Archive for April, 2010

At the Halfway Point

Friday, April 30th, 2010

So I am close to halfway done with my time here in Buenos Aires and I am not sure how I feel about it. I arrived in February not speaking much Spanish and not knowing what to expect at all. Now I am conversational in Spanish and feel like this city could be my home. While I may never totally fit in here, I know my way around, I have mastered public transportation, and I find myself hanging out with porteño friends on the weekends instead of English speaking friends.

So far this experience has taught me many lessons.  Now I can empathize with others who may not fit into a culture or who are the minority. It is a totally different feeling when you look different than the rest of the people or are used to a totally different culture. Although, assimilating (or trying to assimilate) into another culture has taught me a lot about myself.  Also, watching others assimilate or fight it has taught me at times how I do not want to be. I even find myself liking certain aspects of this culture better. Before coming here I never would have thought of American culture as cold, but looking at it now I find myself agreeing with the people here. In the US we don’t touch each other much or show much affection, whereas here the greeting is a kiss and with people you are close with an embrace also and you do the same when saying goodbye. Whereas at home it may be a handshake or just a verbal acknowledgment.   This physical contact and effort to come together can be very reassuring and shows how you feel about a person. The culture here just seems so warm and inviting, even the greeting is a part of it.

This experience has also shown me a lot about the true meaning of being independent and truly removed from your immediate support system. While I have always thought of myself as independent I have never been in a situation where I lived on my own and was responsible for most every aspect of my life. At times this has been overwhelming to me, such as when I first got here. But I am now able to cook a fair assortment of things, I have learned how to get around, and discovered that I can manage on my own- in a foreign country! I think one big factor in all this is that while I am removed from my support systems they are still able to function through e-mails and skype which both make me feel not as far away. To be honest I can count the number of times I have been truly homesick on one hand but I would account this to lots of e-mails. We all know no matter how much I may love it here it would be impossible to not miss home. I think the hardest thing about being here and the thing that can make me homesick fairly easily is not being able to fully express myself or be understood as a person. Sometimes what I want to say or how I am feeling just does not translate into Spanish and in times like this I feel very very alone. While I have some close porteño friends sometimes I just cannot communicate what I want to and this is extremely frustrating. Sarcasm and commentary can be hard to put into a context that they can understand, or even just common phrases in English that don’t have a Spanish equivalent. I never realized how important it can be to have friends who get you inside and out, who you have inside jokes with and who always know when you’re kidding and when you’re serious- being here has made me realize how valuable those people are and how hard life can be without them. Just to be understood- sometimes I would give anything. But on the other hand, when I go on trips with my American friends and we only speak English I feel like I am missing something. I think this will be a hard transition to being at home. I don’t want to lose all the Spanish I have gained while being here. But more than not wanting to lose it I just love this language and I want to keep learning and eventually be truly fluent. I will have to find a Spanish buddy. Or get mom and dad to the speaking stage- get ready!

This transition would have been impossible without my friends here in Buenos Aires- both other foreigners and porteños. While my other American friends and I can make each other feel more at home and understand each other, my porteño friends have taught me about the city, the language,  and the culture– invaluable knowledge.

Hopefully my next 2 months will be as good as the last 2! Here’s to living the dream in Buenos Aires!!

Happy Weekend!

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Guess what! I’m going to get a roommate! She’s coming May 21st for one month. She’s from New Jersey but goes to Virginia Tech. Maria asked me if I liked the idea of having someone new. Yes, I do. But after 3 months of being the only child I am going to have to share the attention!

I miss doing my own laundry. Yes, really! They don’t do a good job. So I hand wash all my nice clothes. And I now hand wash the clothes I got here too because they are not of good quality and they will be ruined.

I also miss driving SO MUCH. When we came back from the Lujan Zoo we had to sit on the side of the highway for 45 minutes waiting for the bus. As a car that looked exactly like mine drove past…

Hmm…what else can I add? We got a new oven but it’s just been sitting in the middle of our tiny kitchen for 2 days. And my flight to come back to the U.S. was cancelled, so it looks like I’m never coming home!

Today was Mary Wash’s last day of finals! Happy summer?! Does that make me a senior?

