Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Map for Saturday

I'm sitting in the JFK airport in New York, anxiously waiting to board my flight to Bogota.  The woman at the check in counter was understanding about my bags being slightly overweight and let me through without a problem.  

I didn't do much preparation for this trip in regards to finding tours and deciding what I'm going to do besides explore Bogota and Cartagena.  I'm a bit anxious about the trip due to what people say about safety issues in Colombia, but I'm just going to let common sense and my instinct help me navigate my trip.  

On Youtube last night I found a documentary I saw on MTV a little over 2 years ago.  It documents a TV producer's decision to leave his hectic but well-paying job in New York to travel the world for a year.  When I saw this it reaffirmed the wanderlust that I got when I first went to Germany.  It's about an hour and a half long, but very inspiring and interesting.  If you have the time to watch it feel free to post comments and let me know what you think.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Los Angeles, Jersey, 2 year earthquake anniversary, and Colombia

Panera Bread is a place I enjoy hanging out when I'm home in Jersey, and probably at least half of my updates while I'm home take place there.  The comfy booths, delicious food, and free wifi create a nice way to get out of the house, and it's a nice alternative to Starbucks.

I'm enjoying a sandwich and cinnamon scone at Panera Bread, and when ordering I ran into a former student who is now in college.  She was there with her mother, and I was mistaken for a fellow college student.  It's a nice feeling knowing that I still look young.  :-)

The past 2 weeks have been a whirlwind of social events, enjoying downtime, packing, and preparing for my next adventure.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words,  so here are a few thousand words:

The trusty Metro Rapid buses that I would use to get around

A meal from the pasta bar at Oxy's cafeteria

A nice touch to a cup of hot chocolate

I always love going back to LA and visiting my alma mater's campus.

Dinner at Olvera Street

cream-filled churros

A landmark at Olvera Street.  Many a pictures were taken here over the years
 I've visited with friends and even on a field trip with students.

I never saw a hand drying contraption like this before.

Venice Beach

Good weather, good friends, good times

After over 4 years, we got to catch up.


You have no idea how beautiful this picture is until you've had In n Out Burger.

Near Anaheim

No, we didn't plan to match.  Great minds think alike.

The Cheesecake Factory with Ellie

Parmasean crusted romano chicken
I didn't get to see everyone I was hoping to on the visit, but it was still a great time catching up with people and reconnecting with people I hadn't seen in years.

My time in Jersey has also been great.  I've been fortunate to catch up with family and friends and enjoy the food I miss. We also celebrated 4 birthdays this month. So here again are a few thousand words:

Outback Steak House

Amaretto sour

home made pot stickers

My brother and sister in law are amazing in the kitchen.

Panera Bread bacon turkey bravo

a cinnamon scone
In the midst of preparing to spend 8 days in Colombia before returning to Santiago, I almost forgot that today is the 2 year anniversary of the earthquake.  It's hard to believe how much time has gone by, and I feel fortunate that the damage was not any worse than it was.  For the second year in a row my dad will unfortunately have to go without an earthquake for his birthday.

With my visit home to the States drawing to a close, how am I feeling?  It's quite a mix of emotions.  It was such a gratifying experience spending time at home and reconnecting with what is familiar to me.  I realize that I've changed a lot, and things at home haven't changed that much.  I'm looking forward to my trip to Colombia, and also to returning to Santiago.

Despite that, there's also an uncertainty in the future.  Will my private classes and institute be as reliable as they were this past year?  Am I going to survive another Chilean winter with freezing temperatures and no central heating?  I am growing a bit apprehensive and cautious about the future, but I know one thing for sure: You never know how things will turn out if you don't give it a chance.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Technology Moves at the Speed of Light

I am becoming convinced that technology is growing at an exponential rate.

