Saturday, April 27, 2013

A New Phone That Almost has Internet, a Nonadventure, and Moving On

So I have entered the 21st century.  I have a smart phone.

A friend of mine had an "old phone" he wasn't using anymore, and so he gave it to me.  I don't know if I ever shared what my original phone here looks like, so here it is:

It was your basic candy bar phone, and it's the phone I got the day I arrived in Chile.  (February 18th, 2010) It has the basic functions of making and receiving calls and texting, and I had a plan of 75 minutes and 75 messages for $10.000 pesos a month (about $20).  As you can see in the picture, the keys have all fallen off.  The phone has been with me during my trips all around Chile, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Uruguay, and back to the States.  It has served me well, but it was time to move on to a new phone.

So here it is:

It's a Sony Ericsson Xperia.  It's about the same size as my old phone, but it's a bit thicker.  It has a touch screen and can connect to the internet to check email and such on the go.  Why is it thicker you ask?  This is why:

At first I didn't think I was going to like having a keyboard like this, but it is actually really convenient.  I got used to having to press a key multiple times to scroll through the letters associated with each key on my old phone that I sometimes press a key twice because that's what I'm used to having to do.

So after getting the phone, I set out on a quest to get internet on my phone.

Prior to this I had tried getting a smart phone through Entel (my current company) or Claro (another phone company here), but to no avail.  In order to get a smart phone with a plan, they wanted to see a Chilean credit card, checking account, or paychecks for the past 3 months showing my income through an institute.  I haven't had those things before, but I figured now that I actually had a smart phone on my own that it wouldn't be a problem to upgrade my plan.

Well, I was wrong.

I went to an Entel store explaining my situation, and they told me the same requirements as above.  I then asked if a US credit card would suffice, and the woman told me that would be fine, but that they can't make plan changes at that location.  She gave me the address of another store, and so I headed there the next day with my US credit card.

Here's an important lesson that it has taken me 3 years to learn about things in Chile:

Don't trust what any customer service representative tells you under any circumstance, especially if it seems like it will be easier, faster, or more convenient than anything you've heard before about said situation.

So I got to the Entel location the woman indicated with new phone and US credit card in hand.  The guy that helped me check in assured me that I wouldn't have a problem getting my plan upgraded when I told him that I've been here in Chile for 3 years.  (Refer to important lesson above again)

After waiting 15 minutes until my number was called, I explained my desire to join the 21st century.  My US credit card was shot down, along with me sharing the misinformation that I was given.  I walked away pretty frustrated.

A bit later in the day I was talking with a Chilean friend, and he told me that you can get bolsas (literally bags, but more like packages or add on services) for internet on your phone.  There are prepay bolsas for which you pay a flat fee and the money deducts until nothing is left, and there are monthly bolsas which renew for a set fee per month.

One of the things that drives me crazy about here is that if you are in a situation like mine, it seems like customer service won't willingly tell you about viable alternatives like these unless you ask for them.  It seems kind of counter intuitive to not tell a customer about an alternative solution, but perhaps that's just me.

My next adventure turned out to be a nonadventure.

I booked a bus ticket to go to Mendoza this weekend, as a friend is going to be living there for a month.  Buses used to leave overnight going from Santiago to Mendoza, but for some strange reason night buses only run from Santiago to Mendoza now.  There are only morning buses from Mendoza to Santiago, which complicated my plans to go for the weekend.

In the end, I decided to get a night bus on Friday night to arrive on Saturday morning, and then I was going to catch the Monday morning bus to get back to Santiago on Monday afternoon.

Well, it turns out that on Thursday night the border was closed due to snow.

I got a text from a friend Friday morning telling me about the situation.  I took some time to think about it, and I decided I didn't want to risk getting stuck in Mendoza on Monday and then possibly missing new classes on Tuesday.  So I decided that to cancel my ticket and not to go.  I stopped by the Turbus office where I bought my ticket, and I explained the situation.  They told me I could get an 85% refund at any Turbus office, or a 100% refund if I go to the Turbus customer service office at the bus station.  She told me that I need to have my ticket to process the refund (I didn't have it on me at that time), and then I asked her what the time frame was for getting a refund.

She asked a coworker, and then she told me that I could get a refund of 85% or 100% as long as the bus hasn't left yet.

Refer back to the lesson earlier in the post about not believing what people tell you.

I'm glad I didn't listen to her, as when I got home I read the ticket and you only have until 4 hours before the bus leaves to receive a refund.  I would have gone to the bus station for the full refund, but with running from one class to another I was only manage to go to one of their offices in a metro station for the 85% refund.

