Monday, April 26, 2010

The Language Lab, ANZAC Day, and my first trip to the movies

Late last week Claudia and I decided to check out the Language Lab that was supposed to be such a big deal at our school.  This year they changed the English classes from 5 hours a week to 3 hours a week of class and 2 hours in the Language Lab.

Well, I guess I'll start out by saying that it's not perfect.  There are 32 computers, and most classes have around 35 kids.  When I was in there during a free period there were 6 kids without computers.  Some computers were not connecting to the program, and other kids had problems with their microphones not being able to hear their voices (and were therefore unable to continue with the program).  Other kids were typing in translations of words and phrases, and the program was telling them that it was wrong when I knew it was right.  We even tried it different ways with capitalization and spacing but to no avail.  When they didn't do something right or there was some type of technical issue, the instructions were all in English.

The technician of the lab was busy running around putting out one fire after another, and even though they were 10th graders, they mostly seemed at the level of working on letters and numbers.  A few of them might be at that level, but certainly not all of them.  (They supposedly took a diagnostic test to determine what level they would start at, and would then work individually from there)  I think the best part (or worst depending on your point of view) is that the technician that runs the English Lab doesn't speak English.  Oh yeah, and the kids get a grade in the Language Lab too, so it will be interesting to see what grades the kids get that don't have a computer to work on.  Yup, I'm definitely in Chile.

So my weekend was pretty relaxed.  I will from this point forward refer to my room in my house as my cave, as there are no windows and I have a sole lightbulb that hangs from the ceiling as my lightsource.  I cleaned my cave and sorted through random papers and receipts that I had piling up.  And after that I went to a party that Chris and Tiffany were throwing in honor of ANZAC Day.

Basically ANZAC Day is a day to remember the fallen soldiers of Australia and New Zealand from the 1st World War.  Chris and Tiffany made up signs showing typical Australian slang with translations into American English that the rest of us would be able to understand, and there was good food too.

Here is fairy bread, which is bread with melted butter and sprinkles (and I learned that sprinkles are called hundreds and thousands in Australian):

And here is a dessert called lamingtons.  It is made by taking sponge cake, then covering it in melted chocolate and then putting coconut all over it:


And here is Chris showing off his buns:

The meat on the barby:

Me cutting my meat and Julie looking very excited about her Aussie burger:

And here are a few fellow teachers (Erin and Juila) and a guy named Arturo I met at the party:

As you can see, it was a good time.

Then on Sunday I didn't have much planned and was bored at home when I got an invitation to go see Shutter Island later on.  At first I wasn't going to go since it was all the way in Las Condes and didn't know how to get there, but since I didn't have any other plans I decided to go after all.  It turns out that I only had to take 2 busses and it only took about 30 minutes to get there. 

The movie theater was at the same mall that I was at a few weeks ago for lunch with Claudia and her family, and I started to get a bit hungry as I passed by Pasta Basta, the Italian restaurant we ate at together.  I tried calling David but he didn't answer.  I texted him about 10 minutes later and still got no answer.  I walked around to kill some time, and decided to go back to the movie theater one last time. 

As I got there David and Jordan were walking out.  It turns out they decided to catch an earlier showing of Shutter Island.  We talked about going to Pasta Basta for an early dinner instead of the movie, but then they realized that they didn't know if anyone else was going to show up or not.  As we were waiting a girl named Linda showed up.  We talked about all going to Pasta Basta, but Linda really wanted to see Shutter Island.  She also had a discount ticket for 2 people, so her and I went to see it and Jordan and David did their own thing instead.

Popcorn at the movies here is either salty or sweet, and there is no butter flavoring thingie to make it extra fattening.  I was a bit weary of seeing the movie since movies that get scary or violent still affect me a bit, but I was fine.  The movie really messed with your mind, as everything you thought it was completely changed as time went on.  The dream sequences were really strange but made sense in the end.  The one thing I still haven't figured out is the paper that Rachel wrote about "The law of 4".

I've also gotten on the ball with some little things I've been meaning to do: research for traveling to Easter Island, Machu Picchu, and Bolivia, I bought a camera case, and I also filled up some empty bottled waters with sand rather than buying dumbells to work out with.