At the risk of sounding like an old geezer, technology was in a very different place when I was in Germany in 2000-2001.  (Gosh, was that really 11 years ago?)  I remember the big thing then was to have an email address and to use AOL Instant Messenger.  The camera I had was from Kodak and was APS.  Rather than having the film that you had to set up in the camera it was all internal, and you dropped off a small roll of film to get developed.  In terms of communication, things were still pretty primative compared to today's standards.  The main ways I communicated with my family was writing letters, an occasional email, and calling home once a month.

In college I felt like I was a bit behind the ball with technology.  Sure, I signed up for Facebook when it first came out.  I didn't get my first laptop until I finished grad school in 2006, and I had a prepay cell phone for my first few years of college mostly to use just for emergencies.  I kept a blog on Livejournal for a few years, but unfortunately I wasn't able to use it to document my travels before I got it.  Cameras became more advanced, and I had a digital camera to take pictures.

Now it's 2012, and technology has come a long way.  Skype lets people make video calls to see each other.  You can also make international phone calls for cheaper than Skype with Google Voice.  Blogs have become a part of mainstream culture, and cell phones now make phone calls, send text messages, and connect to the internet.  Wifi connections have become standard in coffee shops, and are even available in airplanes, trains, and some subway stations.

After having felt a bit behind, I feel like I've caught up a bit.  I have a Kindle Fire and can read books for pleasure or to kill free time between classes or when traveling.  My new laptop has an integrated webcam, meaning that I can now video chat with family and friends.  I'm actually typing this update while on an Amtrak train from Los Angeles to Anaheim to visit some friends.  My camera is nice enough to take pictures and even record some basic video, and it suits my needs.

I don't have a smart phone, and I really don't want to get one.  I just don't feel like paying extra money every month to be able to access the internet on a phone.  I mean, it would be nice.  Between a laptop that I can carry with me and my Kindle Fire, I think that that will be connected enough to suit my taste.

I told myself that I would use free time (like this time on the train) to prepare documents, search for resources for teaching, and do productive things.  Yet I find myself on Facebook, playing Angry Birds, and doing not so productive things.

This leaves me wondering a few questions.  Is technology really that good for us if we don't use it to be productive?  Is it a good thing to feel like we're dependent on the internet, email, and Facebook?  Has technology becoming a part of our daily life improved or worsened our relationships with people and the amount of time we spend with people face to face?

I find a mix of yes and no with these questions.  I don't have time to elaborate now, as I have reached my stop at Anaheim.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Memories of a Younger Time

Traveling back to a familiar place is always a treat.  There are the memories of important events, times with friends, trips around a city, and the daily life that became a part of your routine.  It's interesting to see how some things don't change much over time, but at the same time there are new businesses, new bus lines, and new faces.  Despite that, it bring back a flood of memories (good, bad, and somewhere in the middle) that helped shape the person you are today.

I have currently had this experience in Los Angeles.  I arrived in LAX, which brought back memories of trips home to visit family, but returning to LA to resume my studies or work.  There were also 2 vacations to Mexico sprinkled in there somewhere.

Taking a trip to Occidental (my alma mater) involved taking a bus from West LA to Union Station, then another from Union Station to Eagle Rock.  During my first 5 years in LA I didn't have a car, and so I spent a fair amount of time commuting by bus or bike.  Riding the buses made me remember the times I went by bus to explore downtown LA, the time I had to do a cultural event for a Spanish class and waited over an hour for the bus to go to Olvera Street, and I even passed by the courthouse where I was summoned for jury duty during Spring Break one year in college.  A few people loaded their bikes onto the front of the rapid bus line, which is the same service I used to get around from time to time.

Union Station and Olvera Street are always places I visit when I come to LA.  Union Station is beautiful with its architexture, old design, and it just has a charm about it.  Olvera Street brings back memories of trips with friends, Day of the Dead celebrations, and a field trip with some of my students when I taught in Woodland Hills.  They had never been on public transportation before, and they had a great time exploring, seeing what the area was like, and just being out of the classroom for a day.