I'm a bit disappointed about not going to Mendoza this weekend, but I do have to admit it will be nice to take it easy, catch up on chores, and get a bit ahead with lesson planning.

Perhaps one of my biggest life changes happened this week.  I resigned from Grants English on Monday, April 22nd.

It certainly wasn't an easy decision and not one that I took lightly.  Grants has not only been my job for close to three years.  It has been a place with bosses and coworkers that care about me.  I've met some great teachers and made some great friends there, and it has an atmosphere of collaboration and sharing that you don't necessarily find in other places.  It has become a bit of a safe haven for me when I was feeling sad or having a bad day.  I taught classes of various types and levels, and it has really improved and challenged my teaching abilities.  Over my time there my bosses have helped me through the temporary residency and permanent residency visa process, written letters for my student loans to get deferred, guided me through the process of securing my apartment, and given me opportunities to run workshops to share teaching strategies with other teachers.  I feel that I've become very comfortable there, but that's not always a good thing.  I don't feel that there are any more opportunities there for me to grow or develop professionally, and as hard as it is I think that's a sign to move on.

I went into the office on Monday morning, but my bosses weren't in.  I called one of them over the phone and told her, and she took it very well and was very nice about it.  I made plans with them to stop in on Friday morning to drop off my speaker and to take the last of my materials I was storing there, but unfortunately they were running late with covering classes.  I did get to talk with the office manager and secretary, and it was sad.  I also saw one of my bosses on my way out, and we're going to catch up over coffee sometime next week.

They told me that I'm welcome to stop by the office if I'm in the area, and I have the sense that there are people that I'm going to be in contact with for a while still.

If anyone who has worked or works at Grants is reading this, thank you for the smiles, collaboration, conversations, good times, and laughing at my jokes, no matter how bad they were.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Gringo Dinner, An Interpreting Job, A Teaching Seminar, and a Quest for Mexican Food

This past week and weekend have been pretty interesting.  One of my friends invited me and some other friends over to dinner at her place.  She loves cooking, and she made hamburgers with potatoes and carrots.  I made some garlic bread, and it was a nice meal and good to catch up.

homemade hamburgers!

carrot cake a la mode

The week prior I went on an interview and got a 3 day job as an interpreter.  It was for a visitor from the United States, and since I was going to be the intermediary between him and Chileans I wanted to be sure I was prepared and looked professional.

I did research on the visitor as well as the companies where the interpreting would be happening, being sure that I knew all of the words on their websites in both English and Spanish.  I didn't think it would be good to wear the same suit for three days in a row, so I got a nice suit jacket for the occasion.

The suit I have from before
The new suit jacket
The 3 days went well.  There were some meetings where the Chileans spoke very little English so I was doing a lot of interpreting, but there were other meetings with Chileans that spoke very well so I didn't have to help much at all.  There were also some meetings in between those two extremes.

The same friend who had me over for dinner on the weekend told me about a free teaching seminar on Friday night, so we checked it out together.  It was at Escuela Militar, the military school in Santiago.  There was a teacher who came all the way from Chicago to share her expertise, and she spoke about task based learning and how to manage students in the classroom.  It was really interesting, and we got a bunch of free stuff too.

There are two cloth bags, a nice bag for traveling, a coffee mug, lanyard, clipboard, a poster showing phonetic symbols related to pronunciation, and a world map.  It was a nice event, and they told me that they have a few of them each year.

Saturday night turned out to be a bit of an adventure.  It started out with plans to go to a cultural event with music and food with a few friends in Ñuñoa (the neighborhood I live in).  I had my heart set on Taxco for dinner (a Mexican restaurant), but Phoenix indicated that he wanted a change of venue for dinner that night.

No problem, I thought.  I had a flyer for a placed that delivers Mexican food to my apartment.  The event started at 7, and so at around 4:30 I talked to another friend Andrew that was also going to the event to see if he wanted to come over for Mexican food beforehand.  After he showed up and we decided on what to order that would put us over the delivery minimum, I called up only to find out that they don´t do deliveries until 7.  Darn!

By this time it was about 5:30.  Andrew and I decided to go to Taxco for an early dinner.  When we arrived,  it looked like it was closed up.  There were some people going in, so we asked them when they were opening.  Want to take a guess on the time?

Yup, 7.

It was now after 6, and we were both starving.  We went to a place called Fuente Suiza which sells sandwiches, but my sandwich standards are pretty high after having visited a restaurant last week on the interpreting job.  (I forgot to take a picture of that sandwich.  Darn!)

We went to another sandwich place, but their menu was very similar and they didn´t accept credit card.  (Andrew wanted to pay with his card if possible).

