miércoles, 26 de marzo de 2008

I think my English is deteriorating faster than my Spanish is improving. I now speak this pidgin language unintelligible to everyone (except the other Californian students) in sentences in which I can never think of all the vocabulary I need in either Spanish or English. My notes are composed of nonsensical sentences using the language of the shortest version of whatever word I need (hegemony is easier than hegemonia, but desafio seems shorter than challenge), though my handwriting doesn't help. Plus, I've picked up a few of the more annoying quirks of the Chilean accent...they "eat their words" by ignoring most of the important consonants (maomeo instead of mas o menos) and sprinkling in all sorts of modismos so you have almost no idea what's going on. One of the native speakers in our program teased that none of the Spanish speakers in California will be able to understand anything we say after we get back. At least I can understand my profes, I guess...it's more difficult when they cite non-latino authors, pronouncing the names completely differently. It took me few tries to catch that one professor was referring to Humboldt, and Keynesianism was killer.

Classes are...interesting. My seemingly most-concrete classes (one for GIS and one for sustainability as a technological or social problem) have started out with lectures on the meaning of reality and the move from cartesian empiricism to etc., so who knows where they're going to go. In our required EAP class we've had two excellent and fiery guest lectures on pre- and post-ag reform in chile, with two opposing conclusions, but the regular profesora for the class doesn't give the most exciting information. A lot of biographical information on Chilean poets that I could probably skim through on Wikipedia much more quickly. The class is an opportunity to see everyone from the program, though, so Tuesday and Thursday nights aren't too painful.

Last weekend a few of us bussed it up North a few clicks to La Serena and Valle de Elqui for Easter weekend. La Serena was basically deserted except for wandering tourists: the first day there I heard more English than Spanish, and some other people from California spotted us in our respective college sweatshirts and told us we looked like a UC catalogue picture. We made some omelettes and relaxed at the beach, then on Saturday bussed to Pisco Elqui, a small town in the valley nearby, to wander. The pueblo, with a pop. of only about 500 people, was picturesque, and the view out the windows of the bus even better: The mountains bordering the valley are completely dry with all sorts of crazy-colored minerals (lots of red from copper), while the valley floor is completely green from fruit and nut trees and vineyards for pisco grapes. Ondas buenas (good vibes) all over the place. We made a quick stop in Vicuna to tour a pisco distillery, then ordered some mediocre pizza back in La Serena and relaxed.

We also went to observatorio Mamalluca one night for a tour and to gaze at stars through the fancy telescopes. Unfortunately the moon was full, which made all the stars dimmer in comparison (our tour guide kept talking about how the full moon made the sky way too complex for good star-gazing), but we got some incredible views of Saturn and some constellations, as well as a blinding look at the moon up-close. We, self-conscious about seeming to gringo, opted for the Spanish tour, ignoring the pointed glances the bus driver gave us when asking who wanted the English one, but our plan kind of backfired: there were so few people in the English group that they all got much longer turns on the telescope. So much for trying to fit in.

Sunday I'm going to the rodeo, another cultural excursion compliments of EAP, but Saturday might be low-key: Our housemates warned us to stay en casa because there are going to be some considerable manifestaciones in memory of some young leftist brothers that were killed by the police during the coup, and apparently the "manifestaciones" are usually pretty rife with anti-estadounidense sentiment (the word "americano" here means "of the American continent", and they think it egocentric of US citizens to refer to themselves as American, so we're estadounidense or norteamericano). McDonalds' are a favorite target for Molotov cocktails, so I think I'll avoid the golden arches this weekend, though a Big Mac is soooooo tempting.