Trains and APD

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Transport for London (TfL) and I currently have a love/hate relationship. I love them when they make the trains run on time and everything is going smoothly (which is most of the time) and hate them when they close of my Underground access to central London (which occurs on a nearly weekly basis.) Sometimes the closures aren’t so bad. For instance, they’ll only close the Metropolitan around where I live but the Bakerloo line (which is just a 10 minute walk from me) will remain open the entire weekend. Other times the Metropolitan will be closed one day and the Bakerloo the other day. Or the Metropolitan is closed both days of the weekend, but the Bakerloo is open on Saturday so I can still get into the city, even if it’s not from the most convient location. And then you have weekends like the one I’m about to encounter where all the lines that can get me into the city are closed. Thankfully my grandparents are in town and staying at a flat in zone 1 and I’m staying over from Friday to Saturday, but Amanda and I have plans (and have had these plans since March) for Sunday afternoon in the city. The Bakerloo is shut down as is the Metropolitan. These kind of shut downs only seem to happen on bank holidays (and Easter oddly enough), so it’s not as though it happens every weekend (then I would have serious issues), but it’s highly annoying anyway. I don’t think I would mind so much if didn’t have plans on Sunday, but these closures effect more people than me. It effects everyone outside of zones 1 and 2 to be honest and the fact that TfL doesn’t seem to have an issue with cutting people outside those zones off is a problem in and of itself. I know they need to get these tracks fixed and spiffed up for the Olympics, but it shouldn’t be to the detriment of those people who live outside of central London. Especially people who live outside of central London who have plans to go into central London.
In a completely unrelated topic, many, many moons ago I mentioned that I have auditory processing disorder. While I have a really hard time explaining it to people not trained in special education, this past Tuesday the New York Times had an article on APD in the health section of its Science section. The article does an absolutely brilliant job of describing what APD is and how it effects both the scholastic and social aspects of their lives. As a person with this disorder I’m glad it’s getting this attention because, despite what some people might think, it’s not a well known learning disability and often gets short shrift in comparison to the bigger name disabilities like ADHD and dyslexia.

Friday, April 16, 2010- in which I describe the OZ roads and we get lost

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

We woke up a decent hour to start our drive, but still it was early considering I was still wiped from not sleeping the other night. We ate the cornflakes we brought with us for breakfast in water glasses because we had no bowls in the room. Then we packed up our stuff and hit the road. We had to get back on the Bruce Highway (A1) and so of course we followed the signs for it. Turns out though, the signs took us in huge loop around Rockhampton in which A1 was only a few streets up from where we first started. I really don’t get why they made it like that because it was a waste of 20 minutes fighting through traffic to get to the practically the same place.

I should probably explain what the highways are like here. It’s not at all the interstates in the States where you have nice medians separating the opposite directions of traffic. For the most part, from Townsville and Brisbane the road is a two lane highway, one lane each way, with only a double white line separating the lanes. It gets really tiring driving on these roads because while there are occasionally an extra lane to pass, sometimes it’s only the two lanes with dotted lines allowing you to pass. However, since Marieke’s car is so low power, if we were stuck behind a slow car or truck we were stuck there for a looong time; her car wouldn’t be able to speed up fast enough to cut into the other lane and get back to ours before a car would pass us.

In fact, head on collisions is often a problem on these highways. About every kilometer or two, there’s signs to “take a break mate, you’re eyes are shot,” or “collision zone, next 25 km.” It can be kind of intimidating sometimes when you’re driving, especially at night and a huge truck with bright lights looks like it’s barreling towards you from the other lane.

Another thing you have to look out for is Kangaroo and Koalas crossing the road. About half of cars that drive on the roads here have roo-bars, which are bars attached to the hood of the car so that if you hit a kangaroo, it will bounce off the car instead of hitting the windshield. Running over a Kangaroo on the highway is as common as hitting a deer in the U.S. Actually, the first wild kangaroo I saw in Australia was not a happy, bouncing Kangaroo like I thought it would be, but roadkill.

This is why it takes a lot of concentration to drive on roads in Australia. Marieke and I were constantly saying “please don’t let us hit a kangaroo” because not only would it be traumatizing, but also her car doesn’t have a roo-bar and hitting one would probably total it. However, we were lucky throughout the trip and while we saw a lot of roadkill and dead kangaroos, we didn’t hit anything ourselves.

About halfway through our drive from Rockhampton to Brisbane there was a sign for Hervey (pronounced like Harvey; I don’t why understand Australians pronounce things like they do sometimes) Bay Tourist Drive. Since we were going to Hervey Bay later in our trip, Marieke and I thought it’d be cool to check it out. The drive really took us out of the way, added an extra hour to our journey, but we had a nice break from driving by walking on the beach. The beach was similar to sandflats and there was practically nobody on it. I love when I have the beach to myself so it was very nice. 