This coming week will hopefully have at least one of the following: news of moving to a new place (the new roof is worse than the first with letting in wind and dirt and also leaks, I keep getting food stolen from the fridge even though my name is plastered all over it, internet is incredibly slow or broken, and some people just leave the place filthy) going to see How To Train Your Dragon, bike rides in semi warm weather to explore more of Santiago, and a paycheck on Friday.  We shall see what the future holds.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Biking and Magic in Santiago

So I got my bike seat fixed on Monday evening, and instead of simply fixing the screws that were stripped they gave me a completely new seat.  I also bought a headlight, flashing back reflector, and a mirror, and one of my teacher's husbands has a jacket with reflective tape to help with the visibility.

So Tuesday morning I packed my backpack with my lunch and change of clothes, and onto the streets of Santiago I went.  I didn't know how long it would take me to get there, so I left at 6:55.  (School starts at 8, and my guess was that it would take be between 30 and 45 minutes) 

Along the way I encountered the usual obstacles as when biking anywhere else: glass in the street, pedestrians not paying attention, cars stopping in the right lane to drop off or pick up someone, trucks, and busses.  I found myself checking to be sure I was clear if I had to move around cars, and people seemed good about seeing me and not getting too close to me.  Some stretches of the right lanes the main streets are mostly just for busses, and a few times I had busses tailgating me.  Today one honked his horn (which sounds like the Road Runner from the Wile E. Coyote cartoons) angrily at me, but I couldn't really go much faster than I already was. 

It ended up only being a 25 minute ride to work, and I was there by 7:20.  I went into the main area but saw that the gate was still closed for the entrance to the high school teacher's lounge.  This was of course where I needed the key to be able to get into the restroom to change, so I just sat and waited with a few kids who were early also.  Around 7:40 I was wondering when somoene was going to come to open the gate, and then one of the teacher's 5 year old sons walked up the stairs and swung the gate open.  It turns out it was closed but unlocked that entire time.

The ride is good exercise but not strenuous enough that I work up a big sweat.  I was able to get a copy of the bathroom key for myself, and I had my first protein shake since I've left the States.  I tried a GNC brand of vanilla flavored soy protein, and it was good albeit a bit chunky for my taste.  Next time I think I need to shake it up better.

Today I actually had a new biking experience.  I heard a large vehicle behind me, and I thought it was perhaps a bus or truck.  I glanced over my shoulder to see what it was, and I just saw a  2 large prongs of metal sticking out.  Then as it picked up speed I realized it was a forklift.  It easily overtook me, and then I was surprised to see ANOTHER forklift right behind him.  Seriously, how many people can offhandedly say, "So guess what happened to me today?  I was overtaken by 2 forklifts as I biked to work!"  Only in Chile....

So yeah, I finally found a place to play Magic here!  After asking my roommates and posting to Facebook groups I didn't get any response.  So I found a website  which is devoted to Magic in Chile.  On the forums I found the names of people that run tournaments in Santiago, so I emailed them asking for where people meet to play. 

One guy emailed me back the next day with the names of two stores where people meet to play, so I checked one out the other night.  The store was about a ten minute bus ride from my place, and it was about 6 feet by 12 feet in total.  There were tables with benches set up, and most of them were occupied with people playing  Other people were standing around playing.  I sat down with someone when a space freed up, and we started a game.  The game ended up being short since other people had spaces reserved for a tournament starting a bit later.  I ended up getting pummeled by the guy, but it was still cool to be playing Magic in another language and getting to read and understand the cards in Spanish.

I'm looking forward to the weekend and being one week closer to my next paycheck.  Hopefully I will get it on time this time, as I have been going through money a lot more than I thought I would and I really don't feel like paying 15 bucks in fees to make an ATM withdrawal from my bank account at home.  Biking, more Magic, and going to a barbeque are all on the agenda.  Hopefully the weather will be nice to us for the barbeque Saturday.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Changing of the seasons, A new bike and interview, More schools adventures, and culture shock

As I am typing this I am watching "Los Simpson" with my roommate Mario.  About 90% of the time when I come home and he is home he is on the couch watching the show.  And in Spanish, Homer's name is Homero.  (Pronounced o-MARE-o)

Well, summer is definitely over.  In the mornings I wake up to it being about 40 to 50 degrees, and some days it seems to only get up to 65 or so.  There is no heat inside the house or at school, so I have been wearing layers and bringing a coat with me.  It is a bit funny to see people here bundled up in heavy coats and having scarves covering their entire faces, as if they were expecting subzero temperatures or a huge snowstorm like the many I lost count of back home.

