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Monday, June 30, 2014

What Patience does at work

It's about time I say something about what I'm actually doing in Chile on a day-to-day basis.  I'm working at the Facultad de Medicina (medical school) of the Universidad de Chile (University of Chile) doing research on sistemas visuales (insert obvious translation here).

My work is a twenty to twenty-five minute walk (depending on my mood) from our apartment. The walk is full of interesting sights and sounds. In honor of this stimulating peregrination, I have composed a few lines, to be sung to the tune of the beloved carol, "The Twelve Days of Christmas".

But don't worry, I'll skip to the 12th day.

"On the twelfth day of [being in santiago] my [walk to work] gave to me:

12 dogs in sweaters

11 friendly vendors

10 bad graffitis

9 smoggy buses

8 forgotten buildings

7 fruterías

6 cat calls

5 gorgeous churches

4 fans with flags

3 locked doors

2 cups of coffee

and the U de Chile school of medicine."

Once I get there, I spend most of the day working on my computer, either reading papers about ensemble perception (perceiving the average characteristics of a group of objects above its individual components) and structure from motion (deriving the three-dimensional structure of something from only its motion- like in this video) or trying to code a stimulus for my as-of-yet hypothetical research project. The idea is to see if people will still perceive the statistical components of a collection of objects as accurately once they perceive them as a unified structure. We'll see.

Random things I've learned as a helper with odd-jobs in the lab:
-how to use a french press to make coffee
-how to hook up an EEG to someone's head while they wish the researcher would stop teaching and get to the task already
-how to turn .png images into .jpg images
-how to say "how boring" in Chilean Spanish ("Qué lata", or, if you're really bored, "Qué laaataaaaaa")

Things I appreciate about my work:
-everyone knows to speak to me in slow Castellano (non-Chilean Spanish), "como una niña", as my supervisor said.
-When Chile played in the Mundiál (FIFA World Cup), everyone stops working to watch... although, that, sadly, can no longer be (RIP Chile).
-they all think I'm a reckless badass for living in El Centro (a neighborhood in Santiago that is predominantly Peruvian, which, according to them, makes it sketchy)

Pretty much every day I eat lunch with my friend, Sophie, who is also in MISTI and works in a lab just down the hall from me. I finish work at about 3:30 (although honestly I could stop at 12 or keep going til 6, and no one would comment), reach the apartment around 4, and spend two hours appreciating that I don't work until 6. Then Ian gets back, and we concoct a plan for dinner.

That's my life in a nutshell :D

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Chile Con Queso - Keeping the Brand Alive

Dangerous Smog Levels and MORE

Dangerous smog levels have been reached in Santiago.

Our morning view begs the question: fog or smog? 

Fog or Smog?

Several days ago our apartment began vibrating.  If it were not for the cheers and honks resounding from below, one might think the city was experiencing a small earthquake.  The opposite of a disaster, Chile had just scored a second goal against Spain in the World Cup, sealing a victory against its age old foe and assuring advancement to the next round.  People flooded into the streets in jubilee and flocked to Plaza Italia, the epicenter of the celebration.  Red, white, and blue -- Chilean colors, streamed though the streets. The underdogs had won. 

Meanwhile, we went grocery shopping, ransacking local vendors in victory. 

I would say that I've gone from ramen to gourmet in under three weeks.  The raw precision and flavor of our food has increased dramatically over the last several weeks. We have worked wonders with the toaster oven (banana bread, burgers) and have wreaked havoc with our three hot plates (sausage soy sauce sauté anyone?). 

We were invited to join in a Friday day trip to Valparaiso with a bunch of Hah-vard schmucks.  

I was worried about alienating my entire office by randomly taking a day off, but I went for it anyway.  The day trip was a fully paid tour of some of the best places in the city. Totally worth it!

Valparaíso is a cultural center and port city in Chile famous for its artistic and political roots.  Birthplace of Pinochet and homestead of Pablo Neruda (poet), Valparaíso is a patchwork of multicolored houses nestled into the hill side along an industrial coast.  A well-versed Chilean guide led our tour and took us to Neruda's house (one of three), the art district, and a fantastic lunch place. 

  Tour Guide + Prepsters
A City Best Seen Through Cacti

We returned to Santiago at the end of the day.  Somewhat torn about not staying in Valparaíso, we decided to gorge ourselves with mall food in a SUPER tall mall.  The mall sticks out of the Santiago skyline like a thumb of modernity.  It reminded me of huge malls in the US like the Galleria in Houston or that other giant mall in Minneapolis.  We ate sushi and had milkshakes afterwards. Yum.

