Friday, December 24, 2010

Correos Chile

Every year Correos Chile puts out boxes of “Dear Santa” letters that the public can sift through, choose, and later send or drop off the items requested to the sender.

Two years ago my boyfriend, his friend Luis, and I sponsored a letter from a young girl. It turned out really well.

This year the two of us sponsored 5 letters, and Luis 2 more.

I feel conflicted about whether to write about this again because I feel in some way its might be rude to write about the personal lives of these other people, or some might question whether my motivations are to make myself feel good rather than purely to help someone else. But, while I think the former is worth it for the positive light and exposure to the issue, the latter might not be entirely untrue. While I can insist that my main intention is focused on the receiver, I won’t deny that it’s been a really positive personal experience for me as well. After all, the personalized aspect of the process is why I chose to participate this way instead of anonymously dropping off a giftwrapped box in a bin somewhere.

I actually would prefer to just keep quiet to avoid my conflicting feelings all together, but I feel like this campaign isn’t very well known and is seen in such a negative light sometimes that it deserves the positive exposure, even if its just within my small friend group. Actually, everybody I have actually told my experience about in person has reacted by relaying news features that portray the campaign as a failure this year, highlighting all the scams and cheating that have been discovered within it. Those exist too, I even noticed specific examples when I was selecting letters. But I think that overall honest letters and positive experiences highly outweigh and outnumber the negative.

So far I’ve been to 3 of the houses, but I want to write about it now.

The first letter I chose was written by a lady a few years older than I am. She works selling food and crafts on the street, where she was given a big ticket for lacking a permit. When you don’t pay those (as many wont, because giving someone a ticket for illegally selling stuff on the street its almost a Catch-22 situation if you think about it) the police try to take you in to jail, again something that could be troubling for a single mother of 3. Anyway she wrote a very sweet and humble letter asking Santa to keep her kids in mind and maybe help out with Christmas dinner and some expensive dietary needs of the toddler. She seemed a little embarrassed that we came to her house, and had obviously put in a huge effort to get the place clean before we got there. She was very thankful for the dinner ingredients we put together, and the oldest boy did his best to keep his cool as he set the little gifts under three, but it was hard not to notice the huge smile that kept escaping.

The second letter we chose because it was simple, straightforward but cute, and close enough to the first address that we might as well combine the trips. Without the dad around, and after a huge and ridiculous sequence events leading to his mother’s near-death experience and injuries, there weren’t going to be Christmas presents this year…. Unless, of course, the young boy took matters into his own hands! When we called to say we were on our way with a gift, the mom was very confused, as she had no idea that her son had even written a letter to Santa. They invited us in for tea, and we chatted til 1am. The boy sat and quietly stared at the package which did indeed contain the remote control car he asked for, but he wont know that until Christmas. Overall, he seemed most pleased that the letter program had worked, and that his mom was proud of him for having thought of and executed his own idea to participate in this program.

The third letter was “written by” a 2 year old boy, which my boyfriend at first found suspicious. Given that, obviously, parents help out on these things, it didn’t put me off and I was drawn to the very practical wishes for diapers, milk and Christmas dinner. There were many numbers at the bottom of the page, and between today and yesterday I felt like I ended up talking to half the extended family! Luis was supposed to come with me to drop off the stuff, but in the end that didn’t work out and I didn’t want the trip carrying heavy stuff, a backpack full of potatoes didn’t help, to be in waste so I just went myself. The street was out of the way and really hard to find, and when I finally found it with the help of a little grandpa and a man sitting in the street by the remnants of a bonfire, I was about 1,800 house numbers away! Luckily the numbering system was disorganized and I didn’t have to go far at all. But I was somewhere I didn’t feel very comfortable, being led through meter-wide path winding between metal roofing materials. I finally got to the house and first saw the 2 year old, who was very frightened to see me. The mother was very young, a little embarrassed to have me there and especially surprised to see a foreigner. She told me about their struggles and their other baby son who had died. Then she asked me lots of questions about why I’d choose to live in Chile, and how and why we decided to bring things to people who wrote the letters. The little boy dug right into my bag and pulled out his diapers, though was too timid to talk to me until later when I gave him his own gift. He suddenly got a HUGE smile (frequently interrupted by shoving a dinosaur appendage in his mouth) and wanted nothing more than to smile at me from then on. When I left, he yelled something approximating “Chau…” and then started to cry. He didn't want me to leave!

As far as we could see, with these letters, everything written was true. These families either needed or would really enjoy having the gifts they wrote about. I don't think its necessary that the family should be exptremely poor or desperate. But its important that the public, who generally only sees a single negative angle of the program through news sources, realizes in a large number of cases, the gifts are, at the very least, a very nice contribution to the family's celebration, and they are well received by very appreciative people.

There are good endings too.

Monday, December 20, 2010

What the cat dragged in...

Look at that TAIL!

This is why you always carry a camera. You never know when you will fulfill a life goal.

p.s. Thank God this is not my cat, as mine tend to prance in and wake me up to show off their prey

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Strategic droppings and probability

A few weeks ago I was sitting on the micro thinking about a moment in my childhood when a bird pooped in my little sister's hair. I wondered what the chances of that happening are and figured someday or another it might happen to me.

The scene:
One week later, 7am, street corner, waiting for the bus, dressed nicely for an important day. Super clean and nice looking hair.

You can only guess what's coming. And let me just tell you that it came out of NOWHERE and it was a LOT. Seriously, quantity: MASSIVE.

On the top of my head, sliding down my hair, all over my clothes, all over my hands. It took me a good second or two to realize what happened, and when I did my reaction was to laugh out loud. The event and my reaction caused many car and taxi drivers waiting at the red light to look at me with double the "crazy gringa" glances, with a little extra touch of "man, that sucks". There was way too much mess to clean up with some tissues, so I went back home to wash my hair and clothes. I don't think my boss believed my excuse for being so late.

This afternoon I was suntanning on a friend's gorgeous patio, telling her about the whole ordeal and pondering the chances of this happening, when I feel a drop of water on my chin. I wiped it off, only to realize that, yet again, it had happened, though thankfully this time it was apparently a much smaller bird.

So... What are the chances??

Gross. But my coworkers say I should have a large sum of money coming my way. Make that double.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The most popular day of my life

I never use my stat counter much. In fact, I only set it up to see if people googled weird stuff and came upon me. They do, sometimes. I am apparently a good source for everything from gringa food to linguistics to visas to river rats.

And sometimes they even google intelligent stuff and find me.

Once in a while, I find other interesting things out, for example, nobody from my home state reads my blog. Eheeemmm the blog I set up so people from home could see what I'm up to. Mission failed?

However, after a monthlong recess, I posted again. When I saw my stat counter I was worried a religious site picked up my Jesus photo, which I posted just for kicks, not because I actually wanted to get in the middle of something. But it turned out to be unrelated. My sudden popularity was actually resulting from a link to a picture of Rayita.