On Friday it was overcast and misty all day, and then around 1:00 or so there was a heavy downpour.  Luckily I was inside when it happened, and it didn't last for too long.  Apparently fall into winter is the rainy season, and sometimes it will be raining the entire day. Note to self: buy an umbrella this weekend!

On Saturday afternoon Fabiola helped me go bike shopping.  I was hoping to pay a bit less than I did, but I found a good deal on a bike and got a discount for buying a helmet and lock with it.  I don't have a picture of it yet, but it is an 18 speed bike that is white and blue and called "Shark".  I was excited to try it out, but after a few minutes of riding towards school the seat kept slipping back.  My landlord was at the house, so I brought it back and he helped me tighten the seat.  I went out for a ride again, but after about 10 minutes of riding the same thing happened.

I took it back to the store today, and rather than putting on new screws (I think they were stripped), they actually put on a completely new seat.  I also got a blinking reflector for the back of my bike as well as a blinking headlight and mirror while I was there, and I was able to ride it home without a problem.  I got myself set up for the ride to work tomorrow and am excited about it. 

Even though I am not spending money too freely, I am spending more than I thought I would.  I decided to look into some tutoring jobs here, and I had an interview with a guy who sends teachers to businesses to teach English to individuals or small groups of people.  It was an interesting interview, as the guy started out by giving me an overview of the education system in Chile and asked me if he minded if he smoked.  I smiled at him and told him it was fine, and the fact that I am in a different country ran through my head yet again for about the 1000th time since I've been here.  I talked about my qualifications and he told me about his students, and I have a tutoring job on Tuesdays and Fridays starting on this Friday.  The student sounds really motivated, and I'm eager to help him and also earn a little bit of extra plata.

School has been an adventure as always.  On Monday Claudia (the main teacher I work with) discovered that her schedule was changed.  Now mind you, she wasn't told this in advance.  She found this out when she went to the 12th grade class she was supposed to have for the 3rd hour, only to discover that another teacher was there and told her that she was working with ANOTHER 12th grade class for the 3rd and 4th hour.  Since I work with her during the 4th hour, I was walking around from class to class trying to find her.  After she told me about the change and class was over, I went to the teacher's lounge to see the change on the schedule or if there were any more changes in Claudia's schedule for the day.  Well, here's the fun part: The published schedule in the teacher's lounge was only for Tuesday through Friday.  So we had no way of knowing what the rest of her schedule looked like for the rest of the day.  When I took a closer look, however, I realized that they switched the times of the 2 12th grade classes.  The weirdest part is that no one has been given any explanation as to why this change happened a month and a half after the school year has started.

Trying to use technology has proven to be another adventure at school.  I prepared a lesson to learn about the present versus past tense using "In the End" by Linkin Park, and I tried to use my Ipod and the USB cable to play the music since I don't have the CD with me.  Well, after trying to use 2 boom boxes with USB techonology, a computer at the school, and a teacher's laptop over the course of about 45 minutes and three different areas of the school, I was out of luck.  Ema (one of the other teachers I work with) told me that she will have her husband download the song from Itunes onto her flash drive so that we can use it in the next class.

And the class that I was dreading having today actually turned out really well.  The new unit they started today was about celebrities and expressing opinions, and so I got them talking about Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Ricky Martin, and Michael Jackson.  It turns out that the class knows English, but they just don't speak it unless if you really insist on it.  There were Ipods and cell phones out during the lesson, but I took Claudia's advice and ignored them and instead just redirected the students to work on writing summaries of the celebrities and expressing their opinions.  Some of them got a bit out of hand during the time I gave them to create nameplates out of index cards and were fighting, but it was nothing compared to last class.  A bunch of them surprised me with how much they were able to write on their own once I prodded them a bit and encouraged them.  It was such a relief, and I felt so much better after class than this time last week.

