Monday, November 16, 2009

Pasando Bien

The last couple of weeks have gone quite smashingly. I've been busy, in a very good way. Lots of socializing and such.Most of the excitement has been with Exchange student folks. A couple of Wednesdays ago I finally met the bulk of the exchange students from other programs who are living in Curicó. We went to a hip sushi bar. At first the owner said we couldn't come in because a lot of us aren't 18 and it's technically bar, but then they said we could go upstairs which was actually better. We had a sweet lounge all to ourselves. The sushi actually wasn't that great, but everyone had a good time, and I think we're going out for Mexican next week.

Also, last week the Rotary kids in Curicó and Talca took a trip to Viña del Mar/Valparaíso. We were there for three days staying in Cabanas on the beach owned by the Chilean navy (which we got for a discounted rate because our counselor was in the army).
At the Cabanas we hung out, chased waves (I lost to the waves a few times and the water was freezing), ate, hung out, and climbed the big rocks at the water's edge (the rocks on the coast look a lot like the ones in Oregon and Northern California). The night we got there, we went to the movies which was exciting because the only movie theater in Curicó that shows new movies has been closed for renovations since before I got here. I saw Inglorious Bastards, which I would say was a quality film (as long as you're okay with Quentin Tarantino's over the top blood and gore). The next day, we went into Valparaíso to see the Chilean Congreso. Public school teachers here are on strike, so things were quite crazy, but Rotary got us in without even having to show IDs. The actual building was pretty ugly, and the chambers were nothing to write home about either (although I guess I am anyway). It was also crazy because of the strike. The room was full of teachers who did lots of cheering, some chanting, and even some singing-- while a vote was taking place!
That night we barbecued back at the Cabanas, then in the morning we took a boat tour of Valparaíso's harbor.
After that, we caught our bus to the train station in santiago and headed home.

My third exchange student adventure #3 was a jaunt up to Santo Domingo. Apparently, it's the town where the super rich people summer, and it was quite beautiful. There's an exchanger living there, and she invited a handful of Rotary kids to crash at her house. A bunch of her Chilean friends came too and we had a fun night. In the morning, we went to the beach. I got quite sunburned on my legs. Other people got burned pretty badly too-- I'm thinking it might have to do with being close to the hole in the Ozone layer over Antarctica, though but I don't know if that's significant in this part of Chile.

On the Chilean friendship front, I'm feeling more integrated. I haven't been hanging out with the seniors because they're now in super-study mode for the college entrance exam which is in a week or two, but I spent the night at a friend's house for the first time, went to another friends birthday party. It was nice that I didn't have to call and ask what was going on and if they could take me. It reassures me that I'm not just being a parasitic mooch.

In other news, my family got a new puppy. It sounds like a wolf on helium, still struggles to arrange its legs when it lies down, and is obnoxiously cute.
Also, the dollar has now fallen 10% against the Chilean peso since when I arrived. That, together with my travelling binge, is making life feel a bit expensive.

This week is probably going to be a bit slow-- there were plans to go to Talca for a day or two to help the exchange students there with a display on the US for an international fair, but our first visit to a Curicó Rotary meeting was (finally but unfortunately) scheduled the same day, so now I think it'll just be back to the routine. However, my host sister who's been in New Zealand comes home this weekend, there are just two weeks left till summer break, and just three weeks until my big Rotary trip to Punta Arenas and Torres del Paine Natl. Park in down south in Patagonia, so I think the increase in fun isn't just a flash in the pan.

3 things that are different here

1. There are a lot of brands of food that are different here, and I'm not going to talk about all of them, but I think Ketchup is noteworthy. I have a very strong attachment to Heinz ketchup which I inherited from my Mom's side of the family (they are from Pittsburgh after all). I always twinge when I go to a restaurant and find a bottle of Hunt's or some other inferior brand. Chile does not have Heinz (EDIT-- there is Heinz, although it's not very common), but it does have some good Ketchup. The good brand is called Malloa, and while it's definitely different than Heinz, I'm not sure that I can say it's worse. Also, though you can find them in bottles like we have in the US, lots of condiments (ketchup, jelly, mayo, salad dressing) come in bags.

2. Among my peers, the taste in music is fairly consistent. Most girls like Reggaeton, and while guys like Reggaeton and Electronica for parties, a strong majority are way into Classic Rock. Most of my friends' lists of favorite bands would include: Def Leppard, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Guns N' Roses, and the like. I like some Classic Rock now and again, but I can't say I love listening to it all of the time. Mostly, it amazes me how mainstream it is here, some 20-30 years later.

