Monday, August 30, 2010

My Fin De Semana

After a few weekends in Valpo, I was itching to check out some other places.  And thanks to a glorious teaching schedule, I get Friday's off!  So TGIT for me.  This past weekend I set out to see some new sites. 

My first stop was Vina Del Mar to visit some volunteer amigas on Friday.  Vina is Valpo's neighboring city but it has a completely different vibe.  While Valpo is full of art, Vina is more touristy and has its beloved ocean-front casino.  People flock to the beaches and it even has a Starbuck's (this is very rare).  Craving a taste of home, I asked my friend to take me there.  It might just be the nicest Starbucks I've ever been to.  After I had my chai fix, we walked around the beach area and shopped around.  There were these two boutiques I fell in love with.  Each had one of a kind jewelry and handbags bursting with color.  Think Anthropologie with a South American flair and super barato.  

Saturday a few of us hopped on a bus to Isla Negra.  Isla Negra, which is not really an island, was a few hours away and home to one of Pablo Neruda's most cherished homes.  I always look forward to bus trips when I'm abroad because you have time to just stare out the window and reflect on your travels.

Once we arrived, we got a lay of the land, which took about 10 minutes.  Isla Negra is an incredibly charming and small town on the coast - the stores and restaurants are on one main street and somehow are all tied to something Pablo Neruda-ish.  When Pablo lived there, his friends all flocked to this town, making it an intellectual and artistic community.  It now has ginormous vacation homes inhabited by nearby city folk during the summer months. 

Before we jumped on the tour, we decided to take a food break.  I'll keep it brief but my Crab and Cheese Empanada and fresh squeezed orange and banana juice were A-mazing at the Vida Del Arbol Cafe.  Check it below!

Now it was tour time.  I can see why Pablo Neruda loved his house so much.  It overlooks a sandy beach with giant black rocks spread across it.  According to the tour guide, the ocean was pretty mellow which was insane to me because the waves reminded me of a scene out of Point Break.  We all decided that the water was best described as the color of mouthwash.  His house was pretty sweet too.  It was filled with artifacts from around the world but the most interesting were the large female figureheads obtained from old ships.  He suspended them from ceilings and walls giving it a very powerful and slightly dark feel.  Despite his poetic waxings he also loved to entertain and had a bar that well actually looked like a bar.  His poetry truly is amazing ranging from love to land to playful.  I can see why Chileans are so proud to claim Pablo as one of their own.

After much touring and an impromptu photo shoot on the beach, we headed back to Vina and I got ready to go to a friend's host family's birthday party.  We spent the night dancing to Spanish 80s music and what I think was Cumbia.  At one point there was a Chilean electric slide in action but thought it was best to sit that one out.

Sunday was a funday too.  What was meant to be a day of lesson planning, turned into a random day out.  My host mom asked me if I wanted to go with her and her mother.  Thinking it was a quick errand and as usual not entirely understanding but nodding, I agreed.  Six hours later I returned from my first visit to a Chilean mall in Vina Del Mar!  Que Rico (translates to how rich but is used nonstop to describe anything you like here)!  It was a giant mall and felt like being in Orange County.  The only similar stores I spotted were Zara, Aldo, Nine West and Columbia.  Esprit is big here which makes me giggle everytime I think about my giant t-shirt shorts and off the shoulder Esprit sweatshirt from middle school.  LaCoste also seems to be a hot ticket.  Anyway, after hours of window shopping and spraying perfume, we settled for a delish ice cream cone and people watched for a bit.  At one point we all chuckled as some obvious gringas passed by.  Somehow it made me feel like I was an insider for a sec or two.  "Silly gringas!"  Jajajajaja (that's how you write hahaha). 

And that is how I spent my weekend.

El Fin (with photos below)
Vina Del Mar - Sporting our new knock off Ray Bans

Gorg Isla Negra

Lunch at El Arbol De Vida

Artsy Shot of Pablo Neruda's bar (photo cred to Maureen)
Pablo's Ode to Vino - I like his style
The Isla Negra Girls (another photo cred to Maureen)

Friday, August 27, 2010

!Baile, Baile!