Now the only thing left to do was to go clubbing. Fast forward one day. Our MIT companion Kate was celebrating her 20th birthday first at her host family's house and finally at a local disco tech in Las Condes.  A group assembled for dinner with some engineering students from Universidad de Cátolica.  They were a fun group to wine and dine with.  A half Chilean, half Kiwi described to me his horrible experience in an exchange program to Granite Falls, North Carolina, population 4000 for two months.  Later at Kate's host family's house, her host mom made us delicious empanadas topped off with Pisco.  

Our Cronies Pre-gaming Hard for the Club

The club was in a surprisingly remote location, and was a money sink but a reasonable time overall. 

Today Patience and I felt the revolutionary air of Barrio Brasil, eating lunch in the best local cafe we have found yet, eating meat, rice, bread, salad, coffee, and a dessert for about five dollars each.  

Patience has started automatically keeping track of the number of dogs that she sees on the street.  She saw over thirty a couple days ago but only sixteen the next day.  Who knows how this will develop?

Ian is worried that his emotions are determined almost exclusively by money. 

Until next time,  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Mania & Maipo

So Friday was Chile's first game in the World Cup, played against Australia- it was madness. Everyone (except for bartenders) was out of work by 4 for the 6 pm game. Ian and I met at the apartment and took the metro to a bar in Providencia- it was so crowded we had to let 4 cars pass before we could finally get on.

Sophie, Ian, Brittney, Anthony and I met at "Cantina California", where it is said there are a lot of foreign customers (I was thinking we might befriend some Parisians or something, united in our non-Chilean-ness), to watch the game. If there were any non-Chileans besides us there, they were hiding it well, because as soon as the game began the entire pub was pulsing to the rhythm of "CHI CHI CHI- LE LE LE- VIVA CHILE!"
People would stand up, jump, hug each other at every goal, and any time someone stood in front of one of the giant screens set up just for this game, an angry, guttural sound would rise from the crowded bar and various women would shriek "Siéntate!" Sit down!
There was this one frat-looking guy with a skull cap and abnormally broad shoulders who seemed unaware of the fact that he was basically a human billboard, blocking a huge proportion of the room's view just by standing up. He got a lot of dagger-quality looks as the game progressed.
But with Chile's (spoiler alert) victory over Australia, all grudges were forgotten. A band that had found their way into the restaurant was blasting an upbeat march while people screamed and laughed through their tears - people (including us) spilled out into the streets to meet the honking horns, waving flags, and smiling shouts of a million other people basking in Chile's victory. We walked across town (to visit Brittney and Anthony's apartment) and everywhere it was the same- honking horns, people shouting at you in happiness as they walked/drove by, motorcyclists decked out in red white and blue, faces painted, chilean flags tied around their necks like capes,  proudly displaying their apparel in a trans-Santiago motor parade.
I can't imagine what it would be like if Chile actually won the World Cup- I think the city might explode from happiness.

The next day we (a group of 8 students from the MISTI program) went to Cajon del Maipo, a park for outdoors activities and natural preservation just outside the city - a common weekenders' destination in the summer. However, it's winter in Chile (or the "Verano Gringo", as my research advisor called it). Unfortunately for us, the vast majority of Cajon del Maipo- the natural hot springs, the breathtaking waterfall, the stark cliffs- was closed due to a lot of snow, and would likely be closed the entire season. However, one section, Cascada de las Animas, was still open, and we decided we would stay in San José de Maipo (where we had gotten off the bus to inquire at the tourism office) overnight, and hike through Cascada de las Animas in the morning. This turned out to be a great decision- there was live music, slack-liners, fire-dancers, and, wait for it... JUGGLERS. While we were still debating what to do, Ian made a beeline for the jugglers and before we even realized he was gone he was teaching them tricks with clubs. This little kid kept giving him more to see how many he could do.
We bought some hats, Sophie got some impossibly tiny books, and then we all had dinner.

The hostel we stayed at was called Tío Valentín, and it was owned by the nicest Argentinian couple- a woman named Gladys, and Valentín himself! We set down our bags, played a few rounds of cards, then called it a night. I guess when it's off-season hostel owners don't think it's really worthwhile to turn on the heat, because that night it was literally freezing. I was wearing long underwear, pajamas and a sweatshirt under the thick covers and I was still shivering. We woke up the next morning around 8 am to the sound of roosters and the smell of tea- we packed our back packs for the hike and had a nice chat with Tío Valentín over breakfast. Then we caught the bus up to San Alfonso, and entered Cascada de las Animas. They only provided guided hikes, the longest of which was 3 hours, so we took that one with a couple - a Chilean woman and a German man - up through a series of hills and mountains to a breathtaking view of the snow covered peaks that surrounded us.

