful ideas I had about not wanting to miss out, and wanting to see Argentina at least once, since, you know, it's RIGHT THERE. And they're supposed to have this amazing beef.

Instead, I was travel-fatigued, had too many expectations, was let down by the food, found the hostel uncomfortable, blah blah blah. But I stayed in Argentina for a few days! And I talked to Argentines, learning some of their awesome accent and some about their country and culture, which, like Chile, is Latin America, but is also its own super complicated thing. For example, my first morning at breakfast I made friends with the five shockingly adorable Argentine college girls who had the other beds in our room.

(I know, right? Dear Penthouse, I never thought this would happen to me...)

Apparently English education in Argentina is also awful. And while they were packing, Guillermina pulled out a knife and then re-sheathed it for no discernible reason, just like I do (if you like knives, sheathing and un-sheathing them is fun--just roll with it), so I asked to see it, and she said that she's from the country, and if you give someone a knife, you're wishing them bad luck.

Then Ignacio moved into the room, and he and I hung out for all of Wednesday afternoon, talking about history and social justice and international finance and how nice Americans actually are and why our movies make us look like assholes, as I tried to gently explain that the wacko conspiracy theory movie he'd watched was a wacko conspiracy theory movie, and here's how those usually tie back to anti-Semitism and eschatological Christianity. Lacking any exposure to the American lunatic fringe, he didn't know enough to be skeptical. He got a laugh when I started naming points the movie touched on even though I've never seen it: he started with 9/11 conspiracy theory and the evils of the IMF, and I correctly suggested it would continue with a rant about the evils of fiat money and dire warnings about a unified world government.

During the longer of the delays on the bus ride home, I got to chatting with Eduardo, a Chilean who teaches English in Argentina, and we're planning to meet up tomorrow so I can show him my English textbooks.

On balance, I would have more enjoyed staying home for the week. I learned a lot, though, and in general, it's not good for me to have everything the way I want it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

that's more like it

While Chilean food is generally nothing to write home about in a positive way, I've been surprised to have come to Argentina and be disappointed in the food here. The produce is nowhere near as good as Chile, and the parrilla (which means "grill," but also doubles to refer to the specific restaurants here that have a parrilla and that's their thing) I ate at yesterday was just okay: the steak was done properly, but wasn't a quality cut.

There's a lot of stuff going on: I had a bumpy end of the semester, I haven't spent 24 hours at home since vacation started. And I had expectations of Argentina, from this fine essay, in ways that I never really have expectations of places I visit.

However, today I remembered that while I'm staying at a hostel, I have plenty of financial leeway to go eat nice food, and since that's why I came, I should go do that. So I asked the Internet, and the New York Times said Estancia La Florencia had entrees at "$36-60," which isn't something to do every day, but is certainly fine for desperately trying to have The Argentina Steak Experience. Off I went, at the culturally appropriate hour of 10pm.

To save the suspense:
  1. wow, that was really good;
  2. the prices on the Times website were in pesos, so divide by 4 to get dollars;
  3. eating a heavy dinner at 10pm is not a good idea for me, no matter what my host culture thinks.
You can't buy a glass of wine. You can only buy bottles. I got the Malbec Reserve, which was AR$28 instead of AR$24. I brought the 2/3-full bottle back to the hostel, where hopefully it will find a good home.

Knowing my limits, I ordered the 250g bife de lomo instead of the 480g bife de chorizo. I have no idea why they're called that, since they're both tenderloin.

The steak was perfect. I've had perfect steaks before, and this cheerily joins the ranks. The pepper cream sauce was also perfect, although its perfection clearly involved about half a stick of butter, but is that such a bad thing? The sliced potatoes were excellent, but were primarily vehicles for eating the sauce.

The total bill for the steak, wine, and tomato salad was AR$99, about US$25 before the tip.

Rather than trying a different place, I may just go back there again tomorrow night.

And, of course, dessert back at the hostel was the remainder of my 100g of gummi bears from the candy store.

nope, we still need "feminism"

Via the Bookslut blog, author Piers Paul Read says in an interview:
"It's partly this feminist historicism, which I think is false, that women have been somehow oppressed by men throughout the ages. You don't find any evidence of women being dissatisfied with their condition before the 18th century and then it's just a few spoilt bluestockings and servants who get bored... I think women saw it as the natural order that the man should be head of the family - it's also Christian teaching - and that they played this domestic role. And I think the feminists stirred up a sense of resentment against men that persists today."
Riiiiiight. It's rare to see something so hatefully wrong not coming from a Republican. (Mr. Read is British.)