So we found a bar that served chorillana.  We figured that that would work at this point.  It took about half an hour for them to prepare it, and here it is:

In case you can´t tell, under the eggs are fried onions, French fries, and some chopped steak.

We were running a bit later than expected due to the quest for Mexican food, and so Phoenix met up with us at the bar.  After that, we made our way to the event.  I confused the address with a completely different place, so it worked out well that we met up there first.

The event was pretty nice.  It was in the backyard of a house where a friend used to live and someone else I know lives.  The yard has a grill, some tables with chairs, and a large tented area.  As we paid the 2.000 peso entrance fee, we could hear some live music coming from the yard.

We walked in to see a musical area set up with microphones, stereos, a woman singing, a cellist, and a bassist.  I was super excited to see a bass player, and while my friends chatted I couldn´t help but be enchanted by the music and following the bass line.

After about half an hour they went on break, and I introduced myself to the bass player and asked if I could play for a bit.  He told me to feel free to play, and so I did.

The space was a bit cramped and the player had a French bow (I play German bow), but I was excited to get the chance to play.  I warmed up with a quick scale and to get a feel for the bass, and then I decided to go into the second movement of Dittersdorf´s Bass Concerto.  It´s a slow, relaxing, and incredibly tranquil piece of music, and it´s the last major piece that I played before lapsing with my bass studies.  It was a bit difficult to adjust to a bass and play in tune on such short notice, but I got through the piece.  It was a nice feeling playing something familiar to me, and afterwards I rejoined my friends.

Another friend joined us there, and we stayed for about an hour after that.  We spent the time chatting with other people there, snacking on empanadas, drinking wine, and listening to the musicians who returned from their break.  The event was organized by a Chilean guy named Axel who rents out rooms in the 8 room house, and he has created cultural events to bring people in Ñuñoa together and to create a feeling of community.  Here´s a picture and a clip of the music group performing:

Afterwards we headed to Golfo di Napoli (an Italian restaurant) and got some lasagna to go.  We brought it back to Andrew´s place (where I used to live) and enjoyed it and caught up over some wine.  They then had a party to go to, but since I was already tired I headed home around midnight.

Lasagna for 2.500 pesos (5 bucks) to go in about 5 minutes.
Besides a trip to the gym, today has been a lazy day of lesson planning, cleaning, and relaxing at home.  Next weekend will bring a trip to Mendoza and a few other adventures I´m sure.

Happy Sunday everyone!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Facebook Status Update

So tomorrow there's a protest scheduled in Santiago. I don't know the exact details, but for anyone unfamiliar with them that will be in downtown be prepared for the possible closure of the metro, rerouted buses, teargas, water cannons, and the seemingly now vogue Moltov cocktail.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Wedding Weekend in Concepción

So I went to my first Chilean wedding.

The entire weekend was really great.  I traveled with EME bus company, and the bus was really nice.  I had an empty seat next to me, and with the wireless internet the 6 hours flew by.

When I got in around 7 on Friday evening, Jorge (one of the bride’s friends) picked me up from the bus station, and I stayed with him.  Estefanía (the bride) had put me in contact with him a few months ago, so we had chatted on Facebook and he assured me it wouldn´t be a problem to stay with him. 

As we drove out of the terminal it started to rain.  Jorge told me that Concepción is known for having four seasons in one day, and sure enough later it was clear and cold.  We made a quick stop at Lider to buy groceries, and after that he dropped me off at his place.  He had to go to the university he works at to take care of some work, and I was content to stay in and watch TV.

Jorge has cable, so it was a treat getting to watch Chilean TV.  (I still don´t have cable, as I see it as an unnecessary luxury and would rather save the money to travel).  And I was able to watch HGTV!  I got to see Property Virgins and House Hunters International.  It was the exact same show as in the States, except there were subtitles in Spanish.  I like to live vicariously through the people on the show, and so it was quite a treat getting to see it here.

When Jorge got home around 10:30 we decided to stay in.  We stayed up for a while just talking and getting to know each other.

Then Saturday morning Jorge had to go teach some classes, so I stayed in and waited for Cecilia to arrive.  I found out the night before that she would be arriving from Santiago for the wedding, and she got in around 10.  She´s also an English teacher, so we spent time getting to know each other until Jorge got back around 1.  After that, we went out for lunch and to see a bit of Concepción.

Lunch was at a nice bar/restaurant, and we got a table at the outside patio.  I got a huge salad and an empanada to eat.

Afterwards Jorge had to go to the gym and Ceclia had an appointment at the hair salon, so I wandered around a bit.  I was anxious to check my email since Jorge doesn´t have wireless internet in his apartment, so I made my way to the mall.  Directly inside was a café with wireless, so I got a hot chocolate and checked my email.