Over the past few days I have noticed myself getting annoyed with little things and being more irritable than normal.  I think that culture shock is starting to set in, as the novelty of living here has worn off and I am dealing with the downsides of living in another culture.  So here's a quick list of my current positives and negatives of living here:

Positives: Cheap rent, being able to take public transportation to get around, practicing and improving my Spanish, meeting people from all over, traveling, being in a lower stress teaching situation

Negatives: Having to limit the time of my hot showers, getting sardined into busses and metro during rush hour, the amount of time I have to spend getting from one place to another, the lack of resources at school, no heat at home

Luckily I am aware of how I am feeling and have good friends here to help spend time when I am feeling down.  Brandon accompanied me on a wild goose chase trying to find a store that sells Magic cards on Saturday, and Donny and I spent about an hour walking around trying to find a cafe that was open on Sunday.  Erin and Walker and I had very possibly the longest game ever of chess, as she kept getting distracted by shiny things on Saturday night.  Even though Erin and I teach at the same school, we barely ever see each other.  We decided to get a bite to eat after school today, and it was good catching up and sharing our experiences since we are both the only gringos in each of our living situations.

Despite the ups and downs, life here is still good.  Just colder.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lots of random stuff....

So I have been meaning to update for the past few days, but things have been pretty busy.

So here are some pictures from the barbeque that Zoe had for her birthday on Saturday:

Sunday I met up with Walker and Erin, as we haven't seen each other in about 3 weeks or so.  It was great getting to catch up with them, and we sat at La Terraza for about 2 and a half hours just talking about random things.  I got a huge hamburger with all types of stuff on it, but didn't think to bring my camera with me.

Later that evening my roommates and I had planned to make dinner together, and so we had beef tacos with salad.  We also had some wine, but I forgot my bottle opener at the asado for Zoe on Saturday night.  Mario tried opening the bottle on his own, but when he had trouble with it 3 of my other roommates started hovering over him and decided to try and help out:

After about 10 minutes they managed to get the bottle of wine open, and this is what our dinner looked like:

This week at school has been a rollercoaster ride in some ways.  I love how I am greeted as if I am a movie star, and I get lots of students coming up to me and asking how I am and shaking my hand.  Dealing with some of the student behavior has been very challenging.  I was incredibly frustrated after working with one class.  It all started when I told a student to sit in a different seat during presentations and he refused to move.  In hindsight, I should have just kicked him out then, but I was told it's better to talk to kids at the end of class here if there are problems.  Then after that, I was dealing with cell phones and kids refusing to turn them over after being told to put them away multiple times, kids banging my desk, talking throughout presentations and simply talking louder in response to my death stare, trying to blame me for them cutting up their papers and demanding new ones, and more.  We talked at the end of class, but there didn't seem to be much resolution.  Let's just say I am not looking forward to working with this class again on Tuesday.

So that left me really frustrated, but then the classes on Wednesday and Thursday were refreshing.  They were eager to learn and speak English, and I have gotten into the habit of bringing out my frisbee at recess to play with the kids.  They seem to really enjoy it, and it's a nice way to get in some movement after being in class for a while.  Talking with some of the kids I've learned that they and their families have connections to the States, and they have gotten to travel there.

I am also figuring out where to pick my battles.  In a class today the teacher was checking assignments that the students did by having them come up indiviudally to her, and with a class of 36 that takes a while.  I walked around and helped the class complete a list of irregular verbs as well as an interest inventory for me, but there was still a lot of chaos.  I encouraged the kids to work on the two assignments, but there were kids that already had everything done and had nothing to do.  So if I saw their Ipods out and they had everything done, I told them they had to be listening to songs in English.  I told the students with Uno cards out that they had to play in English, and I played a round with them to be sure that they knew all of the words they would need to do so.  I encouraged the boy that was throwing a paper airplane across the room to say "Catch the airplane!  Are you ready?" and "Throw me the airplane!"  And I think that was the first time I heard him actually speaking English in the class besides his presentation in front of the class.

I just had to laugh as one student decided to make a tip jar, put a coin in it, and walked around the room tyring to solicit tips from his classmates.  Others were drawing in their notebooks, and others were walking around the class to talk with their friends.  I started up a game of Hangman on the board, and some students came over to me to play.  This is simply the way the classrooms tend to be here, and I'm thinking perhaps I need to be less strict with the class I had such trouble with on Tuesday.