Hannah Betts has a few good things to say about that.
It is a lamentable idiosyncrasy of feminism that, unlike other rights movements - the campaigns against prejudice based on race, class, or sexuality - its beneficiaries take their emancipation and run. Many women will not even countenance the F-word, being prepared to concede only: "I wouldn't say I'm a feminist, but..." But what? That I like being paid an equal wage, having the right not to get raped in marriage?
The disavowal of "feminist" always confused me during my years at Northeast Liberal Arts College, although if feminism's campus representative was the Women's Studies professor, she was pretty abrasive all around and seemed to concentrate on how it was important that she and other women enjoy hunting. Very postmodern (good riddance, late 90s!), but not exactly a standard-bearer for why the ideas of feminism are still important to today's young women (and men).

Then again, that was the age of Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon, and paranoid political correctness that seems to have matured into a more rational sensitivity and even genuine tolerance, especially in younger generations, who have since done things like electing a black President, and overwhelmingly supporting gay marriage equality.

Much like people, you never know where ideas will end up, however screwy they are at the time.

Monday, July 19, 2010

I, uh, don't live here

Twice in Valdivia I had Chileans ask me for directions, and then an argentina last night when I got to Mendoza.

Do I just look comfortable? I guess I could pass for some kind of Argentine, but there's no way I'm Chilean. What's up with that?

Mendoza, Argentina

I'm starting to understand why Mexicans and Spaniards would think I was from South America when I spoke Spanish: the continent is like a grab-bag of funky dialects. The Argentine dialect, like the Chilean, has to be heard to be believed.

I made friends at breakfast with the 5 adorable Argentine girls I was sharing a room with: Luz, Pachi, Jessica, Chela, and Isharmina. Except "Jessica" is pronounced "Shessica", and as I discovered from the backpack that I rushed to make sure they didn't leave without, "Isharmina" is actually spelled "Guillermina". Didn't see that coming, even though I'd asked her earlier how it was spelled.

(And "Chela" is short for "Mariela," doing nothing to alleviate my complete confusion over the source of Spanish-language nicknames.)

They were very nice, road-tripping in a shockingly nice extended-cab pickup truck. They should be sending me the picture of the 6 of us in front of the hostel, so I'll put it up here.

And I haven't even heard the lexical differences yet. I'm still too taken aback by the use of vos instead of tu' for the second-person familiar, and the appearance of "sh" in every word, when Chileans can't distinguish "sh" and "ch".
  • desayuno -> "desashuno"
  • llamas -> "shamas"
It's easier than Chilean, by far, but still takes some getting used to. Every time

From the next country over, it's a bit easier to see the fabled Chilean seriousness, however diluted it's become in the past few decades: Argentines seem to be more smiley and open and relaxed in everyday encounters.

I miss Chile, though. On this trip I'm learning about travel fatigue, and how I feel about visiting another country without any research or prep work (hint: never doing it that way again). I'm currently scheduled to leave on Friday morning, but I'm going to look into leaving early, to give myself some downtime before school starts, especially since I'm on the Volunteer Panel for the July WorldTeach volunteers in Santiago on Saturday.

Meantime, though: coffee and steak!

Friday, July 16, 2010

this was a good idea? when was that?

I'm on the 12-hour bus from Valdivia to Valparaiso. The beer and cafe helado are not doing me any favors, especially since I'm stuck in the cama [bed] class, which costs more than twice as much as the semi-cama, and turns out to be horrid. It's a double-level bus, and the cama class is on the lower level, with huge cushy chairs that open almost to horizontal, but it's dark, muggy, airless, has more noise and vibration, and smells funky. I'm wishing I'd thought at the beginning to ask a top-floor passenger to switch with me.

I've thought about Anna a lot this week. To some extent, that's because I'm not being present and engaged in what's happening, and it's fun to daydream about being with her again. I cut myself some slack for disengaging, since I'm living in a foreign country, and the last three or four weeks of school veered away from the more interesting and rewarding parts of teaching: proctoring tests, giving tests, doing review for tests. And last week I didn't even take my classes, I just did the oral test with kids who had missed it, and then went and did computer stuff in the teachers' lounge.

This won't do, of course, and we're supposed to jump into the second semester, recharged and ready to do stuff. I do want to change stuff about how I teach, and start an aikido class at the school, however restricted because we don't have mats. Right now I'm just sort of tired.

(Incidentally, today marks the 4-month anniversary of my WorldTeach group arriving in Chile.)