I was really full from the large meal and hot chocolate, so I made my way back to Jorge´s place to get in a nap before leaving for the wedding.  Jorge and Cecilia were back by 6:30, so that gave us about an hour to get ready and head out.

This was my first Chilean wedding, so I was very excited.  Obviously I was happy for Estefanía and Amar, but being invited to share in the occasion was an honor.  I was also curious to see how the wedding would be different from the ones I´d been to in the States.

We arrived to the church at 8:00, and people were standing outside waiting.  We introduced ourselves to the others, and eventually we saw Amar (the groom) and made our way inside greeting his brother, sister in law, and niece and nephew. 

There was guitar music and singing as each group of people walked up the aisle, and the bride and groom had special seats at the front of the aisle.  The ceremony was relatively short, with a few songs, a speech by the priest, and the exchanging of vows and rings.  When Amar and Estefanía walked out people threw flower petals into the air, and they got into an antique car to go to the party.

We arrived to the location of the party, called Sur Activo around 9:00.  There was a cocktail hour, and so I got to chat with the other guests while enjoying drinks and h´or dourves.

We made our way into the main room, and I was seated at a table with English teachers.  Apart from Amar´s family visiting from London, I was the only foreigner at the wedding.  The food was great, and there was a slideshow with pictures of them together over the years.

After we finished eating, Estafanía threw the boquet to all the single women, and Amar removed the garter and threw it to all the single men.  Ceclia (who was staying at Jorge´s place with me) caught the boquet, and Jorge caught the garter, so it was a funny coincidence since they had only met about 10 hours prior to that and Cecilia was staying with him.

The dancing started around 1 in the morning, and there was an open bar.  I danced here and there, and there was a bubble machine that shot bubbles onto the dance floor from time to time.  I took breaks and chatted with some of the other guests, but around 4 I was getting pretty tired.

As I went out into the lobby to use the restroom I noticed a few guests knocked out on couches and found my new best friend for the next 45 minutes:

Seeing that other guests were doing it, I didn´t think it would be wrong to take a nap for a bit.

At 4:45 I made my way back inside to see about 12 people still dancing.  I joined them, and Cecilia asked where I was and commented that she had been worried about me.  It turns out that the party was ending at 5, and so I decided to dance the last 15 minutes with everyone.  The last song of the night?  I gotta feeling by The Black Eyed Peas.

Once the music was turned off, we stood around talking until everyone was ready to leave.  Six of us piled into a 2 door car and headed out, and after dropping people off we were home a little after 6.

The wedding was such a great experience.  It was truly an honor to be invited to a Chilean wedding, and Amar and Estefanía really went out of the way to make me feel welcome.  I´ll always remember their wedding night and seeing them so happy, and I feel blessed to have such wonderful friends in my life down here in Chile.

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Trip to Concepción and a Celebrity Look Alike

As I type this I´m on a bus to Concepción.  The bus has free wifi, and it is certainly helping the 6 hour trip go by more quickly.

Why am I off to Concepción you ask?  Well, for a Chilean wedding of course!

The couple is a Chilean woman and an English guy.  I met them on a tour when I was traveling in Temuco and Pucón.  If you go to my post from August 8th, 2010 you can see them with me in the hot springs with a few other people.  We hit it off talking about our lives and travel adventures, and we´ve stayed in contact since then.  They met met when he came to Chile about 5 years ago, and she was actually his Spanish teacher.  Since then they´ve gotten to know each other and are both English teachers in Concepción.  I was very flattered to be invited to their wedding, but I am very excited for the opportunity to attend my first Chilean wedding (and my third wedding ever).  A blog post with the details of the weekend will be coming, don´t worry!

On my way to the bus station today I had a bit of situation.  After waiting for the buses going up Antonio Varas I decided to get a colectivo.  It´s like a taxi but it has a fixed route and will take up to four passengers at any given time.  When I got in I had a few bags, and the driver gave me a death stare that seemed to say "How dare you step foot in my vehicle."  He then asked me if I was on a reality show.  I gave him a puzzled look and told him no, but thinking back I do have to admit that my black bag looks very similar to the ones that contestants use on Big Brother.

He went on to tell me that I look like the twin brother of a contestant on the show Mundos Oppuestos.  Apparently it´s a reality show that is very popular here in Chile, but I haven´t seen it at all.  It´s similar to Big Brother with contestants living in isolation, except they either live in the past or future.  I didn´t know what to think of his comment, and after doing some Wikipedia research and consulting with a few friends he seems to think I´m twins with a guy named Richard.

So here is Richard:

And here I am:

Is it me, or is that colectivo driver blind?