Today Claudia (one of the teachers at my school) invited Erin and me out to lunch with her husband and 5 year old daughter.  We went to an Italian restaurant named Basta Pasta in Las Condes, and afterwards we enjoyed the nice weather at the park.  They are such nice people and offered to help us find free or low cost things to do in the area, and her husband offered to help me find a kickboxing gym and also gave tips on biking in Santiago.  Their daughter is adorable and a bundle of energy, and after stopping at their home for a short while she decided to give Erin her chocolate bunny from Easter and to stuff my pockets with her chocolate eggs.  Unfortunately I didn't have my camera on me to capture the delicious food or good weather or get a picture of us together, but hopefully next time.

Tonight I decided to experiment with cooking some churrasco (for you Jersey people it is like steak in a steak sandwich) with potatoes along with some salad, and it turned out pretty good:

This might come across as a morbid topic, but despite that it is an interesting one with different cultures.  My roommate told me that she was taking the metro home but she was delayed because someone committed suicide by jumping onto the tracks.  Apparently in Chile they have a system set up where if that happens they have a crew set up that turns off the lights down by the tracks and they have 8 minutes to clean it up.  Once they complete the job of cleaning and taking the body away, they have a mandatory paid month off so that they can recover and cope with what they just had to deal with.

Furthermore, she continued to tell me that if a person tries to commit suicide in Chile but does not succeed that they go to prison for 15 years.  This stems from the fact that Chile is a deeply Catholic country, and taking your own life is considered a sin.  The only other alternative to this sentence would be to go to a mental institution, but she said that going to prison is more likely to happen.

This weekend I am hoping to catch up with friends over dinner and buy a bike.  We'll see how that all goes....

Sunday, April 11, 2010

2 months (and a day)

Yesterday marked 2 months since I left the States, and I am feeling good.

I have gotten used to the difference in discipline in the classroom,  and I have been able to get kids to make nameplates out of index cards and fill out an interest inventory for me.  With close to 350 kids it will be a challenge to get to know the kids personally let alone know all of their names. but I am up for the challenge.  Pretty much the only thing I will do discipline wise is if I see them with a cell phone or Ipod I tell them to turn it out and put it away, and if I see it again I will take it.  Even though I have to repeat it every single class for some kids, they comply and then pay attention.  It is quite a change, as that would never happen in the States.

I am starting to get to see some of the kid's personalities also.  A few are really funny, as I had one kid tell me "My name is Bon."  And I asked him "You are Bon?"  Then he smiled at me and said, "Yeah, James Bond."  Other kids are like US kids in that they have the hard work ethic and really want to learn, while others just like to talk to their friends and don't take the class seriously at all.  In general, it seems like Chilean kids are less serious and more easygoing than kids back home.

With the exception of a barbeque this weekend has been uneventful.  Zoe's birthday was on Wednesday, and she organized a barbeque up on Cerro San Cristobal to celebrate.  I brought some wine and some meat to grill, and it was nice catching up with her and also meeting some Chileans. 

This was also my month of trying to branch out.  I emailed a bassist in the Santiago area to see about playing with some type of music group, and it turns out he is back in Spain until August.  He can't do much to help me until then, but at least I tried.  I also brought my Magic cards with me, and I found a few Facebook groups: one for all of Chile (but with people in Santiago) and another in El Bosque (which is on the outskirts of Santiago).  I have posted to both groups asking about get togethers, but haven't gotten any response yet.  Maybe I need to contact people individually, so we'll see. 

I feel like I have started becoming more outgoing since I have been here.  While traveling I have struck up conversations with other travelers, whereas beforehand I might have kept to myself.  I'm learning to cook a bit more and have also gotten used to switching out the huge gas tanks for hot water and cooking.  All in all, I am satisfied with my experiences so far.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

School, Paychecks, Hostel Life, and Exploring

So it has only been a few days of school, but I still feel like there's a lot I can write about.  This week all of the English classes have their oral and written tests, so it is an easy week for me.  I was wondering why Claudia wasn't at school when I got there, as she always shows up early on Mondays.  She ended up showing up at the last minute and was facing major printing problems at home for some of the tests for the week.  We then rushed up to the first class (which was going to do their oral tests), but we found out that they scheduled a mass during that time.  So we had to go down with them instead of taking their tests.