A three legged dog led the way- hopping up the steep path like it was nothing and showing us all up. Our guide brought up the rear, and poured us mate- a common hot drink in South America - when we reached the peak.
When we finished the hike, we waited by the side of the road for a solid hour and fifteen minutes waiting for the bus that was supposed to come by every half hour. While we waited we watched the many cars of Maipopians whizzing by- many sported tiny snowman on their dashboards, complete with scarves, noses, and "Viva Chile" hats. We had just decided to try hitchhiking when a series of three in a row finally showed up.
We hopped on, and headed back to San Jose, picked up our stuff from the hostel, said goodbye to Valentín and Gladys, and headed back to the smoggy drudge of Santiago. Just kidding, Santiago is great-- but we were a little sad to leave that lovely, clear-aired mountain town.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Workaday Tales

The vuvuzelas are blaring.
The World Cup Australia v. Chile soccer game is imminent. 

I got off from work early today, as did Patience. 
Tis a celebratory time for all in these Southern lands.  

But what has happened in the last week?  
Much has gone unwritten.  

If you recall my first blog post, I posed some exciting questions. 

A. How will Ian cope as a marketing intern? 

I am working at the start up social enterprise TOHL. TOHL is an engineering firm that solves water access problems globally. They deploy piping infrastructures (sometimes from helicopters) to connect communities to clean water cheaply and quickly.  That's my marketing pitch, because I'm a marketing intern.  Turns out the team is small and friendly, and things are going well so far. I'm doing stuff like website development. 

Speaking of  markets,  we recently discovered a huge, cheap market close to our apartment overflowing with fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat.

The market
Highlights include buying a huge amount of pepper and getting fresh fruit juices like guanabana con leche, a classic. 

Other highlights from the past week:
  • Museum hopping with fellow MIT students
  • Patience starting her visual research project
  • Eating at not one but two Peruvian restaurant, delving into the culinary delights of fourth chickens and Inca Kola. 
  • Purchasing tickets to ... TO BE CONTINUED

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Mud, mobs, and marvels.

So pressure's on for this next blog post. Our first three posts have been a hit, and our reader now has high expectations. As shrewdly observed by Ian, if we begin to shirk our responsibility to produce informative and entertaining blog posts now, then our readership will drop, and our motivation to blog will dwindle, leading inevitably to the disappointment our friends, our family, and, of course, ourselves.

 With this risk of failure in mind, I have decided to augment the following post with photographs.

We started off Wednesday on a quest to find cell phones for both of us, a straightener for me, and a razor for Ian.
We found these items one by one via various resourceful methods of communication, gaining a better feel for the area in the process.

In order to find a place where they sold prepaid phones, we first went to the tourism office, where they told us the most common companies for phone purchases in Chile are Entel, Claro, and some other one that no one cares about. Once made aware of this, we saw Claro and Entel stores everywhere, but every time we tried to buy a prepaid phone, they would redirect us to a different one. We finally neared our goal went advised by a tenth Claro vendor to visit what sounded like "tree play". We wandered in the direction in which he gestured, and ran into a large departent store called Ripley's, where we bought really old-school prepaid phones.
Mission accomplished.
After I pantomimed straightening my hair and Ian summoned the verb "afeitarse" from the deep recesses of his memory, we had met all our goals. It was noon, time to eat lunch.
We wandered and deliberated a lot, ending up at Cafe Verde, where we had a sumptuous meal of jugo de frambuesas, creamy soup, chicken and rice.

Afterwards we decided to explore via the straightforward method of finding tall things in the distance and walking towards them.

First, we set our sights on  Cerro Santo Lucía, an enchanting oasis south of El Centro where cobbled paths through fountains and gardens lead up a steep hill to the Castillo Hidalgo. We climbed to the top, and saw a breathtaking panorama of the surrounding city.

From there we saw the huge, intriguing statue of the Virgin Mary that can be seen from many places throughout the city, including the balcony of our apartment. Setting that as our next destination, we stepped carefully down the Castillo's uneven steps and walked through Bellavista (Santiago's Bohemian neighborhood, lots of graffiti). We passed a lot of stray dogs, a common sight in Santiago. Some of the more active animal rights groups have started providing sweaters to these homeless canines during the winter, which leads to many funny sightings such as the one below:

We took a funicular to the top of Cerro San Cristobál, where we encountered a shrine, gift shops, restaurants, and the best possible views of the city. On our way down, we walked through the less popular section of the park where it seems people only go to smoke. We turned off the main paved path down in favor of a muddy trail. The only other people we saw were some daredevil bikers who were Parkouring off trees and turning up the dirt - which looked cool but made the trail more difficult for us to walk down without completely coating our shoes in mud.

