Monday, November 24, 2014

Walking to Work: An Unexpected Adventure

I've been walking to work for about a month and a half now.

I walk through a variety of neighborhoods and get to see some nice sights along the way, so I decided to turn it into a blog post.  More precisely, two Thursday nights ago I made the decision that I'd take pictures of my commute to work, but I had no idea what was going to happen in Santiago that following morning.

That morning I left my apartment around 7:15.  I carry the typical teacher essentials in my backpack: emergency materials in case I can't print or copy what I need for classes at the office, extra white board markers, hand sanitizer, aspirin, blank paper for lessons where we create spontaneous stories, and my tablet for individual classes.  I also had my lunch, sunblock, clip on sunglasses, bottled water, and a small luggage lock so that no one can get into my backpack to steal my tablet while I'm walking.

To give you an idea of the route here's a map:

The stars indicate the starting and ending point.  I start in the lower right corner and walk towards the upper left corner.
My journey starts at my apartment building, which is near the intersection of Irarrazaval with Antonio Varas.  I have a bus stop in front of my building, so it can be tempting to sleep in and catch the bus.  I've been pretty good about resisting on my walking days of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday despite the temptation.

As I walk out of my apartment building I put on my headphones and choose the music for the day.  I usually listen to Linkin Park's Living Things or Paul Oakenfold's Great Wall.  Both albums have songs with a steady beat that makes for good walking music.

 For the first leg of the trip, I walk down my street Irarrazaval a few blocks until I get to Manuel Montt.  Unimarc is a grocery store here, and this particular one was constructed about a year ago.  It's a bit small but has pretty much anything I need, so I go there often.

Then I walk up Manuel Monnt until I get to the next main street, Sucre.  Manuel Monnt isn't the prettiest of streets, and it's not very well maintained.  Turning onto Sucre, however, is a big change.  It's lined with trees and doesn't get much traffic compared to other streets here.  

I then arrive at a nice park at the intersection with Miguel Claro.  It was about 7:30 when my phone rang.  It was my boss, and she told me that there was a fire in the La Moneda subway station and that lines 1, 2, and 5 of the metro weren't running.  On top of that, a lot of buses weren't running either.  She knew that I walk to work some days, and I told her that I was already on my way to work and that I didn't anticipate any problems getting to work for my 9:00 class.  Just to be sure, she told me to call her if she needed me to cancel my class.

Here's the park I pass by:

Then another surprise happened.  As I was walking on Miguel Claro, a dog came out of its house and started barking and growling at me.

It was only a few feet in front of me.  I froze and wondered how the dog got out.  I stood there trying to figure out what to do for a few seconds, and then I took a few steps back.  I crossed the street and continued on my way.  It was then that I noticed that the owners had opened their gate to drive out of the driveway.  I was lucky that I wasn't a few steps ahead of where I was; otherwise I could have had another dog bite situation here.

After that, I made my way down the street Rengo.  It's another calm tree-lined street.  After about 5 or 6 blocks I get to the intersection of Salvador, one of the main streets that runs north to south.  There's a pedestrian crossing, and cars are supposed to stop for pedestrians.  I emphasize supposed to.

I usually leave around 6:50 or 7:00 in the morning, so by the time I arrive there it's about 7:20 or 7:30.  It was now about 7:45, and traffic was considerably heavier than usual.  If you don't step out in front of cars they won't stop for you as a pedestrian.  Situations like these have helped me develop nerves of steel and become more assertive.

I walk down Rengo until the street ends, and then I walk up Gibraldi.  This is unfortuantely another street that isn't really well maintained.  It's a shame because just one or two streets away is Avenida Italia, an artsy and interesting area with some cool restaurants, bars, and boutiques.  

Then walking north I get to Santa Isabel.  At this particular intersection I can then walk a block west and then about 3 blocks north on Condell to get to Marin.  Condell and Marin are other tree-lined streets, but they get a good amount of traffic as people avoid the busier main streets.  There's a nice mural that I enjoy seeing as I walk by each morning:

Walking down Marin, I eventually get to Vicuña Mckenna.  This is one of the main streets that runs north to south in Santiago, and the metro line 5 (that was out of service that day) is a vital connection between people that live in the southern part of the city and the downtown area to the north.  By this time I have listened to the entire Living Things Linkin Park album, and I then put on their album titled A Thousand Suns.  

Crossing Vicuña Mckenna I continue on Marin for about 3 more blocks until I get to Portugal.  By that time it was about 8:10 or so, and there was considerably more foot traffic.  

Walking up Portugal you have to be careful when you get to the intersection with Curico.  There are bike lanes and plenty of people that take advantage of them.  If you're not careful a biker could take you out!