The next surprise was that my paycheck wasn't ready.  It was supposed to be ready last week Thursday, but I forgot to ask about it.  I was asked about it at school on Monday, and the payroll guy told me that he hadn't received anything from our program yet.  I spoke with the woman who heads up the English programs, and she told me that they weren't ready but she was going to be sure that they got there the next day.  I told my program director as well as the payroll guy about this before heading home.

So on Tuesday I checked in first thing in the morning (I was running out of money pretty badly at this point), and he said he would try and call at 9 when the EDUCA office would be open.  I checked back later that morning, and he didn't get through to anyone.  He told me to check back at 1 since the banks close at 2.  I stopped back, and he didn't have any news, but a few minutes later he told me that our paychecks were being delivered and would be there in the next 45 minutes or so.  I decided to hold tight and hope to make it to the bank on time.

Our paychecks arrived at about 1:45, and the payroll guy directed me and Erin to the specific bank we had to go to.  We got there at 1:57, and as long as you get in the door by 2:00 you are fine.  After waiting in line for about 25 minutes we were able to get our paychecks. 

It is such a relief to not have to make more ATM withdrawals or charge more groceries and other things to my credit card.  I've already set up a budget for myself and am going to do my best to stick to it. 

Through this experience and seeing what I have seen at school so far, I have come to the following conclusions about Chilean culture in relation to schools:

1. Time is much more lax here.  Teachers will show up after the bell has rung for classes to start, and it is not uncommon for them to show up to class 5 minutes after the bell has rung.
2. Teachers will continue teaching even if half the class is not listening, and the responsibility simply lies on the students to be able to complete the work.  Unless if it is something major, students are not typically given consequences or thrown out of class.
3. One of the teachers told me that things in Chile are done "a la chilena".  This means that sometimes things go wrong or don't work, so they try to find a solution.  If that solution works 90% of the time, that's great.  If it works 50% of the time, that's great too.  If it doesn't work, try something else and repeat.
So in addition to getting used to this cultural shift, I got a pleasant surprise yesterday.  I was out running some errands, and a couple that was obviously Latino stopped me and asked me for directions.  I have gotten some tan since I have been here, but it's still pretty obvious that I am a gringo.  I happened to know exactly where they had to go (for those of you reading this that know Santiago they were on Matta con San Francisco and wanted to know how to get to Santa Rosa), and it was such a satisfying feeling feeling like a local here.

Another culture that I have grown very accustomed to is the hostel life.  I can't put my finger on what it is about it, but the adventure of traveling and meeting other people that are also traveling is such a satisfying feeling.  There's just something about sharing the meals and drinks with strangers, talking about where you've been and where you're going, and deciding to venture out to explore together that is so relaxed and spontaneous.

One thing that intrigues me about hostel life is the way that people talk.  Here are the typical questions that guide a conversation (in the order they happen) between people meeting for the first time in a hostel situation:

1. Hey, how's it goin?
2. When did you get here?
3. How long are you staying?
4. Where were you before here?
5. How did you like it there? 
6. Where are you going after this?
7. Want to go out and get something to eat/explore/go on a tour together?

You will notice one interesting thing about this: You don't really get to know people's names or much about their careers.  The way that we identify ourselves in other contexts don't really apply since everyone is traveling.  I have made good travel friends and only learned their names after hanging out for an entire day together, and in other cases we spent the day together and one of us traveled elsewhere before we got to exchange names.  Even if we don't get to do that, we still hold the memory of the conversation we had, the meal we shared, or the tidbit of travel advice we passed along to each other.

This afternoon I got to do some more exploring.  I have been putting off trying to get my camera fixed since I have been dreading finding out how much it would cost, but I decided to face the music today.  After getting my hair cut at a colorful hair salon, I headed towards Huerfanos con Ahumada where I was told I could get it fixed.  I realized that Huerfanos is a pedestrian walkway that I had seen passing by on the bus plenty of times before but never bothered to explore before this.

The store I needed was about 4 blocks away, and so I got to see a lot of shops along the way.  There were a lot of bookstores and a fair amount of restuarants as well as a movie theater.  I made my way to the store, but it turns out they don't repair Canons.  They directed me to another store a block away from there, and they told me it would most more to repair than a new camera. 

So I took a deep breath as I asked the cost of a new camera.  They had the same exact camera as my broken one, and it cost 129.000 pesos, which is about $235.  I got mine for $150 from Amazon, so I decided to do some research online.  It turns out that they can't ship cameras to Chile, so I will have to get my camera here.  I will probably shop around or maybe get another Canon but a cheaper model.  But I will definitely invest in a good case to keep it safe this time.