3. With every credit card transaction, you can choose to be break the charge into several payments (monthly or weekly or something like that). I once used my card to buy a single bag of cookies, and was offered to split the less than a dollar charge into 3. I'm yet to actually take anyone up on the offer though-- budgeting is confusing enough without triple the amount of payments.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Vida y Santiago

I feel like a broken record, but I feel like the best way to describe life here is to say it's life. Still doing soccer and the gym during the week, then parties Friday and/or Saturday nights. I am getting to feel more like a participant than an observer or an outsider-- especially in spending time with friends. If it's not too fast-paced of a conversation, I can generally join in which is quite awesome because on top of making life more interesting and giving me more opportunities to be using my Spanish, it makes me feel a lot better calling people up and mooching off their social plans. It give me some confidence that I can be an interesting friend (to some degree) instead of always being a needy awkward clinger. It also feels good to add some more legitimate conversation into the question and answer sessions that I fall back on--answering questions about myself and the US and English is probably the easiest type of conversation for me to have, and there are a lot of people who are interested.

Yesterday, I opted to skip my soccer team's tournament in favor of Santiago with Rotary. Scheduling conflicts are lame, but I think
I made the right choice-- while I'm sure I'll get to go to Santiago again, I'll be with Chileans who aren't interested in seeing the touristy sites. Anyway, our group consisted of the 7 exchange students in Curicó, the 4 from Talca, plus 6 Curicanos Chilenos from Interact, which is basically Rotary club for teens. I was a bit exhausted because I went to a party the night before and my ride stayed quite late, which wouldn't have been bad except that I had to get up at 7:30 to make my way to the bus terminal. Actually, I should have woken up before 7, but my alarm didn't go off. By some miracle, I woke up of my own accord and managed to get out of the house in 6 minutes. I'm pretty proud of that.
Upon arriving in Santiago's Central Station, we took the metro to La Moneda, which is the Chilean equivalent of the White House. We checked out the gift shop, then went to see Catedral Metropolitana (a big famous cathedral), the market, Cerro Santa Lucía (a big famous beautiful hill/park with a sweet fountain and a sweet view of Santiago), and a souvenir market. Then we grabbed some lunch and headed back to La Moneda for a tour. La Moneda was cool, but had a lot less grandeur than I expected. I think my expectations were high because it's called a palace, but I found it a good bit less regal than the White House.

We took the train back because something about trains just seems fun. When I got home at 8:30 or so, I napped for about an hour, then went out with some friends to enjoy the Halloween festivities. Actually, the disco we went to had nothing Halloween themed other than the tickets. I know a couple of people who went to a costume party and all of the little kids were out trick-or-treating, but it's pretty apparent that Halloween is a lot less of a big deal here. Actually that segues nicely into...

3 things that are different here

1. Almost all of the backpacks here are Head brand. In the US, the only Head products I've ever seen are tennis related, but here, luggage and backpacks and such are their big thing. I actually bought myself one-- I hadn't brought a normal sized backpack because I was told that everyone here uses tiny backpacks here, and although some people do have tiny backpacks and backpacks in general are a bit smaller, I still needed a fairly normal sized backpack for school.

2. There is no confidentiality with grades. Sometimes, assignments are just handed back and some people won't want to share, but with tests (including the standardized tests for college admission), the grades are almost always read aloud in front of the class or posted on a bulletin board for everyone to see. The other day, the teacher even announced how many classes each person was failing (it seems like a lot more people fail here, and it's a lot easier to fail a grade). It doesn't seem to bother anyone though-- I guess you can't be too bothered by what you're used to and consider normal.

3. The soundtracks for Chilean TV shows and ads are fairly weak in my opinion. For one, they play almost exclusively the same songs that are on the radio. Also, they'll often play a song multiple times in a single episode, in places the song doesn't fit what's happening at all, and they generally use almost all of the same songs in each episode. Game shows, dramas, reality shows-- they all do it. They especially seem to love Katy Perry's Hot N Cold and I Kissed a Girl. To me, the worst offender is Corazon Rebelde, a teen drama. They play their theme song at least 5 time's an episode, always feature both of the above Katy Perry songs at least once, and fail completely at matching the song to the vibe. In an episode I saw the other day, two adults ran into each other at the park and were casually flirting. The music started out with Pink Pantheresque awkwardly-sneaking-around music, then suddenly shifted to someone-is-about-to-get-really-angry-hard-rock-guitar-shredding. No one was sneaking about(unless they were sneaking about so well that I couldn't see them), and no one got angry. A bit confusing, a bit annoying, and a bit hilarious.