It feels absurd to be living life away from Anna, because we make such a dramatically awesome pair that it seems silly that I would walk away from it for a year. More than silly, maybe; "stupid" isn't a bad word.

This is in hindsight, of course; the year away was already in the planning stages when we started dating, and the commitments had been made by the time she discovered how amazing I am we discovered how well we work together. And since she had nothing to do with my internal reasons for coming, those reasons didn't change just because our relationship did. The problem with adapting to things as they happen is that I lose my emotional memory of what came before. I've been so caught up in the daily life of teaching for 3 months that I have to dig to find the feelings that brought me here:
  • Wanting to do some direct good with people.
  • Wanting to live and work in another country.
  • Wanting to try out teaching.
  • Wanting to do something more difficult for me.
Am I done yet?

Valdivia rundown


I stayed at the Airesbuenos Hostel, which I guess is affiliated with Hostelling International. It's awesome.
  • Off-season dorm rate is CH$8000.
    • Excellent, non-Chilean breakfast. (Oatmeal/fruit/wheat toast/real brewed coffee.)
    • Comfy beds.
    • Hot water seemed a little unreliable while breakfast was happening in the kitchen, but fine after 9am or so.
    • Awesome common areas, with a computer and reliable wireless.
    • Good kitchen you can use to cook things.

    • Café Hausmann was fine. I only had a bite of the crudo, a kind of Beef Tartar, spiced raw ground beef on toast. It was fine with the tartar sauce, but not my thing. (Remember: raw ground beef. Just so you're not surprised.) The paila de huevos was good, but since that's just eggs and toast, it's pretty hard to screw up.
    • Café Las Gringas (Chacabuco and O'Higgins, kitty-corner from McDonald's). Good espresso and a fine strudel.
    • Café del Museo (behind the Museo de Exploración) - Holy crap, this was possibly the best meal I've had in Chile. For CH$2500, I got kiwi juice, beet-carrot-celery-pepper-apple salad, creamy squash soup, corn/red pepper quiche, and gelatin with pear chunks and real whipped cream. You might skip breakfast that day, so your stomach doesn't hurt like mine did. I didn't try the coffee, but they had many varieties of actual coffee beans, so they're probably the best coffee in Valdivia.

    Wifi Spots

    Lots of random places have wireless, but like the Mac Dog fuente de soda, many are not really the kind of place you want to hang around on your laptop. Most also seem to allow smoking, which makes them not my favorite thing.
    • Café Moro (Libertad) - The archetypical Chilean salon de te: lots of smokers and awful espresso. However, they have wireless and beer in the same place, and the café helado is pretty good.
    • Cardamomo Café (Libertad) - Actually a centro de llamados (phone call center) with tables and a Nescafe machine, this has the unique combination of having wireless and being smoke-free. CH$500 for the Nescafe "cappuccino" (which is actually fairly tasty, though not a cappuccino) and you can sit around reading Lolcats for a while.
    • Café Las Gringas - See above.

    Doing Stuff

    • Fuerte Niebla is awesome, both for the views and the 400-year old ruins. Chile's war for independence was in 1810, but Valdivia wasn't integrated into the Republic until 1820, because of these fortifications and cannon batteries. The more arcane placards describing the construction techniques are also well-translated into English.
    • Museo Arquilógico - Well-done exhibits of lots of stuff from the Mapuche, Spanish, and Germans, all well-labeled in Spanish, with some stuff in English.. CH$1300 and it took me less than a half hour, but it was worth it.
    • River boat ride! I took the Bahía Patagonia, but they all travel the same route and stop in Punucapa and eat once at the only once place in Punucapa, so just pick the nicest people/best-looking boat/most convenient time. It's CH$7000, so it's not the cheapest thing to do, but you get to see some of the rivers.
    • And finally, Valdivia actually has a professional chamber orchestra, one of eight in the country, set up by a government culture program. I went and saw them do a pretty boring short piece by one of Bach's descendants, and then Stabat Mater by Pergolesi. It's a young group: out of the 20 including soloists, I think there were 3 who looked over 30.
    Valdivia: awesome. I'll be back for a day at the end of the year, before I head farther south to Chiloé and beyond.

    right here in River City

    Today I waffled characteristically around my options, considering the rainforest park at Curinanco, or going over to the town of Niebla; finally I decided to do a riverboat tour, because, well, I love boats and I love rivers.

    'Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing -- absolute nothing -- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,' he went on dreamily: 'messing -- about -- in -- boats; messing -- -- '

    'Look ahead, Rat!' cried the Mole suddenly.