It's hard to believe that the week is almost over.  Saturday will be the 2 month mark of traveling.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

School, My first music video, Mendoza adventures, and more toilets

This was my first week at school with a set schedule.  It is a nice feeling to know where I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to be doing, and I also feel like a big weight has been taken off my chest without having to teach classes on my own.

I am starting to get to know some of the students´ names (from 7th to 12th grade I am working with about 400 of them), and I had them make up nameplates and fill out an interest inventory so I can get to know them better.  They really liked the nameplate idea and got pretty creative with their artwork on it, and on the other side of the nameplate they wrote their nicknames.

The classes I am working with vary greatly.  One thing I´ve noticed is that there is no such thing as advanced classes, so you get students of all different levels of English in the same class.  Some classes are really well behaved with kids with high levels of English, and in one class I had a few kids asking me about US politics and why people don´t like Obama as well as conspiracy theories in relation to 9 11 (In English).  Other classes were really talkative and disruptive that it was hard to even begin to know what their level of English was.

It seems like little things at the school are really interesting to the students.  I spiked my hair for a change, and I got so many comments from them about how I looked bakan and fleite.  They also seem fascinated by my clip on sunglasses.  I personally think they make me look pretty dorky, but maybe the concept of dorkiness is cultural.

On a completely different note but before I forget, I got to star in a music video.  Jason Milstein, a friend from high school, is in a really awesome up and coming band called The Medium.  I was the college professor handing out the diplomas to the students in the video.  Here is a link to it if you want to see:

So this is my second trip to Mendoza so far.  I was asleep on the bus when I woke up hearing the tires squealing and the driving giving it full gas.  After looking out the window I was surprised to see that there was snow all over the place.  I didn´t think to snap any pictures at the time, but there was about a distance of about a foot between the bus and the edge of the precipice.
The trip almost didn´t happen, as I didn´t realize how difficult it would be to find a place to stay for Easter weekend.  I got an email from the hostel I was at last time that they didn´t have any spaces, and I went to a bunch of websites and called a bunch of places with no luck.  I got to the second to last place in my travel guide, and they had a room.  It is actually a hotel, but they have single rooms.  I was breaking the bank with the cost of 90 pesos (which is about 23 dollars) becuase I am used to hostel prices.

For the price it is actually pretty nice.  I have my own private room with private bathroom, and breakfast is included.  The downside is that is not a hostel, which means no public computers, no meeting random people to hang out with, and no kitchen to prepare my own meals.  But all in all not bad with a few days notice before Easter weekend:

So far in Mendoza I have gotten to do a good amount.  I took a mountain biking tour, and the views along the way were amazing.  I got used to go down big hills in the dirt and rocks and mastered the position of keeping your balance between both pedals while breaking slowly, and it was a great feeling climbing the hills and working up a sweat.  It reminded me of the mountain biking I did in Oaxaca about 6 years ago.  Here are some pictures:

I also explored the Plaza Independencia with lots of street vendors as well as the pedestrian area of Sarmiento.  I walked into a wine shop to look around and was pleasantly surprised when they offered me a free sample of a wine.  I tried a red wine (a Cabarnet I think) and it was really good.  After that, I stopped into a mini market to get a bottled water when I noticed that they sold bottles of wine as well as mini bottles of wine.  The smallest bottle was 6 pesos (about $1.50) and was probably about 1.5 to 2 glasses of wine.  The next biggest was about 11 pesos ($3.75) and it was probably about 3 or 4 glasses of wine.  I doubt that you could find any place like that in the States.

The next day I woke up early and went to the Parque General de San Martin, which is large and beautiful.  There are tree lined streets, areas to bike and walk, sidewalk cafes, a zoo, and some amazing viewpoints.  I walked all the way to the top of Cerro de la Gloria (a large hill dedicated to the soldiers who lost their lives in wars involving Argentina).

