Sunday, August 4, 2013

Keeping Busy, A Day Trip, and Public Transportation Culture in Santiago

I've been meaning to write with an update for over a week now, but I have found myself busier that I've been expecting to be.  This is a good thing, as keeping busy usually equates to making money and not having idle time.  

The teaching materials I got on my visit home have been working out well.  I'm spending time developing new games and resources, and while time consuming it will pay off in the long run. On Monday I'll start teaching CORFO classes again.  These classes are for Chileans who have received a scholarship from the government in order to improve their English, and the group I will have will have 100 hours of classes over a period of about two and a half months.  It's very intense, but seeing how much the students learn is very rewarding.  

I'm excited for the opportunity, but at the same time it makes me realize how quickly time goes by.  Last year I also taught CORFO, but I was hired about four days before the start of the program and taught the class in conjunction with another teacher.  Despite only seeing the students half of the time, we grew close and we have stayed in touch and meet up from time to time.

Last weekend I took a day trip with some friends to Con Con.  On the car ride there we did a lot of catching up since we hadn't seen each other in a while.  We had reservations at a seafood restaurant, and the food was delicious.  Apart from fried scallops and tuna fish I don't eat much seafood (I figure I'm already fishy enough), so my appetizer was a cheese empanada.  My friends shared a huge platter of a variety of seafood before the meal came out, and we also got a nice plate of garlic bread.  My main dish was chicken with an olive oil/garlic sauce, and it was great.  After some wine and a bajativo (a shot sized cup of a sweet alcoholic drink that's supposed to help your digestion), we walked along the coast and ventured down to the beach.  It was a warm day considering it was winter, and after wandering around some more we made our way back to Santiago.

On a completely unrelated note, something that has been on my mind for the past few weeks is the public transportation system here.  From my experiences traveling and from what I've heard from people, the bus and subway system here in Santiago is very efficient and modern.  That's not to say that it's perfect, and that's also not to say that it's without its cultural peculiarities.

Let me explain.  The first thing is traveling during rush hour.  The crowds of people that wait and push and shove their way onto a subway train is amazing, and four cars could easily pass by without getting on because of the number of people waiting along with you.  If you somehow manage to make your way onto a train, you are crushed like a sardine.  In addition to that, there's the chance that you won't make it out of the train when you need to get out due to the number of people you would have to barge your way through.  Don't forget that this is also a prime time for pickpockets.  So I avoid the metro around rush hour at all costs.

Then there are the buses.  During rush hour they will also fill up, and sometimes two, three, or even four buses will pass by packed like sardines.  Often they will stop, but only to let passengers off of the bus.  Since the driver doesn't open the front door to accept passengers, people will then run to one of the other doors and hop on.  In this way people are able to get to where they are going, but with the crowds of people it's virtually impossible to make your way to the front to pay the fare even if you wanted to.  Drivers realize that people need to get to where they're going, and so sometimes they see people waiting and will purposely open the back doors for people to board.

In the rare occasion that I am traveling home during rush hour, I usually find myself taking a combination of two or three buses home.  This happened last week, and after two buses passing by without stopping I was left with three options:

1. Take a taxi home (at the cost of about 15 dollars which I didn't have on me at the time)
2. Wait patiently for a bus that would actually stop and board on the front
3. Board the bus on one of the back doors

Last week I ended up choosing option number three.  I almost never do this, but I had no idea how long I would have been stranded waiting at the bus stop, and I was right in the middle of rush hour at that time.

After boarding I noticed that there were two men that were helping their fellow Chileans board.  How so?  They were actually prying the back doors open with their bare hands if the driver didn't open them so that people could get on the bus.  You could see the glee on people's face as they shoved their way onto the bus and narrowly escaped the closing of the doors.  Sometimes the doors would close on their bookbag or a piece of clothing, and fellow passengers would help them free themselves from the doors.