But hey, I finally got some Minnesotans to stop by!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Quotation marks are for quotes

I know I've been away for a while, as I've been working on a couple big projects, but I'm back, and a direct quote from Jesus sounds like a way to start back up.
Sounds like something Jesus would say, but... did he?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mil Tambores 2010

This weekend was the Carnaval Mil Tambores, possibly my favorite Valparaiso events. Its pretty late and I've done nothing but celebrate, party, and do presentations and workshops for 3 days now so I dont have much time or energy to write about details, but to make up for it I included a set of photos that show some of the variety of groups that participated in the 2nd parade, which took place this morning.

On Friday there was a HUGE parade on Avenida Alemania, but I was participating in the parade with a group so I couldnt take photos at all. It was a gorgeous day and a great parade. However, at night things in the plan turned violent and people broke lots of stuff, including many windows to stores, all of the recycling and garbage containers, and even ripped out the new stoplights they put in. The news said there was around 20 million pesos worth of damage (crazy video that must've been taken before I walked by, as that area was super trashed and smelled like tear gas until at least the next afternoon). Its a shame, especially since the focus of the event is about being more conscious, friendly to the environment, etc...


speeches, music and dance on behalf of the Mapuches


micros stuck in the middle of the parade
unicycle, swing (and what was most appropriately advertised as "ribbon dancer" throughout my childhood), dance, etc...

a mime I met in Chillan this summer

samba dancers with neat costumes
Here is my post from Mil Tambores 2009, where I went as a clown and could therefore carry along my camera. They did not have as much focus this year on the bands, nor any shows in Caleta Membrillo, which was good in my opinion, though obviously it didn't do much to put a damper on the alcohol consumption and partying.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Calling for Help

Three weeks ago we couldn't get ahold of the police when we were having a terrible noise problem with some neighbors. Luckily it was not a real emergency, just a sleep and convenience problem. And I wont even get into my fears of the Chilean medical system in this post, but you´ll pick up on them as you read on.

I don´t remember if I posted a long while back about the time someone tried to break into our house and the police hung up on my boyfriend and then never showed up. It was a terrifying experience and I confirmed my lack of confidence in the police (which started with another story from an English student of mine who found a dead or almost dead man and called the police unsuccessfully for over a half hour. They never answered and my student left him there because he was afraid the system would screw him over and assume he was involved in the death). The story sparked me to get the direct line and cell phone of the police assigned to my section of the city, just to find out it didn't help any when I needed to use it.

In the U.S. I considered the phone a sort of life line for when you are in danger. You hear stories of people who call for help when they are in danger and someone comes to the rescue in minutes. Luckily the person who tried to break in just moved on to try the neighbor's house, and my boyfriend scared him away with a bat. This is not the rescue I´d prefer to rely on.

Obviously, I am terrified of needing to call for help. Both because it means something bad is happening, and because I'm worried about how much I can rely on this.

Unfortunately, this weekend has escalated my fears.

Long long story short, we went a few hours North for the week because my boyfriend and his friends put on a circus show. They each have various arts they specialize in, including many different types of acrobatics, clowns, magic, and other traditional aspects of the circus. During the day they teach classes, and in the afternoon and evenings they put on shows for audiences. I am always slightly nervous because, although they all know what they are doing very well, they don't have the money to invest in or transport a lot of things that might be nice or safe to have. I worry.

This weekend something absolutely frightening happened to a friend from the South. One of the guys fell from the trapeze, really hard, and hit the ground directly with his head. His neck appeared to crunch sideways, and there was a loud thud. The fall was terrifying to watch, and I almost threw up having from nausea having seen it, and I still am really traumatized about the whole event. Hey stayed down on the ground, though conscious and with movement in all parts of his body, though he had neck and back pain and trouble breathing.

Someone in the audience called an ambulance immediately. Although it was potentially a very serious injury, we didn't think it was a matter of life or death or a race against the clock. And, WOW, THANK GOD it wasn't because the ambulance arrived no sooner than about 2 hours later. TWO hours as our friend passed through various stages of pain and trouble breathing, lying cold on the ground. The police came in the meantime but had no idea whatsoever to do and basically took down his personal information then watched from a distance.

When the ambulance got there (other patients waiting on board) they ended up taking him to one of the nearest hospitals, which wasn't very near at all. They got there and decided to transfer him to a bigger hospital, though they wouldn´t let him take anything at all with him. So off he went again, this time alone, wearing his circus presentation outfit, without money or even a phone.

From then on we didn't know anything until recently. But apparently he was repeatedly moved around to different random places, poked an prodded in ways that didn't feel great, somewhat examined, and then shoved out on the streets in the early morning because the hospital needed the bed.

Yes, after severe head trauma, he was kicked out of the hospital freezing cold, in another city wearing his circus presentation pants, without even real shoes, wearing a black plastic bag with arm holes to keep warm, without a phone or any money.

Obviously, I'm a little terrified of having to deal with any major health or safety issues, and this weekend was probably a particularly bad one in terms of saturation of the need for emergency care. Even though I now have a pretty nice healthcare plan with access to some of the better clinics and things, it may or may not change my access to them, the time I can get there, etc. Who knows if I'll even be able to make choices? For example, when you are in public transportation accidents, you are often initially sent through the crowded public healthcare facilities anyway. Or like this weekend, even a willingness to pay a high price probably couldn't have gotten him safely to a hospital without a gurney and space to carry him on it.

Thank God he could leave walking; the worst of it appears to be various chipped teeth and a lot of pain. He asked for money on the streets until he got enough for a phone call and a bus ride, making it back to the place he rents in Valpo only to remember the rest of us were out of town with his keys.

The only advice I can think of: Stay healthy, make good choices, be safe and aware. Tattoo the important contact numbers on your forehead and I guess, never ever wear your "laundry day" underwear, just in case you get dumped on the street wearing nothing but that.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Feed a stray, get a fine

That's right. Valparaiso has implemented a new plan this week where feeding or sheltering stray animals is cause for a 1-5 UTM fine!!! (Each UTM is around 35,000CLP or USD $70.00...and you could get up to 5x that!). My feelings are mixed.

Valparaiso's strays are iconic.

Though I do agree we have a stray animal problem.

The problem is undenyable: overpopulation of stray dogs in the city center. Every visitor I've ever hosted in Valparaiso has been amazed by the quantity of dogs running around the center of town. But they are also taken aback by the fact that the dogs are friendly and appear well-fed. Despite my personal bad luck, very few dogs are dangerous or aggressive, and while they will happily scarf down any food offered, its more from the spirit of being a dog than from lack of food- the majority are not starving, or thin at all. They don't have rabies and relatively few have noticeable diseases.

One of the very few occations where I've seen sickly strays in Valparaiso's plan.