This week teaching wise was a big challenge.  I'm mostly facing how to discipline some of the out of control students.  While I've mentioned that my students are really funny (this week a boy found a girl's hair extention in the corner and taped it to the armpit of his jacket), I also have some students that are aggressive towards each other in the classroom.  This is definitely uncomfortable and not something I expected to face.  Although I have good students, I walked away feeling discouraged this week.  Sorry to be a downer, but figured it was a good idea to share the true part of my experiences here.  It's not always roses and empanadas!  I might also be going through the classic "cultural adjustment" phase.  A student actually asked me (in Spanish) if it's difficult for me to speak English and hear everyone around me speaking Spanish.  Yes and no.  It's hard enough to communicate in the same language and it's a bummer (slang word of the week for my students) to want to say things or join conversations but not be able to communicate.   On the otherhand, I see my Spanish greatly improving after just a month and a half being here.

So in the words of Lady Gaga, after a long week, I decided to "Just Dance."  Sorry, I know, I know cheesy.  Every week, there have been Cueca lessons at a volunteer's casa.  The Cueca is Chile's national dance that was created in the 1800s.  It's a big tradition of Chilean culture.  The lessons are a nice break to see all of my fellow volunteer friends.  While twirling our hankerchiefs in the air like we just don't care, we also catch up on our weeks.  It's a beautiful dance that will come in handy in just a few weeks when Chile begins celebrating its Bicentenario.  The festivities for this independence anniversary have been in the works for years and I'm in a great city for it.  Everyone keeps talking about how amazing it will be and I can't wait.  We even get a week off from school.

So while there have been some unexpected obstacles, they far outweigh the positives.  I mean, as I'm typing this, my host mom just brought me breakfast in bed. !Que suerte!

Traditional Cueca.  NOTE:  I don't look like this nor do I have the traditional garbs...YET!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Valpo, Where Artists and Dogs Run Free

Valpo is one of the most fascinating cities I've been to.  It's a mix of artists, cafes, hills, street dogs and grit.  When you explore the cerros or hills, you stumble upon European style cafes, boutiques, funky galleries and B&Bs.  Like Santiago, it's not uncommon to have a little four legged tour guide to accompany you on your journey. You can't help but be charmed by the city.

At the same time, there's also an air of danger and many warn to hold onto your purse tightly and don't venture alone up the hills at night - especially as a gringa.  Despite these warnings the heart of the city is in the steep hills.  One of the  most beloved areas is Cerro Alegre - I mean how could you not like a happy hill?  Valpo almost feels like a city of opposites with its mint chip green, smurf blue and cherry red houses nestled among deserted, run down buildings.  Even the dogs, although cute, could use a good bath.

This leads to me to one of the coolest things, in my humble opinion, about Valpo.  In most places graffiti is frowned upon but it's the exact opposite here.  Everywhere you look, there are giant murals with everything imagineable ranging from cute to political.  Here are few that caught my eye and a couple shots around town:

Familia de Owls   
Gato Garage Door
Valpo in Valpo
View from atop a B&B - The owner happened to be from AZ!

View up the hills

My Two Lovely Friends in Cerro Alegre

Friday, August 13, 2010

My New Name is Miss

This week was my first week officially teaching classes.  I have always thought that teachers deserved more recognition but man oh man has that increased by a 1,000 percent.  My brain hurts and I wasn't even teaching all of my classes yet.

Once upon a time, I remember being in high school and feeling super awkward and interested in anything but classes. I can't imagine some stranger coming into class and forcing me to speak in an alien language.  On top of that, I seem to get animated in the classroom, act out everything and bounce around the room.  I'm sure they think I'm crazy and are often making fun of me but at least they are learning English!  When I walk around the schoolyard, I hear tons of "HELLO MISS," "HEEELLLOOO," "AWESOME," (which I taught earlier in the week), "I LOVE YOU" and the occasional "HOOWWRU?" shout and run.  The kids are really funny and it's hard not to crack up  - even when they are often misbehaving in class.

The most rewarding part of my week came from students crowding around me and asking me questions about my homeland.  If anything, I hope I can teach them to have curiosity of the world.  Here a few of the interesting/funny questions - in Spanish and English - I received this week:

1. Do you know the Jonas Brothers? Hannah Montana?  Lady Gaga? 
2.  What kind of clothes do kids wear in the US?
3.  Do you like to play ping pong?
4.  Are there lots of terrorists in the US?
5.  Are you a millionaire? 
6.  Do you like Obama?
7.  How old are you?  (flash to gasp when they hear my ancient age)
8.  Do you have a boyfriend?
9. Do you like reggaeton? (heads-up on this one, it's always best to say no)
10.  Do you like to party? Do you like to smoke ganga? (aka marijuana with hand gestures of smoking a joint)
11.  Can I take a photo of you?

