Monday, October 22, 2012

Te amo Viña part 2, Upcoming Elections, and English Day

Things in Chile continue to be interesting.

My second day in Viña was nice and relaxing.  I had a big breakfast with a crepe, jelly, fresh fruit, juice, tea, fresh bread, lunchmeat, and yogurt before heading out.

I went for a walk along the coast and snapped some pictures.  After that I got some hot chocolate and croissants to help with the cold weather.

 I decided to try my luck at the casino again, and after put 10.000 pesos (about 20 bucks) into the Zeus slot machine, this is what I got:

That's about 80 bucks.  I decided not to press my luck and cashed it out right away.

I tried my luck at an all you can eat restaurant, but it wasn't that great.  Then I headed back to the hostel to do some reading and enjoy some hot tea, and there were some other people there.  They're from Seattle, and we got to talk for a while.  We decided to venture out and went to a place called Cafe Journal.  It's a bar but also has room to dance and also serves food.  We decided to split some chorillana, as they had never had it before.  After a few hours we were back to the hostel and in bed.

In political news, the US election is getting lots of coverage here.  People are talking about it pretty often.  It turns out that this is also an election year in Chile, but not for the president.  It's for the mayors and representatives of each communa (municipality).  Everywhere you go you see signs like these:

They are propped up along the streets of major intersection, but they are not very sturdy.  Here's a picture from the back:

It's very easy for someone to break through them or deface them, and unfortunately you see that from time to time.  The elections are on the 28th, and from what I hear they can't sell alcohol on the day for fear of people using it to get people drunk and then getting them to vote a particular way.

The last event of importance here is English Day.  A friend of mine (who also used to be my boss) has taken on the job of being an English coordinator of some very low income schools in Santiago.  She has a tremendous amount of work and faces amazing challenges, yet she remains strong and is an incredibly positive spirit in the face of those challenges.  She asked for volunteers to come see the school and help out for the day, and so I went to help out.

When I arrived the receptionist asked for my name, and I told her Daniel.  I appeared on the list as Dan Guim, but she had some trouble writing my name correctly on the name tag.  At first she wrote Dar Guin, and I corrected her.  So then I was Dar Guim.  Then I explained that the n should be an n, but she didn't understand.  So this is how my name tag turned out:

It gave everyone a really good laugh, and I've saved it to have the memory.

The school is pretty run down, but that didn't stop the positive spirit and outlook of the staff or the students.  In preparation for the event they created posters, booklets, and magazines in English.  On the actual day they played bingo, sang songs accompanied with guitars, drum, and tambourine, put on skits, danced, and even cheerleaded.  The volunteers went around to classes and spoke in English with the students.  It was nice getting to see what they have done and to see all of the work that my friend has done in her short time there.

I'll be returning home for the holidays on December 17th, and it surprises me that it's less than 2 months away.  I'm looking forward to being home in the States again to visit, but at the same time I know I'll miss my life here in Santiago and the summer weather.  I'll be home until the end of January, so another extended period of time home but with plenty of traveling happening.  More on that in my next post.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Te amo Viña

Monday the 15th is the holiday here, so I decided that I wanted to spend part of the weekend away from Santiago.  I didn´t have any classes on Friday, so I took off to Viña del Mar for a few days.

Of course TurBus raised the prices on all the tickets since it was a long weekend, but I lucked out.  While most tickets cost 5.000 pesos each way  (about 10 bucks), I found tickets for 1.000 pesos each way (2 bucks).  It was with a company called Condor, and the bus departed from Terminal Sur.  I had never been there before, but the ticket agent assured me that it was right next to the main terminal at the Universidad de Santiago station.  After arriving and asking for directions she was right, and I settled into my seat and napped until I arrived.

Getting to the bed and breakfast I booked was a bit more challenging that I was expecting, but after some walking and asking for directions I got a colectivo and it was a short walk from where they dropped me off.  The bed and breakfast is run by a couple: Carlos from Santiago and Gisela originally from Germany.  It´s in a quiet area and it´s a short walk from downtown, and I´m really enjoying it.

After settling in and taking a nap I decided to get a late lunch at an Italian restaurant that my Let´s Go Chile book recommends.  It was about a 25 minute walk, but definitely worth it.  The restaurant was a bit fancy and caters to a bit of an upper class crowd.  I felt a bit out of place with my jeans and sneakers, but they still gave excellent service.  I rarely eat out at fancy places, but the meal was worth every peso: fresh bread right out of the oven, an amaretto sour, and delicious fettucini alfredo.

I haven´t posted about interesting bathrooms in a while, and here I definitely came across one:

It took me some time to figure out how to get the ¨faucet¨ to work, and it turns out that there´s a button on the floor I had to press:

After that adventure I was ready to move on and see what else the day had in store for me.    I had already seen the touristy things in Viña, but I didn´t want to go back yet.  It was only about 4:45 after all.  Then I noticed the Viña del Mar Casino.

