Wednesday, February 18, 2015

5 years in Chile

February 18th, 2015 marks 5 years since I came to Chile.

I'm actually in the States for a visit home now, so I'm not in Chile on the official 5 year anniversary.  If I had realized it when I booked my ticket, I would have tried to fly into Chile on the 18th instead of the 20th.

Doing anything for 5 years is a significant part of a person's life, and it makes me think of what has happened over this time.

This question was actually brought up by one of my friends a few months ago when we were walking up cerro san cristobal.  She asked me what has changed in Chile since I had arrived.

So, what's the answer?  Well, here's my best shot at it broken down by category:

Economic Development

The landscape in Santiago has changed.  A lot of apartment buildings have been built, and it feels like the city has been taken over my constant construction.  Every afternoon when I look out my apartment window now I see a huge crane constructing a new building on the other side of the street.

In addition, new companies and businesses have been constructed.  When I first came to Chile, there was a ton of construction around the intersection of Avenida Providencia when it connects to Avenida Vitacura.  I remember the sidewalk being blocked off and having to walk the long way around to teach classes at Banco de Chile.  That is now the Costanera Center, which is a huge shopping mall.

There was also construction happening at Plaza Ñuñoa, which is about a 15 minute walk from my apartment.  That construction created an underground parking area and about 8 new restaurants.  The parking has attracted more and more people to the area, and I think it has helped the businesses in the area.

Now that I think of it, there has been even more construction.  Portal Ñuñoa used to just have a Jumbo supermarket, but it became a mini mall with Paris, a movie theater, food court, and other smaller stores.  Mall Plaza Egaña was also built as the first "green" mall in the area.

The arrival of new businesses is another thing that I´ve noticed.  Due to my love of food, it has been easiest to notice the restaurants that have arrived.  Among them are Dennys, Cinnabon, Johnny Rockets, Wendy´s, and probably a few others I´m forgetting.  I´ve also noticed the expansion of a few others: Ruby Tuesday, TGIFridays, and Papa John´s Pizza come to mind.  While these places help stimulate the economy, it makes me wonder if they are causing Chile to lose its cultural identity and also contribute to an unhealthy lifestyle.

Public Health

About 2 years ago Chile instituted a smoking ban on inside public areas, including bars and restaurants.  Some places have an outside smoking area, while others don´t.  People seemed angry about it at first, but from what I´ve seen they have been respectful of the new law.  I don´t know if it has resulted in people to quit smoking or fewer people to start in the first place.  Cigarette prices are still pretty low in Chile, so it still remains affordable to people.

Sometime in 2014 Santiago instituted a program to encourage exercise and walking.  I don´t remember the exact name, but for particular stretches of main streets they close half of the street and create a detour for cars.  It happens on Sundays from 10:00 until 2:00, and people can walk, run, rollerblade, or bike without having to worry about traffic.  There are traffic guards that direct traffic at intersections as well as small rest areas set up with water coolers at specific places throughout the stretches, and it´s nice walking through the area and seeing people getting out to exercise and enjoy being outside.  


Educational changes have been underway.  The student protests that started in 2011 where huge and dominated the headlines from 2011 to 2013 or so.  Students were fed up with getting an inferior education just because they didn't have money as well as being enslaved to a job just to pay back the loans they took out to study.  The loans are so bad that some people work their entire life just to pay them back.  Their persistence paid off, and eventually some of the leaders made their way into Congress.  Government officials had no choice but to listen, and free and subsidized education is going to be phased in starting in 2016.  


Transportation has changed too.  Some new bus lines have been added.  The 422 passes through La Reina and Ñuñoa and connects it to downtown Santiago, and it's a bus that I take frequently when traveling to downtown.  The 106 has been extended to go past Manuel Montt and now goes all the way out to Pajaritos, and the 126 is an additional bus that was added with the same route as the old 106 that runs from the morning rush hour until the evening rush hour.  Other routes have been modified to better serve the traffic of commuters.

I'm not sure if it's every train or just some trains, but there is air conditioning on trains on line 1.  Some people have protested that it serves just some of the people that take the subway and think that putting restrooms into the subway stations would have been a better use of the money.  

And as anyone who lives in Santiago knows, the cost of public transportation has been steadily increasing.  When I arrived in February 2010, I believe the most expensive fare was about 500 pesos.  Now that same fare is 720 pesos.  While this seems like a small amount for 5 years, it´s over a 40% increase.  When you travel and take public transportation multiple times in a day, it adds up quickly.  People say that people fare evasion is a big problem, and it can be infuriating seeing people sneaking on the bus without paying.  At the same time, with the minimum wage in Chile commuting to and from work on the typical fare consuming over 30% of a person's salary I feel that I have to suspend judgement of those people.

Relations with the USA

An easier visa process to enter the United States for Chileans was a big announcement last year.  Chileans can now enter the United States with a passport and by paying for a tourist visa that is valid for 90 days.

Prior to this, they had to complete an application, show that they had a certain amount of money in their bank account, and go through an interview with someone in English to get their visa.  Chileans have told me the luck of the draw and the mood of the person who interviewed you that ultimately determined if you were granted the visa or not.

This will improve international relations between the USA and Chile, and it's exciting to know that travel to the States is now easier for my friends and students here.

So, what's in store for Chile in the future?  I'm not a fortune teller, so I guess we'll have to wait and see!

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