A bit further up I see something that breaks my heart every time I pass by.  There is a line of homeless people that live in front of the public hospital.  Some of them sleep on pieces of cardboard with a blanket.  Others of them have actual mattresses and a comforter, and some of them share their "bed" with another person.  I didn't think taking pictures of their living conditions would be very dignified, but here is the sign for the public hospital to give you an idea of it:

For those of you that remember reading a post I made about a beggar last year, it really affected me.  You can reread that post by clicking here.  Seeing people living in such conditions breaks my heart.  I can't imagine what people like that have gone through in their life.  Their broken dreams that they never got to achieve, fighting for survival each day, and depending on the kindness of strangers to make it from one day to the next.

The first time or two that I walked by it really tugged at my heart strings, and it made me think what I could do to help them.  I made a resolution to take the money that I would have spent on a bus fare that day and to leave it for one of them on their mattress while they were asleep.  I try to put it under a blanket or in a place where it won´t be noticed by anyone walking by.  It might only be 600 pesos, but for them that could be a meal or two and the difference between going hungry one day to the next.  Each time I walk by I get a sobering dose of reality about how fortunate I am and to appreciate everything that I have in life.

After that, I walk up Diagonal Paraguay, which connects to Alameda.  Alameda, also know as Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins, is the main street that runs east to west from Providencia, through downtown, and going all the way out to Estacion Central.  When I got there, I encountered absolute chaos.

Subway line 1 runs along Alameda and is a lifeline for the majority of Santiguinos.  It extends further and stretches to Las Condes.  There are buses that will also run this same route, but given the street traffic they are often much slower.

That morning, however, those buses or taking a taxi were the only option people had to get to work.  There were mobs of people waiting at the bus stops.  It wouldn't surprise me to find out that people were injured with the pushing and shoving and fighting to get on buses.  I didn't get too close to any mobs, but here's a picture of confused people trying to figure out how to get to work:

To get to work, I walk down Alameda about 4 blocks.  The foot traffic was considerably heavier than normal, and it was about 8:30 by that time.  I saw something that aught my attention, and I couldn't help not taking a picture:

Yes, that is an underwear company advertising their new fast food line of underwear.

Then I can cut through Nueva York, a street that makes me feel like I've stepped into a time machine.  The cobblestone streets and stone buildings are such a contrast to other parts of Santiago.  

I then walk west on Moneda and pass the presidential palace and plaza.  I'm rewarded with the following view:

I work in the building on the left.
Selfie in front of my work
I arrived at work at 8:40 that morning, and I was actually the first one into the office.  The other teachers didn't make it in for their first class, and I only had one student out of 3 regular attendees in my class.  One of my coworkers walked from the Los Leones subway station to work, which is 9 metro stations away.  Walking that probably took her over an hour.  

Unless people drove to work, people arrived an hour to two hours late.  Given the situation to get home, government workers were allowed to leave work at 2:00.  My boss cancelled 2:30 classes, and since I didn't have a 1:15 class that day I left at 1:00.

I'm glad I left when I did.  I was able to get a bus that connected to another bus to get home.  The usual 25 minute trip ended up being about an hour, and it was about 85 degrees. Walking home would have been a grueling ordeal.

The metro only got up and running again the following day.

So, what caused the whole fiasco in the first place?

I haven't been able to find any news sources with facts in writing, but someone told me that 600 workers that maintained the electrical wiring of the subway stations had been laid off.  Rather than keeping those jobs as public ones with benefits, they have been outsourcing the work to a private company.  The lack of maintenance resulted in the fire that caused the meltdown.

300,000 people were affected by the failure of the metro.  The president of the metro as well as a few others have resigned, and they have been replaced.

Of course there were some interesting memes that came out of the situation:

Translation: The bus is coming!!!!!!!!
Translation: All 30,245 of us passengers in the
bus are fine.
Jokes aside, I was very fortunate in the situation.  I don't have kids to pick up from school and didn't have any classes that were out of the way.  I can't imagine the frustration that other people went through on what should have been a typical Friday for them.

This highlights one of the political struggles that is currently going on in Chile: the rise of private businesses and fall of public jobs.  I´m not one to follow politics too much, but I think that people are getting angry here and are not shy to express how they feel.  

It's an adventure being in Chile when things like this happen.  I feel like this is something that no one will ever forget, and I feel like I'm living a part of history.

That's all for now.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Social Events, Halloween, Teaching, and a Neighbor

It's the second week of November, and spring has arrived.

The warmer weather has made it easier to get out of the house and exercise, which has in turn helped me to feel more upbeat and social.  Or perhaps making social plans has made me feel more upbeat and helped me to enjoy the warmer weather.  In any case, it's a good feeling.