5 Dogs mingling with humans in the Plaza Victoria

This is why I'm weary of the plan detailed here. As far as I've read the plan consists of collecting stray dogs and taking them to a kennel, where their owners can claim them and pay a fine. People feeding and sheltering stray dogs will also get a fine. One HUGE aspect which is underrepresented in what happens to the unclaimed dogs, and how this will reduce the population of stray dogs in the long run. The kennel is already known for being overpopulated, so I cant imagine they're going to shove in hundreds or thousands of additional stray dogs to happily live out the rest of their lives there. This particular article doesn't even mention the issue of sterilization

The plan also fails to include (or the mention) any sort of public education campaign about responsible pet ownership, animal adoption, animal population control (I'll let Andrea tell you about that), etc... Are these not the KEY TO CHANGED BEHAVIORS???

At the University here we learned how a large percentage of the stray dog population consisted of dogs who had owners who either let them run free all day or threw them out on the streets after the adorable puppy stage. Many who look like strays in fact still "belong to" someone, or something of the sort, and do get food and (hopefully) some love from them. Many other people provide food and leftovers for the strays that hang around their house, sometimes even taking them to the vet or assisting in emergencies.

Someone helps out a stray mother

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Potato Face!

Once again, I've been days with a high fever and cold with body aches so bad I could hardly move. I'm not sure what's going on that I am getting sick over and over again but its starting to worry me.

Last night I went to bed with a fever of 102. I don't remember much of anything but I woke up talking about this dream where my boyfriend put potatoes all over my face, which is something typically done in Chile when one has a fever.  I thought it was one of my feverish hallucinations, but apparently it really happened. As I got out of bed I felt almost normal, so I picked up the thermometer and a minute later it was beeping with a solid 98.6.


Edit: False alarm. I have a fever again

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


I love to read.

But yesterday I bought my first book in Chile. I have been warned since I got here that books are expensive, and have avoided making purchases here because of that. Even used books at the feria are expensive.

It didn't matter though. I was at the book store and I had to buy this one book. It cost around $22,000 CLP. Thats kinda a lot of money for a book, and I considered not buying it, but I went ahead anyway cuz I had my reasons...

When I got home I checked online just for giggles. How much would it have cost to buy online and ship the book to Chile? $12 US.


(edit: to get books shipped to Chile for free check out though it may take a few weeks and some patience).

Saturday, August 14, 2010

You've been selected!!

I was asked this week to evaluate a business deal. I don't usually do much in the line of consulting but luckily this one didn't take any real training: I know a good deal when I see it!!!

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Today at the store I ran into another gringa that recently got to Chile. I know who she is because she is living with a family I know. We checked out together and started walking home in Valparaiso; it was no sooner than when I completed the phrase,

"Everybody says the men in Chile are real gentlemen,..."

... when some man on the street gave my backside a big squeeze.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Do as I do...

I wonder how my older cat Daisy really regards the newer kitten... as a sister? an adopted child? ...a roommate? ... a true intruder? hahaha

Rayita is going to be full grown soon, and she's been trying to do everything just like her role model. They follow one another around, teasing one another. Daisy has all the ideas first, then Rayita will try to copy the same thing afterwards. Bad habbits included. She even learned the same trick way to open the bathroom door. If one does it, the other must too. Rayita is still desperately trying to figure out how to get outside and how to climb on the kitchen table, because, unlike Daisy, she hasn't figured out how to get around us yet.

I think Daisy is flattered to have a little mini-me to lead around.

Can you believe she was ever once so small?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Lasting effects of a false alarm...

I thought I was OK, but as time goes on I realize it might have affected me more than I expected...

At the end of February, Chile experienced an 8.8 Earthquake. I spent the entire 3 or so minutes of the earthquake being bounced about in my bed, unable and unwanting to actually get out of bed. And while I spent the rest of the night in a trembling, uneasy state (partially because of lack of electricity/communication and expected chaos), overall I was not too freaked out and I still found all the aftershocks just as amusing as I always found the temblors. (My original earthquake post about my experience).

I had never really expected an earthquake to happen, and the reality of it wasn't as bad, in my situation, as it could've been. My old wooden house shook around but stayed up; the dishes rattled but only the glasses broke; my bookshelf disassembled itself but never collapsed.

But a week later, during the presidential inauguration, I was in registro Civil when I felt at least two pretty big aftershocks (7.0), big enough to be considered somewhat significant earthquakes themselves. The hanging signs which provide organization to the otherwise confusing building of government services were swaying back and forth, and people sitting in silence were moved to talk with the person sitting next to them. Soon after, as I was finally called to the front of the line, the police entered the building and rushed behind the counter. I was the first advised there could be a tsunami on its way and I should literally run to higher ground. I was the first in the building to get up, so it was easy to get to the door. I entered the chaotic mass of people in the business distrit and we tried to climb up a passage stairway from ground level near the ocean to a higher spot up the hill. "Climb" is a simplified way of describing what was actually a frantic scramble: People were pushing, shoving, crying, falling, and also helping one another. Its really impossible for me to even describe the emotions felt by myself or anyone around me, being at sea level when you suspect a wave might suddenly take out everything around you and kill the majority of people in its way. How soon would it come? Would those behind us trample us down? If I got up high enough, would I see those below me get washed away? Is there time to help others make it up? Is there even time enough to be civil? I handled it pretty calmly compared to many, but it was beyond a doubt the most stressful moment of my life to date. I realized out of all the news I'd read about tsunamis over the years, the geology class I sat through, the movies I'd watched... I've never actually imagined what being in that situation would be like. (Read my full recount I posted the afternoon of the evacuation, with pictures.)

Of course, as we all know by now, a tsunami never came that day.

In Chile for a while talked a lot about the recent catastrophic events, asking "Where were you when it happened?" to everyone until the commotion died down again. And since then, I haven't really thought or worried much about another catastrophe at all.

But unfortunately that doesn't mean that I don't dream about it. There have been multiple nights in the past few months where I have woken up, panting and trembling, barely aware that through all my efforts to get out of reach of another tsunami, my body was safe in bed. There have been dreams where I am desperate to climb up a mountain, where I leave meals uneaten at a beachside restaurant, when tropical vacations in Hawaii turn bad, and where kayak trips turn catastrophic. But there have also been numerous realistic nightmares, reliving and reinventing escapes through the hills of Valparaiso. Some are more realistic in which I frantically try to call my boyfriend on my cellphone despite tied up lines, rushing past known shops and acquaintances, and also less realistic escapes, for instance the recurring dream where I discover the Cerro Concepcion dragon pit amid my rush to safety. The most common type of tsunami dream is actually the one where I struggle to find the balance between my safety and my obsession with getting a good photograph, which usually culminates with a stressful fumble over getting the giant wave in focus as I realize I might not be as out-of-reach as I thought.

I sure don't get much sleep those nights, but when day comes, I don't keep water-wings in my purse nor my eyes glued to the sea as I pass by the oceanside many times a day. What I do wonder, however, is how much the stress and emotions of that day actually affected me. I'd be inclined to admit its more than I thought.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Growth is inevitable

but sometimes they bring their kitten habbits right with them.

