Saturday, January 26, 2013

A food tour through Gringolandia, or why it's unrealistic for me to try to start eating healthy again for the New Year

So I've been taking pictures of what I've been eating while I've been home, but I haven't gotten around to sharing the pictures yet.  Be forewarned not to read this if you're hungry.

Breakfast in the Miami airport during my layover home.
This plus an orange juice came to 18 bucks.

Pizza steak with fries.  My first meal after arriving back in Jersey.
Bacon turkey bravo sandwich, cinnamon chip scone, and chips from Panera Bread
Breakfast at Denny's.  They are supposed to come to Santiago later this year.
A homemade meal of pot roast, mac and cheese,  and some veggies.
Chocolate mousse from Mrs. Nolan's annual Christmas party
tortellini, breaded chicken, and tomato salad from TGI Friday's
with my dear  Tante
fried scallops with mashed potatoes and veggies
Chipolte has come to Jersey.  Enjoyed a chicken burrito with a
friend who also lived in Santiago.
Sweet and sour chicken, fried rice, and cheese wonton as a break from
playing Magic with friends
Country fried chicken while catching up with a high school friend
at Cracker Barrel

soup and salad at a Japanese restaurant

And the main meal of chicken terryiaki!
cake batter ice cream with graham cracker bits
parmasean crusted chicken with pasta at Riverwinds
chocolate cheesecake dessert, yum!
home made fried rice while visiting my brother and sister in law
in North Carolina
Apple pie ice cream dessert at Texas Roadhouse while catching up
with a friend in North Carolina.  Forgot to take a picture of the steak beforehand.
In n Out burger.  My first meal upon my arrival in Los Angeles.
Jamba Juice.  Love me some strawberries wild.
Swork hot chocolate, Eagle Rock area
Ham and chicken croquettes from Porto's Bakery in Glendale
turkey croissant and plantains from Porto's
parmesean chicken romano from Cheesecake Factory in Pasadena
a delicious and healthy stri fry made by a friend when I stayed with her
chicken enchiladas and mole in Playa del Rey
breakfast burrito at LAX while waiting for my flight to Vegas
Vegas breakfast buffet day 1 part 1
Vegas breakfast buffet day 1 part 2
Vegas lunch buffet day 1 part 1: Thanksgiving plate of
turkey, stuffing, and gravy
Vegas lunch buffet day 1 part 2: Italian plate of chicken
fettuccine alfredo
Vegas lunch buffet day 1 part 3: Asian plate of fried rice with
orange chicken and sweet potatoes that wouldn't fit on
the Thanksgiving plate
Cashier: "Would you like to add all you can drink champagne to
your lunch for $4 sir?"
Me: "That sounds great!"
Cashier: "Great!  May I see your ID?"  :-D
Vegas breakfast buffet day 2 plate 1: made to order omelette
with ham tomatoes and cheese
Vegas breakfast buffet day 2 plate 2: bacon and French toast
a suprise treat from Kari while we caught up in the
Las Vegas airport: Auntie Anne's cinnamon pretzel bites
I do have a few more meals in Jersey as well as 3 days in Miami before I'm back in Santiago, but I wanted to take advantage of the free time while I have it.  Now I'm off to find some inspiration to start eating healthy and shed some kilos once I'm back in Santiago.

Viva Las Vegas

I'm back in New Jersey as I'm writing this.

I was in Las Vegas for two nights, and the visit brings back a lot of memories.

Las Vegas, aka sin city.  I see it as a city of excess where people let loose.  People usually associate it with gluttony, greed, and lust, and rightly so.  The all you can eat buffets, drinking, gambling, and atmosphere all ooze letting your hair down and honoring the saying "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas."

My first trip to Vegas was with my parents when I was 14 years old.  We stayed at the Excalibur, and our flight was delayed to the point that we got in at about 4 in the morning instead of 10 at night.  I was amazed to see all of the hotels and luxury there.

I also went a few times after finishing college.  One time I decided to go when my spring break at my school lined up with a Linkin Park concert in Vegas.  A few friends flew out to meet up with me there, and I ended up winning a Meet and Greet pass to meet the band before the concert.  It was at the Hard Rock Cafe there, and it was standing room only, so I was able to get up close and snap some pretty awesome pictures.

Another time I went after getting laid off from my teaching job for the third year in a row.  That trip was more of an escape than anything else and not wanting to face the reality of not knowing what my next step was, but I think that we all need something like that every once in a while to take our mind off of things.

My trip was all around pretty enjoyable.  I got in from Los Angeles in the mid afternoon, and after what seemed like an eternity on the shuttle I finally arrived at The Quad.  (I had drunk a bottle of water since getting off the plane.)  It used to be the Imperial Palace, and luckily I found out from a local that they were doing a lot of construction and that I should request a quiet room.

I stayed at The Quad due to its location and a few nice perks: 2 free breakfast buffets per guest, a $20 resort credit for use on food, alcohol (in moderation of course), or gift shops, and no resort fees.  My time was spent enjoying the food, gambling, alcohol, and exploring the hotels.