Then once we left Hervey Bay, I texted my friend Scott who we were supposed to stay with in Brisbane that we were a few hours away. Then I got a strange message back from him about whether we would want to hang out tonight or just meet up tomorrow. I told him I thought we were staying with him and he said, “yeah, right. No worries, come on down.”

So we drove a few more hours then texted Scott that we were about two hours away and he said he was going to the movies but we could meet him at his house after that. Because we were tired and didn’t feel like sitting around doing nothing while he was at the movie, Marieke and I decided it would be easier on all of us for we stayed in a hostel in the city. Coming into Brisbane, we finally had nice roads with multiple lanes and a median.

However, we spent over an hour driving around, searching for our hostel! Even though we had a map, it was from the Lonely Planet Travel guide book and wasn’t that helpful. I think we asked five different people on the streets to help us find it, and at one point her car almost couldn’t make it up a steep hill and we almost rolled down into traffic. :/

Finally we found it, checked in and shared a room with an Irish-American guy and his Irish friend. It was funny talking to the Irish American guy because one minute he sounded completely American and then the next he sounded completely Irish. They were nice enough, but the room smelled like sweaty feet because they hadn’t done laundry in two weeks and had been wearing the same socks for a few days!! Ew.

I got to talk to Scott after his movie let out (apparently he thought we were coming a lot later that night?) and we made plans to meet up the next day to go to the Australian Zoo. Then Marieke and I passed out again.

Shanghai

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Pictures from my trip to Shanghai, 4/23-4/25.

in front of the Pearl Tower

building on the left is the 2nd tallest building in the world

view from the Hyatt

China's building for the Expo

"Haibao" - mascot for the Expo

Thursday, April 15, 2010- in which I sleep

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

The first day of our road trip I was exhausted. I had been up for over 24 hours working on my Public Relations Campaign paper and I still wasn’t finished at 7am that morning. We were planning on leaving by 9 am, so I gave up on my paper (deciding I would have to finish it on the road because my housemate Karolina offered to submit it for me while I was away) and walked home. I woke up Marieke who had also been working hard on her Bachelor thesis Wednesday night and only got 5 hours of sleep that night and we got ready to leave.

We left later expected because I still had to pack all my clothes for the trip and because we also needed to buy a cooler, some food and pick up Marieke’s laptop which she sent to the manufacturer to get fixed. I didn’t realize how expensive coolers are! We thought we could get a nice, big one for $20 bucks, but for the size we needed it was $45! So we ended up buying a big Styrofoam cooler which an Ozzie guy with a big beer gut and wearing a stained singlet recommended. I didn’t really want to buy it because Styrofoam is terrible for the environment, but it really was the only option we had if we wanted to buy a cooler.

Then to get Marieke’s laptop, we had to drive out past the airport to the industrial part of town—practically the middle of nowhere. The DHL shipping building was on the cross section of Dundee and Crocodile street and this really made me want to watch the movie “Crocodile Dundee.”

Then finally armed with her laptop at 11am we were able to hit the road, blasting some jams that I had made on break from writing my papers. Marieke was driving and surprisingly I was all jazzed up from being up for so long. I knew I would crash soon though, so I forced myself to sleep. Of course, once I was asleep, I was OUT. I felt bad though because Marieke ended up driving around 7 hours the first day because I was so tired. I ended up driving three hours in between, so Marieke drove 4 hours, I drove 3 hours and then she drove the remaining 3.

We spent the night in the Heritage Hotel in Rockhampton which was the halfway point from Townsville to Brisbane. It was a combination of a hotel and bar, so as it was a Thursday night, there were a lot of people drinking and having a good time. We were afraid it was going to be really loud, but it was so quiet upstairs.

Actually, Marieke and I lucked out because for a two person double room it only cost $38 dollars total, or $19 per person. It was a small room, but so nice! We had a TV, fridge, coffee mugs and water glasses, coffee, tea and sugar packets, an already filled water jug that was in the fridge, and a hot water heater. It felt like a luxury after the first hostel we stayed in Australia (Magnums in Airlie Beach) which cost $28 per person for the night in a 10 person dorm with only 1 shower and toilet and in which we had to pay $2 more for a pillow and sheet. We took quick showers in the shared female bathroom on our floor, watched a bit of a TV show then fell asleep.

Do you know Jose Mario Esquivel?