I didn't want to take out my Ipod Touch to take a picture within the bus, but here is a picture I snapped after I got off:

Before anyone starts to make judgments about the people that aren't paying the bus fare, let me put things into context for you.  A ride on the bus or subways costs about 600 pesos, which allows for two transfers within a two hour period.  There is a discount for students, and they will pay about 150 pesos.  But there are no day passes, week passes, monthly passes, or any type of discount.  So as a tourist in Santiago you pay the same amount as a person who has lived here all their life.

So if you consider you are going to a low wage job and only go there and back, you are spending about 24.000 pesos a month on commuting.  This is assuming that you can afford to live in the city, and also that you can get by on a minimum wage of about 194.000 pesos a month.  If you're outside the city, you might have to pay even more to commute.  

I used to judge the people who hop on the buses without paying, and I would get angry at their taking advantage of the system.  That's not to say that there aren't people that can afford to pay that take advantage, but I find I'm a much happier person if I stop worrying about what other people are doing and judging them.

I know that I keep going on and on, but there are two other things that I think of when I think of public transportation here: The idea of forming lines and honoring them.

A few days ago I was at a bus stop, and it was the end of a line and the start of the new one.  As people usually form a line where the bus stops to get on, I went to start the line.  (There were people milling around in various spots, but no conceivable line that I could see).  Then 20 feet away "the official line started forming".  Now keep in mind that this line is nowhere near where people will actually board the bus, but people started lining up there.  At first I tried to remain adamant that I was in the right spot and that I was going to get on the bus before the other people, but picturing a verbal confrontation or being told to go to the end of the line was enough for me to simply sigh and make my way to the end of the "line".  I made it on the bus without a problem, but it still makes me wonder:  How in the world are lines established here?

Last week I also encountered a similar situation, but this time waiting for a colectivo.  (It's basically a taxi that follows a fixed route and has a flat price but will pick up and drop off multiple passengers along the route).  So a woman and I were waiting for one.  I knew she was waiting because she waved for it to stop, and as her and I approached it to board a woman walked right in front of me and boarded instead of me.  I was caught off guard and didn't know what to say.

So then as more people came, another woman and I were waiting for the next one.  As we both waved as they passed by, a man decided to upstream us.  That's right, he saw that we had formed a line that now had four people in it, and he went in front of us in an effort to catch a colectivo before us.  In the end the colectivo that stopped saw our line and we were able to board before him.  This leave me wondering another thing:  Do Chileans also get annoyed at people that jump lines and don't seem to honor them?  Or do they simply accept it as something that happens and is part of the culture?

As time goes by, I am picking up on the more subtle points of culture here in Chile.  I've learned to become less direct when talking with people, and I've also learned to accept less direct responses to situations.  I've grown to get used to a more lax concept of time and honoring commitments.  That doesn't mean that I agree with these things, but I am growing to understand them.  Despite that, there is still much more to learn about living in another culture and navigating personal and professional relationships here.

And to end this post on a less serious note, I'll share some pictures of food that I've eaten recently.

an experimental dish of chicken with tomatoes in an olive
oil/garlic sauce
a roast beef sandwich from a restaurant I've started
visiting to kill time between classes
A ham and cheese sandwich, which was followed by tea
and chocolate mousse cake.  What can I say? Working
makes you hungry!
A friend took me to a cafe that had
pastries filled with Nutella.  I'll be going
back there when I can.


  1. The incident with the subway and the bus reminds me of when I was living in the Bronx. I had to commute to Manhattan where I worked and sometimes you just couldn't get into a subway cart. Rush hour sucked. I also recall people sneaking through the backdoors of the buses without paying. In Cordoba, where I am currently living in, there aren't any subways but I'll be going to Buenos Aires this month. It will be interesting to see how their subway system fairs in comparison to your experience in Chile. Will keep you posted. Great entry by the way :)

  2. Thanks Jorge and sorry for not responding to this sooner!