People usually go to Vegas with the hope of hitting it big, and I was no exception.  I'm not too adventurous when it comes to table games, so I stick with the slot machines.  I spent $30 on video poker without any luck, but then I decided to try out a Monopoly slot machine.

I like a game like that for a few reasons (I know a few of these are very superficial):

1. It's more colorful and exciting.
2. There's sound.
3. There are bonus games that help you win more money.

After putting in $20 I went up and down a bit, and the money lasted about half an hour.  I decided to press my luck with 10 more bucks.  I had been chatting with a guy sitting next to me that didn't know how to operate the touch screen to spin the wheel, and so we kept each other company while we played.

I hit a three bonus games, and my largest winnings at that point was $6.  I saw my money slowly depleting and was ready to admit defeat when the unthinkable happened.

Mr. Moneybags popped up as a wild on my last spin, and he said "Well, what do you know?  Let's change some of these!"  He then started throwing cards up in on the screen, and those cards transformed the items into OTHER WILDS.  He not only did this once, but 7 TIMES.

This was the result:

I was down to 40 cents, and now I had 134 bucks.  The guy next to me congratulated me on my luck, and I cashed it out and got a celebratory drink.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm completely grateful for having won a nice sum of money.  I just wish it had come before 11 PM the night before I was leaving.  (Earlier in the night I had waited in line for half an hour for the Ceasars buffet only to find out it was 48 bucks instead of the 35 I thought it was, and I passed it up due to the price.)

In any case, I had only spent $60 gambling, so my winnings will help cover the cost of the Vegas buffets and eating out in LA.

I thought that the adventure was over, but I had a pleasant surprise at the airport.  A friend of mine was moving from Vegas back to Alaska.  We had talked about meeting up, but with the chaos of moving it wasn't going to be possible.  Long story short, she was supposed to fly out the night before me but had her flight rebooked to the following day.

When I got through security I decided to send her a Facebook message on the off chance that she'd be flying out around the same time as me.  She responded that she was going through security at the time and we'd most likely miss each other.  My flight then ended up being delayed and moved to the gate next to hers, and so half and hour later we were catching up over some Auntie Anne's.

We were exchange students in Germany about 12 years ago.  We had only met up in person once since then about 3 years ago, and it was great getting to see her again.  We talked about memories of our travels and adventures and vowed to keep in touch to meet up once again.

Thanks for bearing with me with posts that are lacking pictures.  My next post will be a tour through the food I've enjoyed during my time home.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Reflections on US Travels

It´s a lazy Sunday afternoon, and I´m trying this from Swork Coffee in Eagle Rock, a suburb of Los Angeles.

Swork is an independent coffee shop that is about a 20 minute walk from my alma mater, Occidental College.  Not having a car in college or grad school, it was always a nice escape to get some hot chocolate (I don´t drink coffee!), catch up with a friend, but more often I used it as a change of scenery while doing work.  Despite the arrival of a Starbucks about 6 years ago in the shopping center next door, Swork is still here and doing well.

A few years ago I made the conscious decision that traveling was more of a priority for me than living in a fancy apartment or having excessive clothes or material goods.  I have made wonderful friends traveling and through high school and college, and combining traveling with seeing them is something I find incredibly rewarding and fulfilling.

My brother and sister in law moved to North Carolina, so I visited them for a long weekend last weekend.  Their new house is beautiful, and I enjoyed spending time with them.  The weekend included delicious homemade Chinese food, relaxing on the back deck with unusually warm weather for January, playing Wii, and cuddling with the cats while we watched movies.

During my time down there I also got to meet up with two friends.  A friend I made in Santiago moved back to North Carolina in December 2010, and this was our first time seeing each other since then.  We met up at Texas Roadhouse and caught up on what has been happening for the past few years.

I also got to see another friend that I made in Granada, Spain.  We both studied abroad there in 2004, and while we kept in contact via email, phone, and Facebook, we hadn´t seen each other since then.  She has since become a doctor and is enjoying life.  We met up at Panera Bread and then got some dessert at Coldstone before she dropped me off at the airport.

Now I´m in Los Angeles with the same plan of visiting friends.

The plan hasn´t worked out as well as I hoped.  I had plans to stay with a friend, and we had everything confirmed three days before my arrival.  The night before I texted him reminding him and thought it was strange that he didn´t respond, so I sent him an email  reminding him of the time and asking about his cell phone number and giving him mine.  No answer that night either.

So I texted him when I got off the plane in LA and didn´t hear anything so I called him only to find out the number was no longer in service.  At this point I was already on the Flyaway bus from the airport to Union Station in downtown LA and had to figure out what to do.

I called a friend and when she didn´t pick up I left a message explaining the situation and that I wasn´t sure what to do.  Then I called another friend, and he offered to do a search for his phone number and address and said he could drive me there or I could crash at his place in Culver City.