    It was too late. The boat struck the bank full tilt. The dreamer, the joyous oarsman, lay on his back at the bottom of the boat, his heels in the air.

    ' -- about in boats -- or with boats,' the Rat went on composedly, picking himself up with a pleasant laugh. `In or out of 'em, it doesn't matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that's the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don't; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you're always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you've done it there's always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you'd much better not.'

    We around the river a bit, then up to Punucapa, which is Mapuche for "This is the middle of nowhere, and no one comes here except the boat tours." The boat tour in general is pretty focused on the German colonization of Chile, with lots of old German houses you can see from the river, and Punucapa itself has a pretty interesting old German church.

    The tour guide was also nice and spoke clearly enough for me to catch 40% of what he said, a little more if I paid attention. Which I didn't, sometimes, because I was on a boat.

    Tonight my bus leaves at 10:15pm for Valparaiso, so in preparation I'm having a beer and a cafe helado, which is an evil concoction of coffee and ice cream that I can only have every 6 weeks or more (actually, this is my second in 3 months). I'm planning on some heavy food for dinner and then praying I can still fall asleep. Sometimes I'm not very smart.

    UPDATE: The cafe helado is awesome and I'll just offset it with more beer and a churrasco and a couple gallons of water. So there.

    Thursday, July 15, 2010

    Valdivia photos

    Here's the album. I'll keep adding to it. It's mostly in order, except for a couple of the videos, and there may be some duplicates. Mass uploading to Flickr is...not a reliable process.

    It's just stunningly beautiful here. I forget how much I love rivers, because there aren't a lot in California, and what we have are often dammed beyond recognition. Here...well, just look at it.

    Valdivia is sort of the size of Santa Cruz or Monterey in California, with that level of walkability, only it's interesting. I don't have a lot to say. It's just amazingly pleasant to be here, except for the aggressive duck who attacks me when I try to go into the backyard of the hostel. (His name is Gardín. He's huge and I'm not allowed to harm him in self-defense, which is challenging. I'll get a picture today sometime.) Other than the duck, it's perfect.

    In other news, I don't usually read MetaFilter (too much content), but I did get linked to this post on You've been doing it wrong and discovered that I, too, have been tying my shoes in a granny knot all this time. Changing direction to a square knot feels weird, but I have high hopes for my shoes not coming untied.

    Wednesday, July 14, 2010

    ethnic food fail

    I violated my own rule today (about not trying Mexican restaurants in Chile) and, based on appearance and the presence of milanesa (Mexican breaded steak) on the specials menu, hoped against hope that Restaurant Guacamole in Valdivia might not suck.

    There were hopeful signs at first. The entrees sounded a little odd (zucchini in the burrito, and no mention of rice?), but the chips were funky-homemade and tasty, and the accompanying salsas were mid-high quality by California standards. Unlike Distrito Federal in Vina, someone here had at least taken the trouble of opening a Mexican cookbook to see what spices they used.

    It went downhill from there. The separate bowls of rice and black beans were a bit suspect: clearly spiced, but not in a Mexican sort of way. After an excessive delay, they brought Steve's soup: he'd ordered consome' de ave and sure enough, he got the Chilean soup by that name.

    Then the "burrito" came. Mushrooms on top--okay, quirky, but not out of bounds. Why does it smell like oregano? And coated half a centimeter thick with a cream sauce that would have served admirably on a pile of linguini? It was tasty enough, but it's a travesty to call it Mexican food.

    This is why we have rules.

    one last get-together

    We had the WorldTeach Mid-Service Conference this weekend. There was one of the group almost no one had seen since we left Santiago in early April, so there was a real sense of completeness to have everyone together again. It's amazing to think we're halfway through the experience, and that this is the last formal gathering until our good-bye dinner in Santiago in November.

    (For me, it's also amazing to think that I'm planning to go to Tassajara for three months after this. It's a long time away from Anna. Ugh.)

    With everyone in the same room, both for formal sessions and not, we discovered that we've all had pretty much the same problems with teaching: we've made many of the same adjustments from what we learned during orientation in March, and to accommodate the realities of Chilean education. For example, Allyson taught us how to write good, simple directions for our activities, to help the kids keep track of what they're doing. But it turns out that having written directions doesn't work for any of us, so we don't do it.

    The Spain vs. Netherlands game was technically amazing, though I went and took a nap for about an hour of it, because, well, I was tired, and I'm American and soccer just doesn't get my adrenaline up enough to keep me going. Spain scored the only goal with just a few minutes left in the overtime period.