 On the way back I stopped at a cafe and got a hamburger with French fries and some juice.  I have gotten used to not getting a bun with my hamburgers in Chile, so I was pleasantly surprised to get one with this meal, especially seeing that the entire meal only cost 4 bucks:

I updated part of this at an internet cafe that is connected to a Subway.  I haven´t eaten at Subway yet in South America, so I decided to give it a try.  Let me just say that they don´t know how to make their meatball sandwiches here.  First off, there wasn´t any mozzerella OR parmesan cheese.  They used American cheese, and there was barely any sauce.  It looked so pitiful that I added some lettuce and tomato to it. 

I have found more notable additions to my previous post about toilets around the world.  Here is exhibit A, which is in my hotel room:

It looks like a normal toilet with one teeny tiny exception: IT HAS A HUGE METAL THING CLAMPED TO IT.  At first I thought it was some type of torture device, but I rejected that notion once my private parts were intact after using it.  I have yet to muster up the courage to turn the handle on the side or ask at reception what it does.

Then there is exhibit B, which is inside the internet cafe restroom:

This is what we call a minimalist toilet.  It is no nonsense and does not need luxuries such as handles to flush or a toilet seat.  If you look up, you will notice a tank of water overhead with a string to pull in order to flush it.  It is toilets like these that make me always bring a pack of tissues in my pocket and hand sanitizer with me wherever I travel.

After my experience with the minimalist toilet, I went back to editing this post and got a text from Allison.  It turns out she was in Mendoza also and was waiting to hear back from some friends about meeting up.  Her hostel was only a few blocks away, so we met up there and waited for Celine and Sonia.

It turns out Allison took over 12 hours to get into Mendoza due to the huge lines at the border, and she had spent the entire day by herself.  We hadn´t seen each other since we parted ways in Viña when I headed back to the hostel early while everyone else went out, so we had a lot to catch up about.

We got some soda while Celine and Sonia got settled into the hostel, and we became accustomed to the suprise we got when trying to pay with larger bills.  A dollar is about 4 Argentinean pesos, so I wouldn´t think much of having to pay with a 50 or 100 peso bill.  Apparently it is a big deal here.  Allison and I got used to the gasp and widening eyes as we tried to pay with a 50 peso bill for our 2 sodas costing 12 pesos.  After paying we sat and waited for about 10 minutes, and when we asked our waitress for the change she said we had to talk to the person at the register.  Going there, we learned that they did not have enough change to give us, and they were waiting for other people to pay with small bills so that they could give us our change.  Luckily it worked out a minute or so after that .

Then afterwards she had to break her 100 peso bill, so she got a bottled water at McDonald´s.  We thought it wouldn´t be as big of a deal there, but we got the same reaction.  Note to self: Next time ask for smaller bills when changing money in Argentina.

Once Celine and Sonia were ready, we all went out to get dinner together.  It was really cool becuase we all spoke Spanish well enough to speak in Spanish the entire time.  (Sonia is from Madrid, so we didn´t have much of a choice anyway)  When deciding where to go to dinner, I suggested Las Tinajas.  They seemed a bit hesitant at first, but I told them it would be worth it.

The food was great as always, and this time we got the additional experience of the butchers cutting meat and hacking it so hard that bones and pieces of the meat went flying in various directions.  I had always had some type of meat without bone before that, so this was a new adventure.  After getting more than our fair fill of food, we finished it off with chocolate crepes.  It was really nice to get to meet up with them, as I had been traveling solo for the entire time before then.

The next morning I woke up feeling a bit funky, and I think I ate something bad and was sore from all the walking the day before.  I tried to drink water and walk it off while doing some shopping, but it stuck with me.  I was able to talk to the company I scheduled a wine tour with and will be able to bring the voucher back on my next trip to Mendoza and use it then rather than lose the 50 pesos I paid.  I have been resting up and took some aspirin, and I am feeling better. 

Later on I got some McDonald´s to eat, and my stomach did fine with it.  I also bought some chocolate from a famous chocolate shop here called La Cabaña, and it seems like everyone was doing their last minute Easter candy shopping.  They don´t seem to be big on the Easter Bunny in Argentina, but they love their huevos (eggs).  They had all types of chocolate Easter eggs that were decorated with ornate designs and patterns, and they were of all types of varying sizes.  I had already bought some Easter candy back in Santiago, so I just got some assorted candies and some wine to bring back with me. 

In a few hours it is off to the bus station and back to Santiago.  It has been a good trip, and I know I will be back to Mendoza at one point or another.