More familiarization with healthcare

Tuesday afternoon I knew it wasn't going to end well when I reread the same line of a story out loud a few times in a row before a student jumped in and corrected me. My cheeks were burning up and I was lacking ability to concentrate. I knew I'd get in a good nap that night and hopefully a real illness wouldn't develop at all.

A coworker spent a few minutes lecturing me that, just as she had warned me, warming my cold fingers in front of a plastic space heating fan would make me sick. Damn, warm air? I figure its a miracle I don't drop dead everytime I blowdry my hair.

I barely made it home before the real heavy sickness set in. I've spent the past two and a half days incredibly sick to my stomach and dipping in and out of a 103.5 fever.

Being this sick is debilitating. Laying in bed so long makes my bones ache, rolling over churns my stomach, standing up makes me woozy, walking gives a headache. And that's just moaning about the little stuff... imagine me trying to sort out my healthcare! (When you're so sick you can't go to work, you still have to get up out of bed and get to the doctor so he gives you an excuse note, and by default, make a sidestop to your healthcare provider's office along the way).

I was too sick to make it far from home, and I didn't have the energy to look for the healthcare folder which might have some information on centers or doctors covered under my plan so I searched the internet forever. Then I called and asked. Despite the billions mentioned when I signed my plan, the lady on the phone had two suggestions, of those I understood one. I called that clinica and they suggested I come in next week! (Yes, thank you, that'd be really convenient...if I survive the wait!), so I walked tortoise-paced to the closest doctor I knew of planning to pay out of pocket. They told me to come back the next day and that they're supported by my plan anyway, so I went and got a bono slip proving I'd made my copayment (along with a Doc list for next time) and shuffled home. Well, I tried to take a collectivo, but after being robbed of my spot many times in a row (because, you know, being at the front of the line doesn't always guarantee you much in Chile), I gave up and climbed. It was a struggle.

Today, after pushing snooze for two hours, I finally got up and made it to the doctor...where I waited another 2 hours to be seen. I did get to see a questionable Mega daytime show on the topic "Is it ok to make fun of people for their defects and nationality?" Defects and nationality paired together there sound ridiculous enough to me, though its actually a decent topic. Fever or not, daytime TV gives me a headache regardless and I preferred to stare at the hole in my shoe rather than the show's content. My boyfriend loooves one of the groups they question, though, Atletas de la Risa.

Speaking of nationality, doctors also get stuck not seeing beyond the foreignness and mine kept talking about adverse affects to my travel immunizations. I suppose its a good thing to rule out, but its also nice to consider I caught something entirely unrelated to my foreignness.... considering I haven't had immunizations in at least a few years.

Lesson I've learned: bureaucracy makes sickness twice as terrible.

P.s. Thrice as terrible, fyi, is cable television providing long periods of time where the most interesting programming I can find is SNAKES ON A PLANE. Seriously?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Domino bad luck

10pm last night I was walking alone on Avenida Alemania. Nobody was around.

Well, nobody was around until suddenly I got the hunch that somebody was RIGHT behind me. While continuing to walk, I turned around quickly. Despite having known in my gut that there was a man only half a pace behind me, finding him there immensely surprised me. I only looked at him for a fourth of a second, enough to verify there was someone in my personal space, yet hardly enough to identify any traits more specific than "male."

Anyway, seeing him there startled me so much that I instantly looked away, apparently setting my eyes on a huge white husky dog in the street. I must have looked so frightened or angry or something, perhaps a natural reaction of getting ready to defend myself against whatever this man had in mind, that when I looked at the dog, he jumped up in fright, bolted right at me and bit me in the back of the leg!!!

The man had backed off as the dog came at me, and both man and dog kinda ran off quietly in opposite directions. I was left alone again, completely shocked and nervous about the pain I felt from the bite. Not because it hurt so bad I couldn't walk, but because I was nervous there was blood all over my pants, which I quite like, and I'd have to make a decision about going through with the rabies shots or not (this is, after all, my 4th encounter of this sort with dogs in Chile).

No blood. It hurt like hell, yet oddly I just have small blue bruises where each one of the dog's teeth dug into my leg- the skin wasn't even broken!

* For the record, despite the large, relatievly uncontrolled stray dog population, there hasn't been a case of a human getting rabies from a dog in Chile in almost 40 years. Medical professionals in the US have told me its still worth the precaution if you are attacked by a dog that might have rabies, but that really they considered it just that, nothing more than a precaution. Anybody seen Quarantine?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cerro Alegre Shoved Aground

This morning I left my house and immediately noticed the wind. The realization that I've never really noticed wind while walking near my house hit me suddenly. Its strange how much time can go by before you notice something so simple. Even though it was very gently misting, I felt nostalgic for Minnesota fall. The wind, and Valparaiso in general, doesn't really have a strong oceany smell to differentiate the air from my memories of Minnesota.

It was raining, sprinkling or pouring on and off during the day, with large gusts of wind hitting up against the windows. The sky went back and forth from grey to pink, finally letting in a bit of sun and a giant rainbow in the late afternoon.

I sat at my desk in the office all day, cozy and dry. But the electricity must have flickered on and off around 10 or 15 times, something I'm used to because of the lighting back home (well, with lightning it usually just goes off and stays that way). I must admit I felt a little uneasy that the weather was getting so bad that I'd get trapped away from home, because coworkers were reporting that the roads were so terrible, flooded with trees and downed stoplights, that traveling would take double or triple the time.

Luckily I got a ride with someone half way, and spent the rest of my way staring out at the uneasy ocean. I have never seen such big waves along the normally calm Viña del Mar and Valparaiso shores! The waves reached the top of the pier sometimes. But in Valparaiso I stopped watching out the window, because the whole shoreline is cut off from view. Then suddenly, when we hit a stoplight, I felt mist from the water. Everybody looked over together to see a huge cargo boat that appeared to be almost on the shore, hopping up onto the metro line. A huge wave suddenly came over the top of the boat, and I accidentally let out a "GUAU" (jk, hahah "WOW!), thinking the water might almost come down on us, and a number of passengers looked at me. I took the bus to the bellavista stop where I used a huge walking bridge to climb up and get a view...

and a scurried picture, trying to catch those huge waves!

It seems this boat was the main victim of today's storm.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

South America and non-personal impressions

I believe pretty much everywhere I have been, close relationships have the potential to be very similar in nature. I think even if, at first glance, the people or culture seems to be upside-down and inside-out from our own, we would find those closest to you essentially the same at heart. Relationships between casual friends, coworkers, and acqaintances have more potential to differ depending on culture. But I think interactions between people that don't yet know each other, and the progress between first meeting someone to bringing it to another level is something that contributes to one of the first impressions we get of a country and culture. This is the impression we get as a tourist or a newcomer- the impression we get before having friends or a boyfriend (and his immensly extended family) to show us around and lead us towards meeting the right people.