domingo, 16 de marzo de 2008

Slow start to the school year

FINALLy classes have started, and I'm officially a student of la Chile, but things haven't taken off quite as quickly as in the quarter system...according to some other students, a lot of the carreras (programs) kind of write off the first week to freshman hazing (the other students throw eggs and various smelly and colorful liquids at the new kids, cut up their clothes and hair, and take their backpacks ransom, so all over the city are parrot-colored jovenes panhandling for coins. Thank God I don't look 18.) and students taking an extra week of vacations. In a similar spirit (not really), I missed my first GIS class early Monday morning after an incomplete recovery from a bout of food poisoning, and I showed up early to my Tuesday Sustainable Development class only to find that it had been eliminated because of underregistration (kind of depressing implications there...). Success, finally, on Wednesday with my Geography of the Sea class, with an enthusiastic profesora that speaks clearly as a bonus (and field trips!). According to her, Spanish speaking geographers have officially decided to use the feminine ending on the Spanish word for geographer for both genders as a shout out to feminism (woot woot). Also on Wednesday was the University-wide trip to the beach, intended for the mechones (freshmen), but really attended by everyone, so the profe let us out early and told the rest of the class to take care of the foreigners. Then a mad rush to get bus tickets to the beach, and a two hour bus ride, people smoking and drinking and standing around with brief moments of calm as we passed through toll booths. We settled ourselves on the sand at Cartagena, various carreras grouping together with all sorts of cheers (CHI CHI CHI, LE LE LE). Students here only take classes in their carrera, and usually only with the other students in their cohort, so it's cliquey like high school, but my classmates so far have been friendly. Then a confused search for our bus among the hundred-something waiting on the street, and a short adventure when the bus driver thought he could clear a train trestle and definitely could not. Roof windows were scraped off and fiberglass EVERYwhere. To make things even more interesting, some drunk guys found out we were exchange students and began to chant about "500 years of robbery" and about how the West thinks it can take advantage of Latin America because they have Latin rhythym and dance the samba. Superfun. At least we finally got to a metro station safely.
My agronomy class didn't work out because I don't remember calculus, but this week I started Globalization, copper, and the new Chilean Economy, where the professor began the class warning us about how economics programs now just churn out professionals and are no longer interested in research and academics, and how the Pinochet years have emasculated Chilean academics, and finally how Chile has no chance of catching up to the technosavvy Asian economies like Japan in the current economic system, so what to do? It should be interesting...
The UC program offered a day trip to the nearby port-city of Valparaiso, heralded as the San Francisco of Chile because it has hills and trolley cars. The day of exploration was a little superficial because of time constraints, but we saw the touristy parts, and it's close enought to return on a weekend. Plus our tour guide looked like Gene Wilder with less interesting hair. He argued that it's a somewhat egalitarian city because although the poor have to live on the outskirts and travel great distances every day to get to work, they live on the hills and thus get the best view of the ocean. I'm not sure I buy this.
There was also a day trip to the Aconcagua valley, which was an action-packed day. The professor from Irvine in charge of the UC program here, Heidi, did a lot of her research in fruit-packing in the valley, so she gave us background on Allende's agricultural reforms on the bus before introducing us to some of the people who helped with her research, including the first union of female fruit-packers in Chile. Then we went to the house of a mapuche family who served us various typical foods and drinks and talked to us about the state of indigenous people in the valley. We got a 20 minute lecture on the evils of George Bush and Western Imperialism (capital letters) which, although there was obviously truth in what the guy was saying, automaticlaly put us on the defensive and made for a few moments of awkwardness. Then we got a tour of a family table-grape "packing" (as the companies are called) and free samples of grapes. Finally we went to same family "microempresarios", or microindustries, I guess, which families use to supplement income. First a chicharia, where they produce chicha (kind of like cider, but with grapes) in massive copper vats in their backyard, and then we climbed the hill to another family's house that doubles as an empanaderia (where they make empanadas), and we had incredible empanadas with gorgeous view of the valley.
I've moved into my boarding house, and all the other students are fun, though I've been too busy to be home that much. There's hot water and refrigerator's and everything. Already romantic drama has hit some of the residents...It's like the dorms in that respect but not in any others, thankfully.
For Easter weekend (semana santa) a few of us are going up north to the mystical Valle de Elqui, which apparently has the clearest night sky in the world and is the center of pisco (un alcohol made from grapes) production.

Hope everyone does okay with finals!


martes, 4 de marzo de 2008

No potatoes, just wonder

In Chile, if you´re a young woman (maybe person in general...I´ll ask the opinion of some guys) without your family, you´re automatically in need of special assistance from anyone who can help. There are downsides to this, of course (namely that my host mother still won´t let me wash my own clothes, and I have to run to the kitchen after dinner so she doesn´t have time to wash the dishes before me and deny me my only non-monetary contribution to the running of the household), but it comes in superhandy on the road. We met all sorts of mother-hen type people who made our lives easier when we missed busses or were trying to find kayaks. One woman with her sister and niece at the hostel at Villarrica would check in on us, though she thought we were insane for being so far from home without our families. In Ancud, the northernmost city on the island of Chiloé, we were determined to go kayaking and had to ask about five different places before finding a guy at a tourism place who gave us the number for a guy named Fernando who rented kayaks in Chepu, a small town about 40 minutes away. The morning bus left at 6:30 in the morning, so we wandered around Ancud as the sun rose, not quite sure where the bus left from. Luckily we saw it at the gas station near the rural terminal and hopped on and asked to be let off at the stop for kayaks. Don Fernando, a long-haired former electrical engineer from Santiago who had a mid-life crisis and decided that you can´t go a medidas (I think in class we decided the closest translation was "half-assedly") with such things, so moved to Chepu and started an ecoturismo type set-up to remind people why conservation is so important, met us at the stop and fed us tea and cookies while we waited for the fog to let up a bit (we hadn´t been able to see anything on the mad bus ride), then piled us with gear and instructions and pointed us inland. A massive earthquake/maremoto (earthquake at sea, whatever the english word is) in the 60´s had rocked the island, and a huge chunk had fallen into the sea, creating a river-like submerged forest that we could travel up. It was probably the most incredible part of the trip...everything was still and foggy, with wisps of mist rising off the water and the remnants of the trees reaching up through the water. It´s not that surprising that Chiloén mythology is so rich; i think it goes hand-in-hand with foggy islands (leprechauns?). Don Fernando chatted it up with us while we waited for the other bus of the day, and his daughter gave us a free yoga lesson. People are nice.
We also took a penguin tour, because it´s the thing to do in Ancud. Apparently, the area is the only place where two species of penguins (Magellenic and one other type...) roost together, and because it´s close to shore, they can chill without worrying about orcas. They were adorable, of course, but I don´t think cormorants, an equally ridiculous bird, get the attention they deserve. Props to them.
400 variedades de potato and not one place in Ancud or Castro that serves anything but the standard. Blargh.
The fog there made me a little sentimental for Santa Cruz, but the heat here in Santiago has cured me of it. The stupid hole in the ozone layer is right over our heads and I´ve been going through Coppertone like a madwoman to no avail. I´m excited about fall.
Gracias para todos por las felicitaciones for my birthday!