    I eventually decided to go to Valdivia, like Steve and Bennett, but rather than arrive at a new city at 12:45 A.M., I decided to spend the night in Chillan (with Jeremy and Leigh Ann, as it happened) and leave Tuesday morning. We had a nice dinner at the Sociedad de Empleados de Comercio--unions often run restaurants here, like a VFW hall or something--then slept peacefully at Hostal Canada' and had an uneventful departure for our 7-hour bus rides, them back home to Ventanas, and me to Valdivia.


    By way of welcome, we had a 6.5 earthquake last night. It went on for at least 7-12 seconds after I woke up, which means it was going for a bit of time before that, because earthquakes are not one of those things that wake me up right away.

    When people refer to "the south," this is the area they're usually talking about, also called Sur Chico ("Little South"). This is to distinguish it from Patagonia, which is really its own complicated, beautiful, deserted thing. People often say Chico Sur is the heart of Chile, in its culture and people. We did notice that starting in Chillan, people are more open and relaxed, and there's a sense of...what? Chilean-ness? There's a more traditional vibe to the people and how things are done, and less like the feeling in most cities in the world. It's hard to see, visually: there's this feeling, and then you have to interact with people.

    Field Director Allyson was teaching last year in Angol, about a half hour away, and had told us a bit about Valdivia. Here's what I've seen so far:
    • There are not so many dogs, which explains the stunning lack of dog shit on the sidewalk.
    • Dog shit aside, the city looks really clean. There's not trash everywhere.
    • People generally talk slowly enough to be understood.
    • The coffee here at Airesbuenos is actual brewed coffee, and not Nescafe.
    It's like being in a different country.

    Sunday, July 11, 2010

    cabin, snow, etc.

    Vacation time! School ended on happy notes; I didn't teach any classes, just caught up with any remaining kids who hadn't taken my test.

    WorldTeach has a non-optional Mid-Service Conference, but we're happily ensconced in a cabin near Termas de Chillan. I'm currently watching the World Cup final (Spain vs. Netherlands; no score yet, but Spain is dominating the game) in between munching raisins and peanuts and reading The Devil In the White City, a pretty good research narrative about all the crazy stuff that went down around the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. I recommend it, although there's a serial killer involved, so there's a few short grisly bits.

    Termas de Chillan is the actual resort, and we're about 8km away. I'd made some motions toward going up the mountain, to check out the hot springs, but once you get a 25-minute walk from the cabin, you reach a sort of staging area, little shops with equipment rentals and snacks and hats and everything. From there, if you don't have a car, you hitchhike the remaining 7km, up a slow mud road. As I stood there in the sun, watching a couple cars not stop for me (including one that stopped for Brandy and Heather 30ft farther down the road, although it could be they just wanted to stop once? I dunno), I thought harder about what I really wanted to do with my day, and discovered that (a) I don't really like hot springs that much, and (b) it was going to take me all day to get there and back. And I was hungry.

    Instead, I bought some homemade yerba mate, walked back to the house, ate sandwiches, and parked myself on the couch. It was lovely.

    Friday, July 9, 2010

    but it was on sale!

    This weekend we're having the WorldTeach mid-service gathering at Termas de Chillan, a hot springs/ski resort down south. I don't know exactly what I'm doing after that, but regardless, my backpack isn't big enough to carry my sleeping bag and any significant amount of stuff, so I decided to buy the smaller-than-giant suitcase that I've been wanting ever since I struggled to balance the weight of my stuff across my giant suitcase and my duffel bag. The duffel bag is a fine duffel bag, but it's bad for a number of heavy things, like books, which I don't want squished.

    I checked out the suitcases at Jumbo, which sucked, and at Falabella, which were in the CH$45,000-116,000 (US$80-200) range. That seemed a little steep, so I went to the cheap-luggage place on Pedro Montt, the main drag through town. Perfect! A suitcase slightly bigger than carry-on, for CH$16,000. It had a small-tooth zipper, but surely it would last for this vacation and then the trip home.

    When I lifted it up to see how bulky it was, one side of the handle broke.

    I looked and decided it was easy enough to fix, so I had the lady grab another one, and I paid and went out.

    Ten yards from the door, I put the suitcase down to roll it, opened the rolling-handle, and that broke. I went back to see the couple at the store.
    "Hi, yeah, this just broke."
    "What's going on? We've never had any problems with these."
    "Well, two of them just broke on me."
    With a hopeful look on her face, she moved to get me another one from storage.
    "Um, no thanks. I'm done with these. Can I just have my money back?"
    They were very nice about it. There's a saying here, "El barato cuesta mas": cheap stuff costs more.