I have to admit that I like the thrill of gambling and possibly winning money, and so I decided to check it out. It seemed strange to me that you had to pay an entrance of 3.800 pesos (about 7 dollars) to get in, but I figured it would be worth it for the cultural experience.

Inside it was like a casino in Vegas: marble floors, red carpets, lots of slot machines, cocktail waitresses, and people gambling.  One thing that surprised me was that there were separate smoking and nonsmoking sections, but it was a pleasant surprise.  (You can learn a lesson from Chile, Vegas!)

There was also a gambling reward card, and so I decided to get one.  They asked for my basic information, and a few minutes later I had one!  I doubt that I will ever gamble enough to get any considerable rewards from it, but it´s still cool to have the card.

After exploring I decided to give my luck a chance.  I walked around and found a slot machine that I liked: Zeus.  The reason I chose it was because I have a game that I play with my young students called Zeus on the Loose, and a few of them are in love with the game.

So I put in 5.000 pesos (about 10 dollars), and I made the largest bet with the most number of lines possible.  I didn´t win anything and noticed that it was over 2.000 pesos for that bet alone, so I started lowering it.  A few bets went by with nothing, then I won barely enough to keep me in the game.  Then two bets later I hit a small jackpot!  I got up to 14.100 pesos (about 28 dollars), and I cashed out.

After exchanging the ticket for the cash, I decided to push my luck a bit further.  When I went back the Zeus slot machine I was at was occupied, so I went to an identical one a few machines away.  I put in 3.000 pesos (about 6 bucks), and after about 4 bets I hit a mini jackpot and won 7.650 pesos (about 15 bucks).  I once again cashed out and left happily with my earnings.

It was about 5:45, and I took a leisurely stroll back to the bed and breakfast.  Along the way I browsed in some shops, and one of them was a vintage clothing store.  They had a variety of completely random t shirts from North Carolina: boy scouts, a pizza place, a gym, and a few other places I can´t remember.  It was a bit strange because my brother and sister in law moved there a few months ago, and I also have a few good friends that live there.

I contemplated going out for some drinks at night, but it got surprisingly cold once the sun went down.  I also didn´t get to know anyone else staying at the bed and breakfast, so I was content to stay in, catch up on some reading, and update my blog.

Today´s agenda is also pretty wide open: I might meet up with some friends who are in the area or some other friends who want to get lunch.  I want to go back to the casino, but I also want to walk and explore the coastline and beauty of this picturesque escape from Santiago.

Friday, October 12, 2012

An Auto Show, Asado, Earthquake, and Protest

The past few weeks have had a few fun events.

The first one was the Salón de Automoviles in Santiago.  One of my students works with cars and was responsible for the planning of the annual auto show, and he got me two tickets to the inauguration.  It was on a Wednesday night and started at 9.  It was pretty far away, I had never been to the area,  and I´d be taking public transportation to get there, so it was a bit intimidating.  But I did some research and there was a bus a few blocks from my apartment that would take me directly there and a friend was able to go, so we went.

When I picked up the tickets we were told that it was a formal event, so I took out my suit that I hadn´t worn in at least a few years.  Luckily it still fit, and so Britt and I were looking and feeling pretty spiffy.

OK, so I have to quickly introduce Britt.  She´s from Texas and started following my blog a few years ago.  She told me she wanted to come to Chile and gave me her email address, so we started conversing back and forth.  Then in February of this year she came here with TeachingChile, (although I wouldn´t recommend it to anyone interested anymore) and we got to meet in person!  We have hung out from time to time since she arrived, but this was probably the most formal and nicest even we´ve gone to together.

When we got off the bus we discussed the irony of us going to an auto show using public transportation, and it was also funny that walking to the convention center we had to watch out for all the cars and walked through a drive through area to turn in our tickets.

Once we arrived, we saw it was huge.  There were 4 or 5 pavilions with each one about the size of a large Target store.  They had cars, models in skimpy outfits, advertisements for cars, and some free drinks and appetizers.  We took advantage of the sights and snapped pictures.  Of course I got a picture with a Subaru (we have had them in our family since I was a little kid and my first and only car was a Subaru)

While we were wandering around I saw my student´s boss whom I taught a few classes to, and we got to chat for a quick minute.  I was a bit disappointed that I didn´t get to see my student, but we decided that 11 was the latest that we could stay and hope to catch a bus back without having to wait for too long or pay a lot for a taxi.

As we were leaving we noticed that there was an exhibition for Cars, the Disney movie with full size replicas from the movie.  Britt and I decided to check it out.  We had to wait a few minutes for them the finish sweeping up the floor, but then we got to walk through.  As I went to take pictures I heard someone call out "Daniel!"  It turns out my student that got me the tickets was working that exhibition.  I got to thank him for the tickets and introduce Britt, and he helped us get some pictures together.  It was a pleasant surprise to have seen him after all, and then we headed out.

On our walk back the streets were lit, and I took note of where the bus stops were for our way back.  When I saw our bus going through the traffic circle I burst into a sprint so that we could catch it, and Britt actually overtook me from behind.  The bus driver was so nice to have stopped for us, and the ride back was peaceful.  I very rarely go out on a weeknight, but I´m glad that I did this time.