Essentially, when I'm traveling, the answers to questions along the lines of the following help me form a basic opinion of society in a non-personal sense:
  • How do people interact with each other on the streets, does there seem to be common courtesy?
  • How willing are people to engage in conversation or small talk, is doing errands around town purely robotic or will you likely exhange smiles or comments with the people you interact with?
  • Are interactions with people you meet or deal with while getting around generally positive, negative or neutral?
Ok, so its not like I travel around with a little survey and checklist, evaluating places by these exact questions, but they give an idea you can probably understand or relate to about the type of interaction we observe and participate in before we really have any good reason or ties to make a more profound one. Perhaps this impression is one of society overall that will stay with us, or perhaps more time and connections will modify the way we see the culture. Overall, I found almost all South American countries I have been to (almost all of them) to fare quite well on overall non-personal impressions.

Actually, the only one I've been to that didn't at all was Bolivia. Every Bolivian I know is extremely nice, and I even have extended relatives that have been living in Bolivia for a long time and report back a great image, but traveling there and experiencing society without any personal ties was a different story. And, though I did get the impression people somewhat stuck to themselves in public, the negative energy did not seem to be so much overall, but rather towards foreigners. I know, as an American, I shouldn't expect much otherwise. We haven't exactly been the most favorable influence to their economy. But my roommates were English and Greek and expressed similar vibes. I also experienced a lot of name calling, at me, with profanity.  One anecdote that humorously exemplified my time in Bolivia (spread out over 4 cities), was when I asked a man for directions to a museum and he said "see that building?" While I turned my head to look where he was pointing, he ran away.

(edit:  friends traveling around the same time reported similar feelings, however those having visited more recently had much more neutral or positive interactions.  And again, to restate: everybody I know personally from Bolivia is awesome... so I do strongly believe my experience was time-sensitive, and possibly illustrative of the difference between being an anonymous outsider vs. having a personal connection). 

For Chile, my take on society in a non-personal sense has stayed fairly true to my initial impression. I've written about various aspects of Chile in a non-personal sense over the years on this blog. Without considering any personal connections or familiar faces, interactions tend to be rather neutral, possibly skewed negative, with limited possibility for conversation or small talk. In public, everyone is usually concerned mostly for themselves and this can even come at the expense of others.

However, (thankfully!), my take on society in a personal sense is immensely different, and much more positive. To me, Chile in a personal sense is much more friendly and caring, people are not selfish in the slightest, and courtesy is the expectation. While there are still barriers to break down in terms of making close friendships, people you have connections to will generally open up and treat you in a very positive way.

Anyway, the reason I was thinking about first impressions of a society actually has its roots, again, in the World Cup. Strange how soccer meddles its way into just about everything these days, no? As I've documented over the past few weeks, I was first rooting for Chile and the US (Either way, I win!) Then, I was in it for Brazil. I have a lot of ties with Brazilian people and activities here, and having them win would be quite fun for me. In the end, Brazil got kicked out of the tournament right before a big "Brazilian night" event, which naturally, was still immensely enjoyed for the party it was.

But one of yesterday's games was Paraguay vs. Spain. I knew since Paraguay started going forward in the tournament that they'd be one of the teams I'd like to go on. It wasn't much to do with the whole "underdog" thing, but rather that I have an extremely positive opinion of Paraguay. When I traveled to Paraguay I didn't have many expectations. It is a country often overlooked, without too many internationally famous sights or attractions. However, when I got there, I was extremely pleased. People on the streets would stop and chat in a way that wasn't creepy, when I entered a store the employees were eager to help and share stories, and everyone was full of smiles. I remember one time a man in a plaza invited us to have dinner with his family, a restaurant employee explained every single traditional food on the menu without the slightest annoyance, and a large percentage of mall customers went outside to laugh and play in the hail together. My time in Paraguay didn't have any particularly notable experiences, but all of the little things just traveling around added up to make a great impression. So Paraguay going to the World Cup?

Hell yeah, I was for that.

Plus, they were the only team left in the tournament that I have actually been to see play live. But, unfortunately, they lost. And now I am unsure who to root for. I know its not Germany, despite significant ancestry, for no real reason other than I haven't been there and don't feel much connection to the team. I have set foot in the other 3 countries, but only spent considerable time in Spain. However, I think to some level I want Uruguay to win. I'm not sure why. Perhaps its still my heart rooting for the South American continent.

edit: thats right SA, you can get me to root for your teams but not to buy into your 5 continent convention

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Not having second thoughts about being vegetarian....

Cholesterol Death served in a dish with a little Chilean flag on top!

Chorrillanas, which consist of fried eggs, beef and onion served over a pile of french fries, are heaven for anybody with the munchies.
Although the chorrillana at J. Cruz is the original and most famous, this nicely presented one came from Mastodonte on Esmeralda.   I personally never eat the dish, not even the fries which are usually so soggy from sitting in a pool of grease and drippy onion and egg water. However this was one of the best presented one's I've seen, so I took a picture.

Having returned to J.Cruz twice this year, both of the groups I have been with have been disappointed with their chorrillanas, considering them overpriced and not particularly good. Not to mention this is about the only thing they offer, and they don't provide ketchup or mayonnaise.   I usually order a side of french fries, which also tends to be overpriced and not particularly good.  Go anyway if you're one of those people who likes to try things just to say you did, though I would recommend you stop in to check out the atmosphere regardless.  

(Edit: I get reasonable blog traffic for google searches for "chorrillana" so I added a snapshot of the locations and addresses of these two restaurants in case somebody's trying to get there.  
J. Cruz, which feels like a little hole in the wall resaurant, is located in an alley off Condell street.  Mastodonte has a large entrance and almost appears to be a themed restaurant. It is only a few blocks away on the same street, though the name changes from Condell to Esmeralda.) 

Friday, June 25, 2010


People are still celebrating in the streets 4 hours after Chile... lost! Its not the outcome of the game, of course, that provoked the celebration, but rather the outcome of the first round... as, despite today's loss, Chile has qualified to move on to the quarter finals!

But lets back up to this morning, long before riot police stationed at the Plaza Viña to control this afternoons crowd....

Today a boy yelled that it wasn't fair that I was making him study English today because he wanted to watch the Chile vs. Spain game. The game still wasn't going to start for a few hours so he'd get to see it anyway, so I told him to stop complaining.

He yelled: "Its not fair! And its all because the United States sucks at soccer and you're never going to make it further. None of you care about soccer. Plus, all girls hate soccer and they don't understand it!"

Is that so? From what I hear, people in Chile seem to think so. Its true professional soccer isn't to the U.S. what football is to the rest of the world. But, its not true that nobody cares about it. And its less true that people in the U.S. aren't into soccer at all. Soccer is a HUGE sport in the US as far as playing it. From what I've observed, it almost seems like more youth in Minnesota play soccer (and play it more) than here in Valparaiso. More people seem to be involved in organized school and private teams, and practice and compete more intensively than they do here. Also because of the city layout and protective parents, I see kids playing in the streets much less here.