    I have a much more durable suitcase from Falabella for CH$43,000. More expensive, but it survived the trip home.

    Thursday, July 8, 2010

    great moments in writing

    Fun writer meets good story:
    And Constance herself is the kind of young woman a state entirely mired in bigotry can't produce. Though she doesn't belong to a church, McMillen describes herself as an "open-minded Christian" and a strong believer in monogamy, which she expresses in a distinctly evangelical way. "Actually, I have a promise ring from my girlfriend, and I'm pretty sure that within the next year she's going to propose. Of course, we wouldn't get married until she's 18." One male student once asked McMillen's girlfriend, "How can you be redneck and gay at the same time?" which seems tantamount to proof that the woman in front of him had that figured out. McMillen would like to live in Los Angeles when she gets older, but that is due in part to many, many hours spent watching The L Word. Her girlfriend says she doesn't want to come because she can't hunt there.

    *creak* *stretch*

    I went to yoga last night! Right downtown, not too far from home. Unlike the other yoga place, this one has proper mats, and is also cheaper, at CH$1000 per class (about US$1.80). I could do it 5 times a week and it would still be cheaper than joining the YMCA, and more convenient.

    Now, yoga is usually good for my body, and the reason I don't do it much at home is first because my evenings are taken up with aikido and Zen, and second because I don't like it all that much. I have to work hard to keep my back muscles from spasming during some poses, or to keep myself from accumulating tension anywhere for the the entire class. My arms, shoulders, and upper back get worked to the point of exhaustion during the seemingly endless initial half hour of Downward Fucking Dog.

    Today I'm sore, and my hip muscles are crabby (because my hips are already out of alignment). So I'm a little on the fence about whether I like it or not, even though I was able to feel more clearly the different imbalances of my body right now--my left side is a lot tighter than my right.

    On the other hand, I'm desperate for some kind of body-movement practice, and this seems to fit the bill. I've always had this theory that persistent yoga would be really good for me; now I guess I'll find out.

    storm storm stormy storm

    We had a proper gale here on Tuesday. I was home because of the annual student strike, when suddenly I heard smashing glass: the wind broke a window. The wood of the frame is old and rotting, so the wind pushed the glass, which broke the frame, and then the glass was just hanging from the top of the frame, and the wind blew it inward against the iron bars, where it smashed. There was glass about 20 feet into the hallway, and then the hallway just acted like a wind tunnel for the wind coming through. I didn't step outside during the worst of it, but I'd guess the gusts were up to 55-60 mph.


    The wind busted another window, less dramatically, but what really struck me was when I went up to my new friend Karen's place on Cerro Baron, and from the lookout point I saw how huge the waves were, and then noticed that there was a ship aground:

    (Photo: Rodrigo Cisterna, in La Tercera)

    I think she broke her anchor. They rescued everyone aboard, and when I saw her she had bow and stern anchors down and wasn't going anywhere, except for taking a bit of a beating from the waves.

    Wednesday, July 7, 2010

    hidden history

    In software, we learn that many things that now look like horrible choices actually started as the reasonable solution to a problem. I don't want to give too much benefit of the doubt here: most programmers are idiots, and a lot of the time it's actually a bad choice. Those of us who do horrible things to software on purpose salve our wounded consciences by adding a useful comment with a bug number, so future generations can look up the story and not hate us. Then we drink until the pain goes away.

    One of my favorite code stories is the Hardest Bug Of My Career, which of course happened at Danger. It took me about 2 months to figure out, spending 2-3 days a week on it. For those of you not in the trade, that's an absurd amount of time. Most bugs yield their secrets much more quickly, but this was important. A critical step in our Sidekick-data service communication, called the "Dropbox," would periodically fail with an out-of-memory error as my server tried to store it in the database. Fair enough, it was a 3MB XML document...but the server had 2GB of memory. Finally I traced it to how the XML parser would accumulate a block of text, which used a totally simple and reasonable approach, which given a 3MB block of text would use up all the memory and bring the machine to a screeching halt. The problem was with blocks of text in what's called Base64, which are defined to have newlines every 72 characters; in order to fix the problem, I had to remove those newlines, which is a crazy, screwy-looking thing to do. And then a few weeks later that broke our email delivery, and the email guy had to restore those newlines, which is also a crazy, screwy-looking thing to do. We commented our changes, a courtesy not often extended by our predecessors.

    On a vaster scale, you can read Joel Spolsky's excellent classic, Why are the Microsoft Office file formats so complicated?.