Another great event that happened was a barbeque (or asado).  Last weekend it was raining cats and dogs, but one of the classes I finished teaching decided they were going to have a barbeque to celebrate.  The students are a wonderful group of people that came together and created a great community.  They created a Whatsapp group so that everyone could be informed if they missed class over the 2 and a half month period, and they have become friends.  Now that I´m no longer their teacher we have also become friends.  It was a great time with drinks, marshmallows, meat, and an awards ceremony with memorable quotes, best moments and individual awards.

And of course continuing my time in Santiago wouldn´t be complete without another earthquake and student protest.  I was fortunate enough (I guess) to have both events happen on the same day.  At least that way I got them out of the way at the same time.

It was about 2:30 in the afternoon on Thursday, and I was sitting in Banco de Chile waiting for my students to show up.  I had my laptop set up so we could finish watching a movie, then everything started to shake.  At first I froze and didn´t know what to do, as I didn´t know how strong it was going to be or how long it would last.  I grabbed my jacket and cell phone and opened the glass door and stood in it just in case, but after about 20 seconds the shaking stopped.  I later found out it was a 5.7.

I tried calling my emergency contacts here in Chile, but my call wouldn´t go through.  I was able to get text messages through and they responded, so that put me at ease.  When my students arrived a few minutes later they made calls to family, and I tried to get an email home.  The internet wasn´t working so I wasn´t able to, but it turns out that by the time I called home that night that no one even knew that there was one.

As if I didn´t have enough excitement after that, I got caught in traffic jams all over the city on my way home from my evening class.  On the second bus home we were moving at a snail´s pace, but I didn´t think anything of it at first.  When it persisted I got suspicious that something was going on, and after being on the bus for 45 minutes I decided to get off.

It´s a good think I got off when I did, as the bus driver decided to turn right and go off the route and away from where I needed to go.  I found myself at a major intersection and tried to catch a bus going south, but the traffic was just as bad and everything seemed to be at a standstill.  More and more people got off buses and started walking, so I decided the 45 minute walk home would be some good exercise seeing I had Papa Johns the night before.

I tried looking for taxis on the walk home since I had a lot of things with me, but they were either taken or en route to someone else.  As I walked down Pedro de Valdivia (a main street near my apartment), I noticed buses going north that normally don´t go anywhere near Pedro de Valdivia.  (The 504 runs east to west, and now it was going north!)  When I got to Irarrazaval (the main street I live on) I saw that traffic was only going west and it was blocked off from going east.  I asked some police officers that were redirecting traffic near my apartment, and only then did I find out there was a protest happening!  If I had known I probably would have cancelled my class, as it took me almost 2 hours to get home and I could have been caught up in tear gas and/or water cannons.  Luckily I made it home safe and sound.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Dan and Dana's Excellent Adventure Part 3: Mexican food, the Andes, and a Wine Tour

After being busy getting back to teaching classes after the 18 holiday I got a bit lazy with updating the last part of my vacation.

Our 4 hour layover (I guess you can say that for buses too?) in Puerto Varas worked out nicely.  We got lunch at the German restaurant again, caught up on emails and Facebook, and enjoyed some chocolate fondue.

The overnight ride back to Santiago was uneventful.  We arrived Friday around 6 in the morning and were able to get a bus directly back to my apartment.  After catching up on sleep, we lounged around and got some lunch nearby.  At night we met up with some of my friends and got Mexican food in Plaza Ñuñoa.  It was a nice mix of co workers, Chilean friends, and gringo friends, and I think everyone had a great time.

On Saturday we were off to the Andes.  We went on a tour that took us to Farallones and Valle Nevado, which are ski resorts up in the mountains.  We had time to stop and take pictures along the way up.

Then Sunday was a wine tour.  We went to the Concha y Toro vineyard a bit southeast of Santiago.  I had taken the tour before, but I knew that Dana would really enjoy it.  At the end of the tour you also get an engraved wine glass, so after the tour I now had a set of two.  We also got lunch there, and I had some delicious lasagna with chocolate mousse for dessert.

I know I´ve probably written about this before, but there´s something special about having a friend or family member visit.  It can be easy to get homesick when you´re away from home and far from family and friends, but visitors can bring a touch of home with them, be it a food that you miss, something from home, or a gift from family.  They also know you as a person before you settled down living abroad, and they can really appreciate and see how your live has changed during your time abroad.  In the two years since Dana last visited me I was living in a 3 bedroom apartment with a few Chileans that didn´t always have hot water, and I had to watch my money so carefully that I was concerned about spending about 8 dollars to go to a fonda.  Now I´m in my own apartment and was able to take time off to not teach any classes during her visit, and I´m financially stable enough to travel and not worry about money.

It´s visits and situations like that that help you realize how much progress you´ve made, both personally and professionally.  On a broader note, I´m very grateful for the family and friends that I´ve had come visit me, and I´m looking forward to more visitors in the future.