We emerged from the trees, walked across a parking lot and hopped a fence, getting some odd looks from Chilean passersby, then decided to aim for an insanely tall building that stretched above the rest of the financial district (where we now found ourselves). We almost got there, but it was cold and we were hungry so we stopped at a tapas and pintxos restaurant for dinner. Then we got home by using the metro for the first time. It was insanity, a mob of people standing as close as they could to the incoming train without the transportation officers yelling at them. Train after train would come by, all equally full, and as soon as the doors opened people were elbowing their way forward and trying to wedge themselves in. We got on after 5 tries, took the red line to the blue line, got off at Plaza de Armas, and found our way back to the apartment where we collapsed from exhaustion.
The next day, we set off for our first days of work.
to be continued...

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Day 1

Yesterday I woke up, finished packing, and spent the rest of the day thinking of ways to pass the time until it was time to leave for my flight. I went to Publix for one last wistful goodbye, and watched Pocahontas with my sister. At 5:30, I checked in my bag (which was way overweight, but after 10 minutes of scrambling to move weight from one bag to another with the check-in guy looming over me, I figured I'll be using this stuff for three months, so the fee is worth it). I texted Ian, to let him know that I was boarding, which alerted him to the fact he was leaving Monday, not Tuesday, prompting a mad rush of which I was unaware until hours later when I turned on my phone again. He made his flight and we met in Atlanta to continue the journey with a 9 hour flight to Santiago. Neither of us slept very well, but we landed only slightly worse for the wear at 8:00 am this morning. We had to declare any animal or plant products we had brought, which I figured didn't apply to me until they emphasized that spices and herbs are counted as plant products. My suitcase was occupied by not only salt and black pepper, but also cumin, lemon pepper, red pepper, seasoned salt, ground mustard, and poultry seasoning (I will be cooking for myself for the first time this summer and had no idea what sort things are/aren't accessible in Chile). I was a bit worried they would deprive me of my spices as I checked the "yes" column for plant cargo. We went through immigration, got our luggage, moved through the next few lines, hopped on a "TransVip" shuttle and headed to our apartment. Ian asked why I was still holding my customs form in my hand, and that's when we realized I had inadvertently walked straight through customs without anyone taking my forms or checking my bags. Hm.
The shuttle delivered us directly to the entrance of our apartment building. Ian looked what I was holding and asked me why I still had my TransVip ticket - the driver never took it. Apparently if I wanted to be an international criminal mastermind, it would be very easy. We walked in and faced the man at the counter, a bit nervous about using our broken Spanish for the first time. He looked at me, and I said, "We're renting an apartment on the 8th floor." He smiled and handed us the key, showed us the elevator, without asking for an ID or even our names.
The apartment is small, but lovely. Whitewashed walls, old furniture and a balcony overlooking the city, with church spires decorating the middle ground and dramatic mountains in the distance. There is a blurry haze over the entire city - we have yet to determine whether it is fog or smog - but regardless it added a magically mysterious quality to our first real view of Santiago.
While unpacking, I proudly took out the Chilean plug and voltage converter I had brought with me, set it up in one of the outlets, and plugged a three-pronged extension cord into the two-pronged unit, short circuiting the entire apartment. It made that classic, foreboding buzzing sound electrical things make when they're about to either die or kill you. All the lights when out and I was a bit dismayed, while Ian asked cautiously, "Do you smell smoke?".
We were in the apartment waiting for the lady we were renting from to meet us anyway, so we planned to simply explain the problem when she showed up. While waiting, we became increasingly aware of our accumulated filth from the overnight plane ride (not to mention Ian's sweaty mad rush to the airport the day before), and investigation of the shower revealed that it was ice cold without the heating system that unfortunately depended upon functional electricity. I decided I was too grimy to wait, thinking that my days of cold showers at Good Counsel Camp had toughened me enough for this moment. I was wrong. The water was ice, actually numbing my scalp as I washed my hair and knocking the breath out of me when it hit my shoulders. Ian followed suit after I'd finished, and soon understood my gasps of discomfort as the frigid liquid seared into his soul, too. In a timely fashion, the landlady showed up soon after this trauma, and turned out to be a lovely woman who fixed the electricity, explained the laundry and trash systems and brought up a space heater for when it gets colder.
After settling well into our apartment, Ian and I decided to get a sense of the area around us. We walked a few blocks in each direction, talked to people, went into a few buildings, and discovered several things:
1. Chileans are for the most part well-dressed and will look judgmentally at your highlighter-colored sneakers.
2. Most of the beautiful buildings I'd seen in my tour book in this area are currently under construction after severe earthquakes over the last few years, hidden behind a large tarp bearing a picture of what it's supposed to look like (a poor substitution, in my opinion).
3. It is very difficult to find milk in a chilean supermarket. You would think it would be with all the other refrigerated dairy products, which led us to buy what looked like milk while trying to stock our kitchen, but was actually the equivalent of strawberry yogurt mixed with water. The milk is actually in cardboard boxes in a random aisle not at all affiliated with the rest of the dairy products. This was explained to me by a laughing Chilean at the check-out counter.
4. It is particularly hard to communicate in another language when you have not slept the night before, which led to many embarrassing mistakes, awkward silences and gross misunderstandings throughout the day.
After exploring we decided to return to the apartment and make dinner for ourselves: pasta, frozen vegetables, and chicken, which, though well spiced and carefully cooked, we were both a bit hesitant to eat for fear of getting salmonella. Cooking was a dance of ducking underneath each others' arms as we tried to cook in a space that was really built for half a person.
Now we are feeling pretty comfortable with our food stocks, our apartment and the surrounding area- tomorrow's goals are to figure out the metro, explore beyond Plaza de Armas and get cell phones for local use.