As part of my duties, I'm also teaching a Taller de Ingles (aka English Workshop) for 2nd medio, Sophmores.  Get this, it's for 2.5 hours!!  It's supposed to be a fun, elective type class so I decided to create the first one around movies.  We talked about our favorite movies, types of movies, watched some new trailers and created movie posters.  We also listened to some music from the US, which prompted some amazing Michael Jackson impersonations.  It was a lot of fun and the students are seriously amazing artists.  Here are a few pics from it...

The Winning Poster - Cats and Dogs!

The Karate Kid - Accompanied with some impressive karate kicks
Despicable Me - A very strong contender

Monday, August 9, 2010

Let's Get Physical

True story. About five years ago I had a tragic step accident at the 24 Hour Fitness Gym in Santa Monica. In an early morning fog, I twisted my ankle on the step, rolled onto the floor into the window and not only did the entire class stop, but I made eye contact with a homeless man outside who was laughing hysterically. I continued the rest of the class in agony along with a bruised ego. I vowed to never take a step class again.

Being in a land of white bread, starchy foods, meats and fried food, I've been hoping to not gain a lot of lbs. On the other hand, mi mama de Chile goes to the gym everyday. She's probably in her 60s/early 70s and can run circles around me. She's so sweet but we're still working on the language barrier and often have moments of staring at each other not knowing what the other one is saying. When she invited me to go with her to the gym tonight, I knew it was time to come out of retirement.

It was a loft-like gym and the room for classes was really just an area right in the middle of the weights for all to see. Mi mamma de Chile literally new every person there and I knew the pressure was on. Typical of the kind people of Chile, I was greeted with hugs, side kisses and conversations I couldn't understand but nodded to.

The class was really fun.  Our instructor, wearing a sweat band and tight shorts, blasted hits from Madonna and Britney Spears. I had a few shaky moments where I felt my wooden step sliding but I made it through. I knew I couldn't embarrass mamma de Chile and did my best to stay steady. It was basically a normal step class, but had more "spice" with lots of spins and shakes. It was one of those moments where you think, am I really doing this right now? - And I enjoyed the randomness of it all.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Me and The Micro

I've been telling myself that this adventure will not always be comfortable and yesterday I definitely started to put myself to the test.  It was my first day of school (more on that later) and it was my turn to navigate the bus system, micro, to school by myself.  Already being nervous for my first day, I left pretty early and kept my eye on each bus number that passed by.  Valpo seems to be different because there are not technically bus stops, you just wave them down.  Flash to 45 minutes later with no buses, getting on the wrong bus in a moment of panic, telling the bus driver where I'm going with a return blank stare and a nice kid coming to the rescue to help me get on the right bus, I finally arrive at my school - albeit late.   Ack, FAIL!

My school is interesting.  From what I saw, it's about 95 percent boys and discipline is an ongoing challenge.  My first two classes, seniors, were hilarious.  They are certainly jokesters and would yell out "Hannah Montana," "You are beautiful," bust out occasional moonwalks and say things in Spanish that I'm glad I don't know.  On a bright note, they were fun, my co-teacher is highly motivated to have them speak English and I think I can help with that.  The teachers and school seem very dedicated to the students.  They said that because of my lack of Spanish, they want to have another teacher present in the beginning and see how things go.  I think the teaching part will be my biggest challenge in this whole experience.   

Once school was over, I was faced with the daunting micro again.  I hopped on the right bus and thought I was home free.  Only one slight problem, I forgot where I was supposed to get off.  Suddenly I felt carefree and decided that the best idea was to ride the entire route back to my stop and get a glimpse of the city from the safety of a bus, since I'm not familiar with the different areas yet.  Valpo is beautiful, gritty and huge.  An hour later, at the point of no return, I was the last person on the bus deep into the hills.  The bus pulled into a station and the driver looked back to see me sitting there.  Not knowing what to say, I said "surpriso."  He laughed and glorious day started speaking to me in English.  He lived in New York for seven years and learned English from his boss.  I had to sit at the bus stop for about an hour with him but he gave me the scoop on Valpo, the glory days of being a bus driver and learning English in New York.  I was then ushered up to the VIP seat next to him for the way back, which is sort of like a folding chair right next to the door.  Half the time the door was open with my arm hanging outside of the bus and my face was six inches from the windshield but it was all part of the experience.  He told me about great sites, the restaurant with the best seafood in town and where not to go.  I don't know how I ended up with the one bus driver that spoke English but somehow the bus driver gods decided to smile on me yesterday.

A Micro

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I'm in Valpo!