But soccer culture IS much different in the U.S. Abby posted a really interesting NYT article about soccer culture in other countries vs. the U.S. It explained The U.S. follows a "pay to play" system, where most players financially backing and managing their own way through teams during early years, with the most talented ones continuing on to play for the University while they get higher education. In the rest of the world a professional player might see no need to get a higher education; in many places, there exist various systems of early recruitment, training, and sponsorship, or those without those options might train on the streets and escape into football stardom.

Its true there are many differences. Regardless, there are many people that do love soccer, and more that will support the team in the World Cup purely for reasons of patriotism. Most of the U.S. doesn't expect to win, and many couldn't be bothered to do more than read the headlines announcing the outcomes, but as a video passed along through Marmo and Kyle shows... there were also quite a few people that were just as into the games as everyone in Chile. (Without the gear! Nobody sells stuff on the street in the majority of the U.S., so you'll notice most sports fans aren't decked out in mass produced silly-hats and other soccer paraphernalia.)

So back to the kid... I told him that 1) it wasn't unfair at all. Being asked to do something that doesn't interfere with his chance to see the game makes his argument irrelevant, and 2) he was being rude and making unfair judgments himself because 3) not all people from the US are indifferent to soccer and 4) that goes for girls too.

Young kids will rarely take back their words in a tense moment but some little recognition of the possibility my words were true seemed to come over him. He looked at me and asked, "do you like football?" I smirked and said "I've been playing longer that you've been alive."

He smiled at my comment, said sorry, waited the obligatory awkward few seconds after an apology where a kid stubbornly avoids eye contact and pouts about having given in.... and then asked to get out early anyway.

"It's still a 'no'." I said.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Stuff Gringos Look For

It happened to all of us. We got to Chile, decided to try and cook something special, and couldn't find any of the ingredients. The other day I got to thinking about some of the little gringo treasures that can be found around town, and some of the products that most commonly drive a new gringo in Chile nuts searching for them. I haven't found everything I've looked for, and my search gets easier as Jumbo and Lider expand their imported sections, but hopefully sooner or later everything will reach us here near the bottom of the earth! That means you, cream soda, I'm waiiiiiting for you!

Look no further!!! You can find it in Chile:

Cranberry Juice - Jumbo sells cranberry juice in a box in the juice section. When its in stock, they have light and regular. Certain pharmacies will also sell concentrate for about $6,000 for 1/2 liter.

Cranberries - Whole berries are hard to find, most Chileans have probably never tried cranberries, and call them arándanos (same word for blueberries). Dried cranberries can be found at Jumbo. I've been told you can order them from frutconcept or lavandacasadete, though I've never tried it.

Soy Milk - Its in a box with the juices, Ades brand.

Root Beer - Jumbo sporadically sells A&W Root Beer or Stars and Stripes brand. Most Chileans have never tried root beer floats so grabbing a few cans of root beer can mean a fun introduction.

Buttermilk - put a tablespoon of vinegar in with a cup of room temperature milk and let it sit a few minutes.

Maple Syrup - There is a somewhat cheaper alternative called miel de palma (similar process to maple syrup but from a palm tree, I consider it fairly tasty, though different. You can buy it in a jar or can in the same aisle as honey.) Its hardly a match for the real stuff though, real maple syrup is TASTY! But its expensive in Chile. The large Jumbos and Liders do have imported maple syrups in nice glass bottles for a hefty price. I remember seeing a bottle once for $6,000, which seemed like a lot, but in perspective, maple syrup isn't cheap in the U.S. either. Understandably, my family made it for a while and it was a pain of a process!

If you want to have a waffle party without going broke and can manage not to be too much of a snob about it, I recommend using a jug of the fake stuff (made in Colombia!) that can be purchased at a small nuts and canned goods shop in the center of Viña del Mar on Ecuador street, between calle Valparaiso and Arlegui. It reasonably imitates the flavor without making me as nauseous as Aunt Jemima. Its got a green label, costs around $2,000 pesos, and you´re going to have to invent 15 ways of pronouncing maple before the staff figures out what you want (hint: try MOP-lay)
Jumbo also typically sells "SYRUP" in the winter, which is a very cheap imitation maple syrup similar to the one described above.

Bagels - In Viña I would recommend BagelMania, above the Santa Isabel between 9 and 10 Norte with 1 Poniente.   The bagels aren't overpriced, and they even have homemade cream cheese and other favorites like lox bagel sandwiches.   You might also try ordering from the owner of Barlovento Artesana Cafe (3 Norte 980, between calle Quillota and 2 Oriente). 

Peanut Butter - Can be found at most major grocery stores for a fairly expensive price considering the itty bitty jar. Or, hold out until Lider stocks up on the Safeway brand, which is considerably cheaper. In Valparaiso near the corner of Avenida Argentina and Errazuriz there is a little shop which makes its own peanut butter. It's not cheap, but its decent and fresh.

Corn Starch - Try Jumbo

Cheesecake - Yeah, every cafe sells cheesecake here but I'm gonna go out on a limb (er... solid plank, there is no convincing me otherwise) and say most of them are pretty terrible and pricy imitations that taste like fluffy air with the slight smell of cheese. They LOOK tasty, especially with those blueberry or manjar sauces they always cover them in, but mark my words, whatever they give you will not live up to the name "cheesecake."

A few places I´ve heard that have hit the mark are Barlovento Artesana Cafe (3 Norte 980, between calle Quillota and 2 Oriente. I can vouch for this cheesecake), a place in the little mall in Reñaca, TPuro, Tartas y Tortas, and Galletaria Laura and Emporio la Rosa in Santiago. Also, some people like the Gatsby´s cheesecake though I´ve never had the guts to try it.

Lider now sells frozen cheesecakes, which are good but not to-die-for.  Sometimes Lider will carry a cheesecake mix in a box where you need to just add milk... and honestly it's damn tasty and cheap. Stock up.  

Molasses - Melt a block of chancaca over low heat with a bit of water.

Dr. Pepper - Jumbo, occasionally

Brown sugar - sometimes Jumbo, Lider or an independent tostaduria will have a variety of azucar moreno or azucar rubia that looks like what you need for your recipe. If not, in Valparaiso on calle Chacabuco behind the bus terminal, you´ll find what you need in one of various stores you will initially think are just bulk dog food.

Tofu - can be found in Santiago in some of the Patronato Asian markets . In Valparaiso, last I heard there is someone who makes it and does a drop off at Govinda´s Hare Krishna restaurant on Wednesdays.

Baking Powder - often incorporated in flour, otherwise it can be purchased separate and is usually one of various brands with English packaging, therefore called... "baking powder!" One jar I see often is red and yellow and says ROYAL.