Ian Misses Flight By Negative Seconds

Its a well known fact that my dad is an aggressive driver.

This particular trait saved the day.

It all started on the afternoon of June 2nd. After an unfortunate dental appointment, I decided to take a long nap--a good plan, by anyone's standards. I woke up from the rewarding slumber, and casually texted Patience about details regarding our flight (turns out we were randomly on the same flight from Atlanta to Santiago!). I thought that I was planning for our adventure luxuriously far in advance.  She then texted me, "Boarding now!". I froze, and realized with horror that my flight was actually in one hour, not in 25 hours, as I had thought all along.

I hadn't packed for a summer in Chile, it was rush-hour, and I live 25 minutes from the airport in light traffic. My mom was cooking dinner, and I shouted to her across the house in agony that my flight was actually today. I jumped down most of a flight of stairs and rapidly heaped all of my visible possessions into bags, leaving all the items in my closet behind -- warm weather clothing, business attire, to name a few.  

Meanwhile, my dad pulled into the driveway.  After a good ten minutes of packing and after my mom crisis-prepping my dad, I threw what I had packed into his car and we all left, leaving the front door of the house ajar.  My dad weaved in and out of rush hour traffic while my mom lamented my ensuing missed flight and ensuing debts.  We tried to call Delta to work out a possible rescheduling but got put on hold by a call center in India. Clearly the situation was hopeless. There was nothing to be done, except speed.

Speed my dad did. Somehow he got me to the airport in Houston rush hour  in 30 minutes. I bolted out of the car, grabbed my bags, and said unintelligible goodbyes to my parents. A zipper broke, and I forfeited all the possessions in that pocket. It didn't matter, I could still make my flight -- I could still go through bag check, security, and the gates in 30 minutes...?

Bag check was good. The guy seemed to want to help me out. Security was a nightmare. I begged them to let me through the priority line to catch my flight in 15 minutes, but they told me that the exception didn't apply to me, to get to the back of the line, and that I was going to miss my flight. I then turned to the public ear, pleading with the people in a long line to let me skip to the front. Several gracious souls complied, and I went through security.

Unfortunately, the TSA is suspicious of anyone who seems crazed or rushed going through security, and decided to fully search me and all of my bags. Slowly and agonizingly, the officer took my possessions out of my bags. 10 minutes. 5 minutes.  He asked me where I was going. I muttered "Santiago, Chile" and something about working at a start up. He said that he liked seeing locals succeeding abroad, and released me with about 4 minutes to catch my flight, which was conveniently at the furthest possible point from security.

I sprinted full speed through the airport into the lonely terminal that was my flight. And by a true miracle, the gate was still open. I staggered onto the plane, on my way to Atlanta to Chile.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Welcome! Subscribe!

Welcome to Chile Con Queso! -- the official blog of a summer abroad in Chile, 2014.  (Subscribe NOW, enter your Email above)

Herein lie the adventures of two everyday travelers not unlike yourselves.

Work a day citizens, to be sure, bound by the obligations of city life.

Their names are Patience and Ian.  Nominated as couple of the year by this blog,  the pair has decided to forgo the American Dream in pursuit of ancient statues,  fish markets,  undiscovered linguistic secrets, and desolate mountaintops.

Some immediate questions:

Will Patience get over her fear of seafood?

Who is Pinochet?

How will Ian cope as a marketing intern?

What is Easter Island really?

Will Ian and Patience SURVIVE ???

Find out next time, and subscribe above!