After about an hour and a half and two buses I made it to Occidental.  The length of the ride didn't bother me at all, as I was able to listen to my Ipod and watch the scenery to pass the time.  Walking through the neighborhood brought back the memories of living off campus and hanging out at the local coffee shop.  On campus, I felt the nostalgia of eating on campus, walking to and from classes, and living in a world where I didn't have too much to worry about besides classes.

The students on campus seemed so carefree.  Seeing that makes me wish I was back in college, and part of it makes me regret not having been more carefree when I was there.  At the same time, I was in the situation of taking demanding classes and also having to work to make ends meet, so having enough energy for a social life or being carefree didn't seem like much of an option at the time.

Spending time with friends, visiting familiar places, and reconnecting are all deeply fulfilling things that I have been very fortunate to have each time I come back to Los Angeles.  If it weren't for the economy, I would venture to say that it would be something that would bring me back to the City of Angels.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Visiting Home

I've now been home for a week now, and it feels good.

Seeing family and friends and catching up has been a really rejuvenating experience.  It's been such a nice feeling sleeping in my own bed, getting home cooked meals, and being around everything that is familiar to me once again.  My time so far has involved watching TV with my dad, visiting the mall with friends, a few Magic marathons, a birthday breakfast with my brother and sister in law, catching up with the Rotary Youth Exchange folks that sent me to Germany in high school, and going out to eat with friends.

It's a strange albeit nice feeling being back.  I love the cheap prices and seemingly endless variety that I can get when shopping at the food store or at Target, and the same goes for buying clothing here.  A 10 oz bottle of sunblock for 5 bucks?  Dress socks for a dollar a pair?  Binders for a few dollars each?  I'll take it.  All of it.  As long as it all fits in my luggage when I come back.

My time has also been taken up by new technology: a new laptop with an integrated webcam and mic (which is now perfect for catching up with family and friends via Skype) and a Kindle Fire.  Since I won't be able to access the free TVs and movies in Santiago I've been taking full advantage of the streaming content and have been watching The Wonder Years from the first episode.

Over the years I've built up a huge number of books, textbooks, and general resources for teaching.  I've also put off cleaning through them and my personal possessions each time I've been home, but now I'm slowly sorting through things.  It's amazing how much you can accumulate without realizing it, and going through it brings back a flood of memories of all different types of events over the years: middle school and high school awards, yearbooks, pictures and photo albums from trips, journals, books from my childhood, and the list goes on and on.

And of course I've been enjoying the food.  Here are some pictures of what I've had to eat since I've been home:

A pizza steak

Parmasean crusted chicken with some pasta and tomato salad

apple crumb pie a la mode

some food that I've missed

a made to order salad (I wish there were more of these!)

What's a visit to the mall without going to Cinnabon at least once?

A homemade meal of pork chops, mashed potatoes, spaetzle, and corn.  And yes, I'm aware that that's a lot of starch and carbs for one meal!

Chik Fil-A!

A meatball sandwich from Wawa.

Order out Chinese to help with the hunger after a Magic marathon

I wish they had Belgian waffles in Chile.
I'm very fortunate to be able to visit friends in Los Angeles, and I'll be boarding the plane to go there in less than 2 days!  Have a Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Packing Up

My laundry is in the dryer, and I'm sipping on some orange juice and listening to the radio in my apartment as I type this.  This time tomorrow I'll be on the plane from Santiago to Bogota.

This year has absolutely flown by.  I can still remember first coming back, my dad visiting, and moving into my new apartment.  I took some amazing trips, had wonderful work opportunities and students, and shared good times with friends here.

On Friday night Katie and I had a joint celebration for our birthdays (her actual birthday is today).  It was a really nice event, and it brought together some of our friends that didn't know each other before.  Here are some pictures of the night:

I'm going to spend the day finishing my packing and cleaning, buying last minute gifts, and possibly meeting up with friends for a drink.  See you soon everyone!