I'm typing today from my new home in Valparaiso!  Yesterday was a whirlwind since I had no idea where I was going until I arrived in Vina Del Mar, was put on another bus and our names were randomly called when we pulled up to our house.  I actually thought the driver was my host dad when he grabbed my luggage.   

For the next four months, I'll be living in Valparaiso Centro or "Valpo" - an area that actually first attracted me to Chile.  It's a World Heritage city and often referred to as the "San Francisco of South America."  It's located on the coast and has brightly colored houses stacked on steep hills.  I'm super duper excited!  I also have three other amigas very close to me (one actually lives two blocks away).
Valparaiso is on the coast in the center of the country

View of the city
My host family is adorable.  They live in a large condo in a high rise and have two grown sons that live nearby.  I believe my host dad works in something medical related at a clinica and my host mom takes care of the spotless house (she also loves the gymnasio).   When I arrived, we had an amazing almuerzo (lunch) including homemade meatballs in broth and a fresh salad with beets cut into stars, tuna and avocado.  During the night we watched the Chilean version of "Dancing with the Stars," while my host dad pointed to various items around the room and said them in English.  He actually knows way more words than I know in Spanish.  We rounded off the night with some sort of shots that were handed to me.  I was told they were good for the cold and when in Rome...

They've been very welcoming and want to chat with me in Spanish.  The language barrier can be tough at times.  I realize I keep nodding at things and saying si even though I have no idea what's being said.  They seem determined to help me with my espanol, which I'm all for.

It's funny because I was preparing myself for something completely different as far as a placement.  I thought I'd be in the campo (rural town) but as mentioned before, I will be living in a highrise next to a department store.  I even have a flat screen TV in my room, bathroom to myself, WIFI and an electric blanket (this is like gold because it's soo freaking cold).  The city girl in me is pretty giddy about this.

Today, my host mom helped me navigate the micros (buses) and I met with my school.  I will be teaching high schoolers at a technical school (it's like a trade school that begins at the high school level).  My co-teacher and head of the English department actually speaks perfect English and even studied in New York for awhile.  The school is huge - if I understood correctly there are 1,500 students - and overlooks the ocean.  Yep, that's right - ocean view!

Tomorrow is my first day observing y estoy muy nerviosa.  But until then I'm going to dig into another delicious almuerzo being prepared by papa de Chile and explore the city with my nearby friends. Buenos Dias!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Caio Santiago

I'm officially done with my teaching training in Santiago (two weeks with WorldTeach and one week with Chile's Ministry of Education).  I'm excited to get settled into my new community and classroom but also a tad nervous for the unknowns of teaching. 

I happen to be one of the lucky ones that has no idea where I'm being placed.  I'm leaving on a bus to Vina Del Mar tomorrow morning (fancy schmancy tourist destination) and have been reassured that I'll find out more once I arrive there as far as my teaching city, host family, etc.  What I do know is that I'll be somewhere in 5th region, Valparaiso.  Please send good thoughts that I get an awesome placement/family/school. 

So as I wrap up my last night in Santiago (which I plan on visiting for weekend trips), here are a few highlights from this week:

- Seeing Toy Story III en Espanol at a movie theatre.  I must admit, I fell asleep for a good 20 minutes, since I probably only understood 65 percent of it.

- Hiking Cerro San Cristobal at sunset.  Walking down the dirt trail in pitch black was totally worth catching the bright orange skyline.  B-eautiful!  Check it out!
Cerro San Cristobal at Sunset

- Salsa Dance Lessons.  Because there were not enough men there, the dance instructor made me dance as a man/lead. At one point she turned me and literally said, "Are you a man?" in broken English.  I pretty much salsa danced with every woman in the room.  Needless to say, this is not what I had in mind when I imagined my first time salsa dancing.  Perhaps I'll try again but obviously demand to be the spinnee not the spinner.  What the hay, man?

- Being told I looked like Suzanne Somers and Hilary Clinton at a dance club in Bellevista.  I don't even know where to go with that one.  If I had a dollar for every time I heard...
My Celeb Doppleganger?

- Visiting the Museo de la Moda (Fashion Museum).  The exhibit was Volver A Los 80s and paid homage to shoulder pads, Swatch Watches and neon attire.  It was such a radical exhibit and one of the funnest museums I've been to.  While cruising through the bright hallways adorned with magazine covers and listening to 80s music, you could gander at la ropa from major 80s icons including Madonna (the pointy bra top from Vogue!), Duran Duran, Billy Idol, Joan Collins, Boy George and Princess Diana.  They even had an entire wall of old school cassette tapes. 
Museo De La Moda