    I was reminded of all this because the professional soccer team, based in Valparaíso, in a Spanish-speaking country, is the "Santiago Wanderers." This makes absolutely no sense to me. The supposed history in Wikipedia tells me:
    Despite its place of origin, the founders decided to name it Santiago to distinguish the club from another team in the city that existed at that time, the Valparaíso Wanderers. On several occasions, attempts were made to replace Santiago with Valparaíso as a way to ratify the link with the city. However, the idea has been highly rejected by the fans.
    Okay, fair enough. Does that actually help? Now I want to know:
    1. Why didn't they call it "Puerto Wanderers" or something else still related to Valparaíso?
    2. Why is it "Wanderers"? In English? For multiple teams?
    There's always just more questions.

    Chile: the economics of colectivos

    The form of transit least recognizable to Americans here is the colectivo, an armada of small black Japanese-made sedans that drive a route just like a bus would, except it's a car. They're more expensive than the bus, up to 300% more if you take them from one end of their route to the other, but they tend to be faster and more comfortable, especially if you're carrying a bunch of stuff to stash in the trunk.

    The colectivos are usually modified on the inside in ways I'm used to from riceboys back home, often with tachyometers, funky lights, steering wheel covers, and the windshield-washer switch re-purposed for an attention-getting electronic siren that's quieter and less obnoxious than the horn. Most have a designer fire extinguisher glued onto the passenger side of the windshield. One guy last night had lines and lines of blue LEDs shining right into his face, which was a little unnerving because it made seeing out of the car challenging.

    The customization begs the question of who actually owns them. My housemate Steve is a public transit aficionado, so he asked a driver, who said he worked for a company that owns the car. I found that plausible, but unsatisfying.

    Luckily, the doorman at school, Salverio, drives a colectivo the rest of the time, and he offered to take me driving around Valparaiso (which was awesome, and I saw some places, especially bad ones, I would never have gone to otherwise). I asked him, and he said that his friend owns the car, and Salverio rents it when his friend isn't working. There are no official companies for the routes, but the city issues licenses for each route.

    It seems likely that if Steve understood his driver correctly, there's a company or a co-op that owns the cars, but it sounds like that's just another way to solve the problem of not letting the cars sit idle, since one driver can't maximize usage of the car, what with sleeping and everything. Renting the car out when you're not using it is another solution.

    Monday, July 5, 2010

    gap week

    I was a little worried about class today because I didn't really have a plan, except some vague ideas about games. Silly me! Here's what happened with my 4 classes today:
    • I got in with 1-A, and after a little banter, I asked what they wanted to do. They said, "It's the week before vacation. We don't do anything." Well, I didn't want to be there either, so we played a Hangman-like game for a while, chatted, and I gave them their grades from my test.
    • Because of Chile's World Cup game 2 weeks ago, 1-J still had to take Marcela's test.
    • 1-H was delayed an hour because problems in the kitchen prevented making lunch for the kids (and me), so the school was scrambling around that. Since it was just a half hour left after that, I just left them with Marcela.
    • 1-G got canceled because all the first-years were doing the show for their dance class. (It was adorable, all these 15-year olds, some of them quite troublesome, doing stuff they'd choreographed themselves.)
    Tomorrow classes are canceled due to a student strike. I'm not sure what they're protesting specifically, but I do know a representative took their demands to the government today, which played its part by rejecting them; there's no shortage of things worth protesting in the educational system. No one's exactly sure what classes are canceled, whether it's just the morning, or the whole day. Eduardo, one of my most awesome students, said, "No classes all day. We'll be beating up on the cops."
    "Well, be careful, they've got the trucks with the water cannons and everything."
    "Aw, no, that's just to cool us off."
    "Oh, because you'll be hot from running and everything."
    There's a protest culture here that's alien to us now. I think we had it in the 60s, but now we're like democracy's elderly great-uncle: still mentally active, but physically, can't really be bothered to stand up and throw rocks at anyone.

    Oakland Raiders fans excepted, of course.

    Sunday, July 4, 2010

    vacation plans

    I've been talking about going to Easter Island, but it didn't feel really urgent, and now there aren't flights available. So, I will do that another time, and that makes my winter break a lot more flexible. Since I'll already be down in Chillán for our mid-service workshop/chill-out, maybe I'll go to one or two other places, despite weather that looks a little colder than here, but also wetter, with things resembling snow.