Baking soda - bicarbonato, found everywhere but with the spices. Or, you could try it my way, have your mom ship you a box of Arm and Hammer with the funky multi-use picture labeling, and scare your suegros into think you're putting cleaning supplies into the mix.

Celery Salt - Im not from the South and have no idea what this is about, but a friend was excited to find this at Jumbo.

Tahini - Jumbo has it. Its with the curry sauces, and frequently sold out. Sesame paste (which is sweet) is NOT usually an acceptable alternative. However, peanut butter could be, if you're trying to make hummus.

Hot cocoa mix - Good Value brand at Lider is a bargain at around $2,000 for a 20 ounce jar WITH mini marshmallows.

Pecans - Lider and Unimarc

Chocolate chips - Jumbo and Lider. You're probably better off buying chocolate at a baking goods/decoration store and chopping it up into small pieces. In Valparaiso there are some of these stores around the bus terminal on Guillermo Rawson.

Candy - Twix, M&Ms, Milky Way and Snickers are making their way slowly to cash registers. Other than that, if Jumbo doesn't have it in the candy aisle, there's a store called Price Shopper close to Portal La Dehesa in Santiago which is famed to be full of gringo candies and cereals.  Good Value peanut butter cups can be found sometimes at the Lider near the Vina mall. Benzi the pet supplies stores also carry lots of American candy bars.  

BBQ Sauce - Santa Isabel, Lider, and Jumbo sometimes import a decent one.

Marshmallows - Most major grocery stores, in the candy isle. Beware of really cheap brands and marshmallow-looking treats that taste like black licorice.

Pumpkin - around Halloween you´ll have to make runs to various Liders, Jumbos, and local markets to see if you can find anything orange or just have to settle for a squash. I've never seen canned pumpkin, but you can buy a slice at a mini market and pop it into the microwave or oven until it caramelizes and approximates what you´ll need for your recipe, or boil chunks of pumpkin until they are soft enough to mash with a fork and drain.  

Baking tools, appliances, and things you might just want to bring along from Gringolandia:

Tampons - line your suitcases with them. They cost an arm and a leg here! (On the contrary, buy birth control over the counter here to save some cash.)

Pepto Bismol - I haven't found the brand name, but I've received alternative recommendations for Gaviscon, Antiax from Lab Saval, or Phillips...none of which I'm convinced are quite comparable.

Advil and Tylenol - my personal advice is... stash up before you come! You can find alternative pills here in Chile, however, even with the same active ingredients, not all the compounds are the same and (psychosomatic or not) I don´t feel they work as well for my body. Chileans I know who travel often stock up on their trips so there must be something that draws certain people to the American brands. Paracetamol is the Chilean version of Tylenol, by the way, with acetaminophen as the active ingredient.

Waffle Irons - In Chile you'll often see panqueques (what I'd call crepes, as they're super thin), but most people have never tried thick pancakes or waffles. You can sometimes find a waffle iron in the baking section of stores like Jumbo.

Oven thermometer - Your Chilean gas oven is bound to require modifications to your baking directions. An oven thermometer will save you a lot of time, guessing, and burnt cookies. You can probably find the thermometers somewhere in a baking store or the baking section of a large store.

Measuring cups, spoons, or any obscure baking supply - specialty stores usually have what you´re looking for, and Casa & Ideas probably has much of what you seek too, but some things might be cheaper and easier to just drag along from Target back home. At times I've come across United States style measuring cups at random spots in Chile, but bringing a set along might be an easy fix. Many people in Chile tend to use normal spoons, small stirring spoons, and cups to estimate ingredients. Then again, I wouldn't guess that most Chilean baking recipes are as complex or adventurous as the one you may be intending to use, so try that at your own risk.

Food Substitutes for when you can't find exactly what you're looking for:
Cook's Thesaurus - absolutely amazing

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ninja Turtles would like this post

(haha, ...realized I should probably apologize to any tourists who get to this page googling "Viña del Mar beach"... this is the wrong spot)

I saw this really interesting video about men who work to clear out objects and other tasks inside the Mexico City Sewage system. It looks absolutely disgusting, but its National Geographic so its still manageable to watch.

Unfortunately, this video actually reminded me of a (only slightly less revolting) personal experience. A few years ago I was a volunteer for a project cleaning up the Potomac river in Washington D.C. The Potomac river isn't exactly the Mexican sewage system, but it was close enough... that river was revolting!

One small fraction of the junk we pulled out.

The entire bank of the river was full of needles and random trash, though as a volunteer I opted for the team that actually got in the water, mostly digging up and hauling out household objects and other things that shouldn't be there. I remember working on pulling out not only numerous old tires and plastic objects, but shopping carts, motorcycles, newspaper stands, and dead animals. I've seen people all over the world trying to slyly toss their litter on the ground, but I couldn't imagine the massive effort people must have gone through to get these major appliances into the river!

Getting ready to dive in! (Kidding, I, far right, only got in as deep as the tall waders. The thought of accidentally falling in or letting the "water" get inside the waders had me quite nervous though. It felt really diseased.)

When I first got to Chile a number of people warned me not to swim in the water, though it wasn't because of their warnings, as much as the cold, that I never went in until this fall. I often went (and still go) to the beach in Viña del Mar, which looks pretty nice and actually does not appear too dirty besides the crowds of men who use Muelle Vergara as a bathroom. What I did not piece together for quite a while was that all of the people who had warned me about the beach were quite a bit older and were probably remembering the beach in its condition from earlier days. Not so long ago (I forgot to write down when but well within the lifetime of my middle adged students... maybe within a decade or two ago?), before the new system in Viña and Valparaiso, apparently sometimes the coast would be literally strewn with raw sewage. Some of my older English students would tell me about going to the coast only to find themselves wading around, or sitting on a beach, strewn with it.

While raw sewage on the beach did not particularly interest me, learning about the sewage and storm-water system began to. I later had, among my adult students, someone who's job was to inspect the underground tunnels (stories about giant cats and guarens and encounters with people who make made these tunnels home in the summer, such as under Avenida Argentina- last summer you could easily see into uncovered sections during repairs), someone who worked at the outlet of the tunnels where they reach the ocean (stories about the crazy stuff people dare to toss into the tunnels like entire couches, and the unfortunate cases where dead bodies would show up at the tunnel exit), and an engineer who works with the tunneling to the offshore location (now about 3 miles off the coast of Laguna Verde, efficient enough and far enough away that there aren't any surprises on the beach). Makes for interesting classes, at least!

(Reusing wood from a bed frame someone tossed ... among other junk polluting the shore.)

I still don't have a perfect picture of how the sewage and storm-water system works here but I have gathered that the garbage contributed by people causes major problems at times. Even during heavy rains it is obvious that the water collection system in the streets struggles to function because of the large quantity of objects people have tossed there because they were too lazy to find a dumpster.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Not that again!