There have been a good amount of people that I hadn't seen in a while, and I had also met some interesting people over the past few months.  So I decided to have a party at my place.  I provided snacks, and everyone brought their drinks.  There ended up being about 13 of us inside my one bedroom apartment, but we all had a great time.  Looking back at the people that came made me realize how interesting of a group of friends that I have.  At the end of the night I was getting tired, and I think a few people picked up on it.  People left in small groups, and on their way out they took out the trash and empty bottles and beer cans.  It was a very pleasant surprise, and it made me realize how lucky I am to have met such good friends.

I also met some new friends that are fellow Settlers of Catan fans.  They had played it a few times before and were rusty on the rules, so the first game we played was like a refresher.  Seeing how competitive they got during the second game was really entertaining.  I'm glad I met them, and then I was invited to one of their birthday parties the following weekend.  There I met some more really interesting people as well as some fellow Magic players.

And then there was Halloween.  

Maybe it's just me, but I feel like Halloween is like an unwritten competition to have an amazing costume.  Ever since I was a little kid I never felt like my costumes were good enough, and I remember being made fun of in high school for having a sucky costume.  Ever since then I've almost always decided to opt out of the competitive nature of the holiday and enjoy it how I want to celebrate it.

Here in Chile October 31st is a national holiday, and I really enjoyed having the day off.  I caught up with a friend over coffee, and then I filled my craving for American food by getting lunch at Johnny Rocket's.  While I don't enjoy dressing up in a costume, seeing the costumes of the waiters and waitresses there was cool.  They even danced to Michael Jackson's Thriller when I was there.

In other news, I'm famous!

Well, that's probably a bit of an exaggeration.  Why do I say that?

They opened the application process for people at my job to apply for English classes for next year, and they took pictures of me in class to use on the website.  It was pretty cool opening up the email and seeing my picture with some of my students.  

Last but not least, I had an unexpected encounter with one of my neighbors.  

In order to give you the proper background, we actually need to go back in them a little over 2 years ago.  I was teaching a class in my apartment, and my doorbell rang. It was one of my neighbors that was interested in English classes.  

After I finished the class I visited her.  I told her about my background, evaluated her level, and we agreed on a price for classes and schedule.  We confirmed the class, and despite her living two doors away she didn't show up to the first class.

When I contacted her about it, she explained that she was too busy for classes, and she refused to pay me.  

Needless to say, I wasn't happy.  In fact, I felt really angry every time I walked by her apartment to take out my trash or put away the recycling.  

So now we go back to a few weeks ago.  I woke up to a strange sound in the hallway.  it was as if an animal was chewing on a plastic bottle in the hallway, and it lasted for about 20 minutes.  Strange things had happened in my apartment building before, so I got dressed and opened up my front door cautiously.

What did I find?

One of my neighbors was using a plastic bottle that he had flattened out, and he was trying to use it to open the front door to his apartment.  His key wasn't working, and his family that lives on the other side of Santiago didn't pick up the phone so that he could get his spare key.  (It was 3 in the morning early on a Sunday).  

I recognized him as the husband of the woman who had never paid me for the classes.  We had seen each other coming and going and had been in the elevator a few times over the past few years, and once or twice I was him walking with his daughter who was a few years old at the time.  Despite him having nothing to do with his wife's behavior, each time I saw him I felt a surge of anger come up.  I simply masked it and smiled despite how I was feeling.

I asked him what happened, and he explained the situation to me.  I asked if he wanted me to help him call a locksmith or if he wanted to come in for something to eat or drink, and he told me about being able to get the key from his family in the morning.  I then asked if he wanted to crash on my couch for the night.  He seemed a bit hesitant to accept at first, but I insisted it wouldn't be a problem.  So inside he came, and to sleep he went.

We both woke up around 8 or so, and I offered him some breakfast.  He just wanted some water, and we chatted while I had a bowl of cereal.  I asked if his wife was away for the weekend since he wasn't able to get into the apartment, and he told me that they had separated.

At that time, it completely changed my perspective.  Imagining what he had gone through and not knowing what contact (if any) he had with his daughter really made me realize how inconsequential the lost English class was.  

I apologized and didn't bring up how I knew about his wife.  After we chatted a bit about our jobs, I told him that since we were both living on our own that perhaps we could have a meal or drinks together from time to time.  He seemed appreciative of the gesture, and after thanking me he went on his way to visit his family and get the spare key to his apartment.

I find myself continuing to branch out.  I'm connecting with people and developing more authentic friendships, and I'm learning to let go of the past and move on.  It's a good feeling, and I hope I can keep the momentum going through the rest of the year and beyond.