    It's definitely time for a break, as I'm pretty regularly cranky now. I'm gaining some weight, and feeling the lack of exercise, as I've struggled to try and do anything with aikido, or go running, or really do anything with any regularity. My imbalanced diet is catching up to me (hence the weight gain), with lots of bread and avocado and milk. Granted, the milk is powdered, which is another post, and I only use it with instant coffee, which I could go without, but it's one of several unhealthy tonics that help me manage my moods, in the absence of doing aikido. It's all very complicated.

    Anyway, for the past couple weeks, eight months has sounded like a very long time, for all the volunteers. I'm in the minority in the group, who already has roots set down someplace, and then when I get back, I'm still planning on doing the 3-month winter practice period at Tassajara, starting in January. So, while it's incredibly unhelpful for me to look at it that way, I'm still 9 months away from re-starting life with Anna and J and the dojo and the sangha. I'm hoping the economy has a job for me somewhere. It should! I'm smart and I can do really complicated things that not many people can do!

    Saturday, July 3, 2010

    an apt description

    Steve has commented on how much he enjoys the seemingly endless discoveries of things I'm interested in or have tried out. It's a long list, because I'm just that way; I tell people that my primary hobby is dilettantism. The cycle: I try something out with a bit of intensity, achieve some basic level of competence--perhaps just to assure myself that I'm generally competent and that I can if I really want to--and then I drift off and try something else.

    To me, it feels like a small list, but considering I did most of them for at least six months, some for quite a bit longer (usually because they were family activities, like skiing and sailing), I guess I've been accumulating them steadily through my entire life, but especially as an adult, being out of school and having some money and leisure time to indulge myself. Some, like motorcycling and ceramics, are not uncommon; others, like bookbinding and blacksmithing, are a bit more esoteric.

    Steve, as he can, summed this up:
    You have the interests and attention span of a kid with a checking account.
    Not bad.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010

    still working on this one

    I am reading Isabel Allende's memoir, My Invented Country. I could probably run through it in a day, but I'm reading it slowly, the way I used to save my Halloween and Easter candy for months, and for the same reasons of perceived scarcity and hoarding. It is highly quotable.
    "We Chileans are enchanted by states of emergency. In Santiago the temperatures are worse than in Madrid; in summer we die of the heat and in winter of the cold, but no one has air conditioning or decent heating, because that would be tantamount to admitting that the climate isn't as good as they say it is." [p 48]
    She has many choice words about Chilean gender roles. I'm enjoying her point of view, not only for the excellent prose, but as I try to understand what's behind some of my experience here.

    "Some frivolous thinkers believe that Chile is a matriarchy, perhaps deceived by the strong personality of its women, who seem to carry the lead in society. They are free and well organized, they keep their maiden names when they marry, they compete head to head in the workforce and not only manage their families but very frequently support them. They are more interesting than most men, but that does not affect the reality: they live in an unyielding patriarchy....Chile is a macho country: there is so much testosterone floating in the air that it's a wonder the women don't grow beards.

    "Chilean women are abettors of machismo: they bring up their daughters to serve and their sons to be served. While on the one hand they fight for their rights and work tirelessly, on the other, they wait on their husband and male children, assisted by their daughters, who from an early age are well instructed regarding their obligations. Modern girls are rebelling, of course, but the minute they fall in love they repeat the learned pattern, confusing love with service. It makes me sad to see splendid girls waiting on their boyfriends as if they were invalids. They not only serve the meal, they offer to cut the meat. It makes me unhappy because I was the same way." [pp 51-53]

    Today, for example, I triggered a new height in Oscar's resistance to my eating lunch anywhere but the school.
    "I'm done early, I'm going to go home and cook something for lunch."
    "Just eat here!"
    "I don't really want to wait, and I like cooking."
    "Lunch is probably ready now. Hang on, I'll call them."
    [he calls the kitchen, asks if lunch is ready, tells them I'm coming early]
    "There, just go on down."
    "No, I'll go cook something. I like cooking, and I haven't cooked in a long time."
    "But there's no one at the house!"
    "Yeah, I know. I'll make myself some food."
    Eventually his three (female) minions chimed in with the suggestion that I didn't like what they were serving for lunch--it's true, the fish over rice is not my favorite--and Oscar did his "Bah, okay, okay, bye" thing and waved me off.

    (I bought spinach and made scrambled eggs and it was awesome.)

    Now, Oscar is reasonably progressive, as far as I can tell, and he's the best cook in the house and does almost of the cooking. However, there are definite gender roles in the house, which he vigorously participates in and enforces, and he is extremely emphatic about making sure Steve and I are taken care of. Today, though, makes me think that he's trying to make sure we're taken care of like Chilean men. It would explain the resistance and bemusement at the various independent things we do for ourselves.