In theory, I know buying those pirated DVDs being sold on the street is wrong. I don't do it myself. Half the time it's a scam and when its not, the quality is so terrible you're left confused or giggling at multiple points in the movie where suddenly the color scheme changes and the audio switches into French. But I will admit, the increasing availability of these illegal DVDs is starting to revolutionize my long distance bus riding experience! Cheap versions of the newest releases can now be enjoyed when traveling from city to city, as long as you don't mind some terrible dubbing or the occasional silhouette as the man in front of the the guy recording the video in back of the theater gets up to buy popcorn. In my opinion, its a small price to pay if it means I wont be suffering through Fast and the Furious, and the dozens of cloned sequels that'll spawn from it, for the rest of my life.

Until recently, movie options were limited. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you either have a car or never travel. Just try and tell me you haven't had to sit through each of the following movies at least twice:
  • Transporter
  • Fast and the Furious
  • Cellular
  • Gladiator
  • Ironman
  • Transformers
  • Enemy of the State
  • White Chicks
  • Little Man

Am I right or am I right? Riding a South American bus can really suck. Between this, gross "no solids" bathrooms lacking toilet paper, constant beeping as the gas-pedal-happy driver repeatedly exceeds 100 km, and (as my boyfriend dubbed it) "the human experiment" they do on you all night while vacillating extreme cold and heat from those darn heaters, bus riding can be such a dreaded experience. Where are all those busses I hear about where you get to play organized bingo?

Basically, if your job is to pick out a movie for a South American bus ride, I've deducted this simple recipe:
  1. Genre: Action, especially races against time, or the occasional outlier comedy involving black midgets and/or cross dressers.
  2. Actors: Your options are pretty much limited to Vin Diesel, Russel Crowe, Jason Stathem, Will Smith, or Jodie Foster.
  3. Plot: (if applicable) Your movie needs to involve bad guys, and your plot revolves around nothing more than escaping our outthinking them. Car racing, gory fights, outdated gadgets and crushing things are essential.
  4. Language, sound, music, etc... irrelevant. Its unlikely the bus sound system will work well enough for anybody to really follow the dialogue anyway.
  5. If all else fails, pick up yet another version of Classic Projects

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I'd never thought twice about it...

Thinking back on earlier discussions this year about how in Chile it is essential you cover your mouth when you yawn (something many people from the US don't do, or see a need to do as long as you don't have a ton of food in your mouth or something), and the fact that in Chile nobody bothers, or consciously decides, to say "salud" (functions as does "bless you") when someone sneezes... I realized that I'd never written down my thoughts on one related cultural difference: blowing your nose.

Is it just me, or is it actually pretty universal that the way people blow their nose in Chile is different than in the United States? I remember being surprised by it when I first got here, which makes me think that there must be something to it, but perhaps its another one of those things where I never really took notice until I started observing with confirmation bias.

Trying to put to words the way someone blows their nose was actually much harder than I thought. I even tried to see if someone had a youtube video of nose-blowing but quickly decided that wasn't my route...

In the end I came up with two very strange analogies. From what I remember, most poeple in the US will blow their nose in one huge expulse of air, almost like the "huuuuge push" motion doctors ask for on reality TV when someone has a baby.

However in Chile, people seem to prefer to blow their nose in series of really short bursts of air, where they cut the airflow off in short intervals. The best I can do to relate this is to make you think about the noise we stereotype native americans as making:

(Though thankfully, noseblowing is less of a high schrill than Peter squeeked out there... but you get the idea about the on-off airflow, right?)

Anyway, I'm not sure if its something cultural or something I only notice when I'm looking for it, as turned out with the yawn thing when my mom said we're supposed to be covering our mouths when we yawn in the US also, and most people are just lazy or oblivious to that piece of etiquette.

Vamos CHILE!

Being in a soccer-obsessed country during the World cup is really something interesting.

Everyone is obsessed. For months people have been concerned with whether they will get time off work, or at least a chance to watch the games at work. People are selling thematic wigs, hats, flags, and jerseys on the streets. Even many commercials have revolved around soccer and winning a trip to South Africa. In the upcomming days and weeks TV programs of every type have been covering preparation for the games. My favorite was a cheesy Jay-walking ripoff where Chileans were asked to point out South Africa on a map, or tell the camera who was Nelson Mandela. My boyfriend has been telling everyone we see about this show two days ago where some black South African women commented on how cute they thought the Chileans were, and then the camera focused on the group of Chileans nearby and they were apparently a mixture of old, really pudgy, and hairy. One proceeded to practically make out with one of the women, then turn to the camera and send greetings home to his wife and family. Then the program put on some pop music and got the women to dance with the men, and apparently the clash of dance styles was pretty funny as the Chileans were marching around as if it were cumbia.

I was kind of giggling thinking back on the US. I know many people are really excited about the games, though I think there is probably a large quantity of people who root for a favorite team other than the US. However, as a friend mentioned yesterday, a large percentage of people are probably completely oblivious that a tournament is going on at all. The US is not, as a whole, soccer-obsessed. I doubt there are too many people wearing thematic clothing or jerseys around town, and when its game time, I can only imagine society in general proceeds as normal.

Here, at 7:30 am kickoff this morning, people were outside in the rain chanting and blowing foghorns. When Chile scored the first goal just after 8, my house started literally vibrating from neighbors jumping up and down, and out my window I heard not only cheers, honking, and my neighbor screaming bloody murder out the window, but fireworks. Fireworks?!? At 8am in the rain?

This is not exactly ideal for sleeping in on my sick day... but in the end it doesn't matter. I wouldn't dare sleep through the game myself. ;-) Less than half the game remaining and we're ahead... Vamosss Chile!

There's a monster in my chest

Unfortunately, halfway through my vacation I got pretty sick, fever then cough, etc. It didn't keep me entirely from enjoying my time, but it did put a huge damper on energy levels, bedtimes, and how much everybody else hated being around me. A persistent cough does that when you are sharing a room.

Anyway, many reasons adding up, I didnt bother trying to get to a doctor until I tried to go back to work and realized I wasn't getting any better. Figuring out how to work my healthcare, and the medical system at clinics in general was a pain in itself, aside from the fever and mini-migraine I suffered from as I ended up lightly tiptoing a few dozen blocks in vain attempts to find a lung specialist that would see me that same day.

I finally got in at 7pm, and, of course after the obligatory chit-chat about the location, weather, and industries of Minnesota and how much I liked being in Chile, the doctor got about to listening to my breathing. It was terrifying... he'd say "breath in" and from my lungs would come this deep vibrating snore-like noise that sent me into a coughing fit.

Some sort of severe bronchitis, he said, dry your hair and don't go barefoot. Now it hurts to cough, and feels creepy on the inside. The antibiotics give me some weird nostalgic feeling from my childhood, I must've taken something similar at some point.

Anyway, my computer part finally came in, just in time to enjoy it on my sick leave. Finally some good timing so I can catch up on everything I've missed in the past month.