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

On Friday when we were swimming at branch mouth, I jumped off the bridge and was swimming to the shore when I sliced my foot open on something in the mud, I cursed then looked to see what the culprit was, searching for a rock or a broken bottle. What i found was a Belize Social Security ID card for a guy named JOSE MARIO ESQUIVEL! He was born July 20th 1985, and the card (that has been safely tucked away in my backpack since Friday) doesn’t expire until 2019! I have made it my goal, much like capturing a dinosaur, to find this Jose Esquivel and return his card to him before I leave in 5 days. I’ve been asking everyone I know if they know him/his family. I know this country is small enough that SOMEONE will recognize him, I just know it!

Everyone I’ve asked has had a different opinion on the lost ID; I’ve heard everything from “He’s probably an escaped convict who was being chased by the cops and threw his card over the bridge so they wouldn’t be able to identify him!” to “It must be fate for you to find this guy, fall in love, and get married!” Overactive imaginations…but I AM excited for this last adventure in Belize! So much for finals…I’m going to go find Jose Mario Esquivel!

10 hour drive

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Just got back to Towsville after my long lecture recess break. It was awesome, will post more about it soon.

So tired from our ten hour drive from rockhampton to here. It wasn’t too bad with my friends Kristen and Marieke also driving Marieke’s car.

Still, I’m soooo tired. And I must wake up early tomorrow to go to class.

Oh Hey There, Dry Season

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

So…Belize has officially entered the “dry season,” and everyone warned me that the transition from April to May is the hottest time of the year, but I didn’t believe them. Until this week. Yesterday had a heat index of 113˚, today I sweat in places I didn’t even know had pores (the backs of my ears and tops of my feet?) and I just got a text from Rhondine warning that tomorrow’s heat index is going to reach 126˚! 126 DEGREES?! You could cook food in 126 DEGREES!

All this heat makes studying for my finals…or moving in general…seem like an impossible task. I can’t even bring myself to eat anything more than mangos (the dry season brought mango season with it!!!!) and several nalgenes of water each day because I would rather dance around in a small dark room filled with sharp objects than even think of cooking in this heat.

Who would have ever thought that Virginia’s humid summers could be refreshing?

More Culture

Monday, April 26th, 2010

So this past week I went to three very different shows. However, in the time honoured tradition of Nora not actually reviewing anything, I’m just going to say what I went to and whether I liked it or not. Also any highlights from the production will be included.
First up we have another visit to the Comedy Store which was better than first because they were all professionals. Granted it was a very different format (improv vs. stand-up) but the highlight, beyond the penguin farm opera/musical/mystery/Bollywood sketch, was Phill Jupitus. He’s probably one of my favourite comedians and at this point is the sole reason I still watch Never Mind the Buzzcocks (sorry Noel, you’re just better with a script). The entire show was absolutely hilarious, but the things that stick in my head, besides the penguin farm bit, was the sketch that incorporated the three following elements: sci-fi, talking sheep, Mars, and music. Absolutely brilliant. If I get another chance to go to the Comedy Store I definitely will.
Unforunately Private Lives, written by Noel Coward and starring Kim Cattrall and Mr. Darcy (2005 film)/Keeley Hawes’ husband wasn’t as good. Sure the lines were pithy which is what you would expect, but the two leads had little to no chemistry (which isn’t a good thing in a rom-com) and Kim Cattrall’s attempt at a British accent came across as a screechy parody of Brits in 1920’s films. It wasn’t bad and the supporting cast were very good, but you’d kind of hope that such famous leads would be better.
Finally, there was “Cinderella” as performed by the National Royal Ballet. It was beautiful and a joy to watch, even way, way up high. The Prince’s hair was a bit creepy, but the dancers were amazing and the music (which was live!) was beautiful, though oddly sad for such an, ultimately, happy story. My one complaint, and it is a very minor one, is that there were no frogs. While I’m absolutely certain my ballet school was just trying their hardest to give me roles in our productions, but not seeing any animal (frog) attendants during the transformation scene was a bit disappointing. And, coincidentally, Keeley Hawes and some friends were at the same performance as me, though probably in seats with armrest and a slightly better view. Aaah, the wonders of Twitter.
Well that’s it. My grandparents are actually visiting this week (damn you Icelandic volcano) and I’m seeing Sweet Charity and “A Night of 1,000 Voices” which has as its theme this year Stephen Sondheim, which should be good. I’m still waiting on my law paper to be marked, but I’m none too worried unless he’s the toughest grader known to man or I really screwed up. Until next time, don’t panic.