The person in front of me on the bus overheard me and lent me her phone to send an email.  I sent an email in hopes of hearing back and that he had just overslept or something.

Then my other friend called back, and after talking for a few minutes we decided the best course of action was for her to pick me up at Union Station and then crash at her place (with her husband and baby daughter) for the night.

During the night I checked my emails in hopes of hearing what happened, but no word.

My friends opened their home to me and made me as comfortable as possible on such short notice.  I also met their daughter, and I ended up staying with them for 3 days.

During those 3 days I talked with other friends to see where I could stay, as I felt that I shouldn´t stay longer than that with such short notice.  Luckily another friend in Glendale let me spend last night, and I´ll be in Culver City for my last two nights here.

Well that was a bit of a tangent, but it all comes back to my connections with friends.

I didn´t come to LA to party or go to Disney or Universal Studios.  I came to reconnect with friends, see my alma mater, and relive the memories of my time there.  So far I´ve enjoyed visiting Oxy, a walk around the Rose Bowl, hanging out at the Americana in Glendale and at Olvera Street.  It was great seeing friends that I saw since my last visit as well as some I haven´t seen since in about 8 years.  A friend from Chile moved to Los Angeles to work for a year, and we got to meet up too.  While I was typing this I ran into another alum from Occidental who was actually my Orientation Team Leader.

So what does the rest of my time in the States look like?

  • Hopefully catching up with some more friends down in the Culver City/West LA area.
  • Some relaxation and well deserved free time in Las Vegas.  This will hopefully include catching up with a few friends in the area too, but given the short visit I´m not expecting it.
  • 3 days back in Jersey, including a family party to celebrate birthdays
  • 3 days in Miami as a birthday gift to myself before returning to Santiago.  Of course I´ll be doing it on a budget by traveling with a friend and staying in a hostel.
I´ll have one more update before I leave, and I´ll be sure to post pictures to make up for the lack of them in the past few posts.  Off to Culver City soon!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone!

I can hardly believe that it is 2013, and this is the fourth year that this blog has been in publication.  This post was something I meant to do before the New Year, but alas here I am.  I do have to admit that perhaps this post is a bit more for me than my readers, but I think that any type of self-reflection is always good every once in a while.

2012 started off with some Chilean friends ringing in the new year in Viña del Mar.  It was really nice of them to include me, as I was the only gringo there and felt a bit like a special guest.

It also included some friends visiting me, which was a nice way of sharing my experience in Santiago with others and also a great way to strengthen some already great friendships.

There was also a trip to the emergency room on my birthday, and an enormous sense of relief and gratitude that it was not worse and that I had some great friends that helped me out in a time of need.

There was some traveling:  A visit back home to New Jersey, reconnecting with friends in Los Angeles, a trip to Bogotá, and two trips down to the south (Puerto Varas, Chiloe, and Bariloche).

There were also some accomplishments: becoming a permanent resident, attending two international conferences, working as an interpreter, teaching my first "classroom" class of 16 students in about 3 years, and presenting workshops at a conference and at Grants (the institute I work at).

I´m not a terribly social person, yet I have managed to venture out and go to some new events and make some new friends..  This includes a blog reader Britt who took a chance and commented on my blog a few years ago wanting to come to Chile, and she came here and we have since become good friends.

I have been fortunate to have managed to maintain friendships and professional relationships despite the spans of time and distance.

Not everything went as well as I hoped.  Some professional relationships were cut off, and some friendships have faded away due to various reasons.  I also realized that some friendships were no longer worth my time or effort.  I dealt with getting bitten by a dog and the owner who didn´t want to take responsibility as well as a trip to the ER on my birthday.  I still struggle to relate to people at times since I´m not a very social person and am not much for going out late at night.

All of these events have a silver lining, however.  I´ve come to the following realizations:

1. Not everyone you mean is going to like you or want to be friends.  No matter how others treat me or say about me behind my back I am a much happier person if I treat them with respect and courtesy.
2. Some friendships don´t work out for various reasons.  That doesn´t mean people are bad; they are just different, and there´s nothing wrong with letting go.
3. Negativity just breeds more negativity.  Either turn it into a positive or let it go.
4. Having faith in people that they will do the right thing will usually work out.  It might not be perfect, but it will certainly turn out better than if you have a negative expectation of them.
5. I have had many wonderful people in my life that have helped me as I grew up: family, teachers, friends, neighbors, and complete strangers at times.  If I can do anything to help others (sharing my experiences in Chile, teaching methods, passing on materials I´m not using, helping people connect with each other to teach in other countries) it is a great way to give back to others.
6. There´s nothing wrong with me for being an early bird and not being a big fan of going out drinking late at night.  (Perhaps Chile´s ban on smoking in enclosed public places that will take effect in March will help with this.)
7. If you expect things to work out in your favor they will find a way of doing so.  If you expect conflict and negativity, that is what you will find in your life.

All in all, 2012 was a great year.  I´m very fortunate to have the experiences that I have had.  Thank you for reading and hope you all have a wonderful 2013!