Friday, 16 April 2010

Must Dash? Really?

Due to recent events our building was without gas and therefore hot water for nearly two weeks. This made showering quite difficult. I'm way too cowardly to take a cold shower. Using a variety of containers and a kettleful of boiling water showering was pretty much achieved, albeit quite time consuming.

One task I purposely neglected was shaving. Men hate shaving at the best of times. I'm lucky that I don't need to do it everyday. I like shaving in the shower. The constant hot water is great for softening the bristle and I feel that I'm saving time by multitasking. A rarity for a man.

I've always found facial hair bizarre. I don't know why men wear it and I don't know why (a small number of) women find it appealing. Obviously, some people would look strange without the beards and moustaches that have become their trademark. Imagine ZZ Top without their beards. Not all them in the group have beards, by the way. The drummer, ironically named Frank Beard, doesn't bother.

I think if you're going to sport whiskers then the full combo should employed, beard and moustache. An unaccompanied beard doesn't do men any favours although it never impeded Abe Lincoln and half of the Amish community. Perhaps they too felt that a caterpillar under your nose was just too darned ridiculous. I just can't get my head around having just a moustache. Why would you want a strip of hair on your upper-lip?

Friday, 5 March 2010

Could all the dead people please take one step forward?

It's all so surreal. Did it happen? Was it a bad, yet terribly exciting, dream? Oh no! I've just switched on the TV and they're still talking about it. I officially have terremoto fatigue. It's been almost a week since The Quake that Shook Chile as it's being lazily dubbed by bloggers.
In Santiago there is very little evidence that such an event occurred. Yesterday morning a student took me on a tour of his 3 storey, city centre, office building. The inside walls visibly bore the scars of the the big shake. Cracks ripped through the plasterwork which he assured me were purely superficial.

Now that we are in March, the city should be back to it's normal congested self. Congested by people as well as traffic. It's not. Fantastic!! The metro has been practically empty every morning. I was able to do my Jumping Jacks no problem at all. So, where are the people? Are they MIA? Have they not been able to get back from their holiday destinations? Have they all left to do some humanitarian work? No, no and hahahaha!

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Off the Sphincter Scale

I took a walk through the rubble strewn streets of my neighbourhood. I encountered people huddled in doorways and on street kerbs with their blankets. Some people had outstretched hands looking for a few pesos to help alleviate their sad situation. It was starting to get dark but children's voices could still be heard. Dogs barked wildly only to be outshouted by the screams of ambulance and fire engine sirens. Breezes caught debris and rubbish and it blew what it could about the streets. It's a desperate time and Santiago is a desperate city.

Yes, my neighbourhood is a shithole. That was Friday. Then to make matters worse, we have an earthquake!

The vast majority of Santiago is a complete eyesore. And, again. I'm talking pre-Earthquake 8.8. Post-quake, it's a little difficult to discern what is actual damage and what is just the natural state of this ugly city.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Heads and Tales

The Japanese call it fat finger syndrome. It has nothing to do with sumo wrestling but rather the keying errors made by financial traders under severe stress. A trader's number pad will have the usual keys 0-9 and also a couple of extra ones for 00 and 000. These extra keys are an invaluable aid in reducing keystrokes and completing transactions quickly in the frenetic environment of a trading floor. Numbers, especially when dealing in yen, can run to 15+ figures. Unfortunately, these two extra keys, 00 & 000, are located beside one another on the keypad. Imagine you want to purchase 100 shares of company X. The price is right and you want to make a quick purchase before the price changes. You pump the keypad twice, 1 & 00, and hit enter. Unfortunately you don't quite make a clean contact with the 00 key and you inadvertently hit the 000 key as well!! You are now the proud owner of 100,000 shares in company X. The financial tickers on Bloomberg, CNN, et al are awash with the news that company X has been taken over by an unknown Far East buyer.

It's an easy mistake to make you mumble to yourself as you sit on the kerb holding a box of your things that had once populated your desk on the 45th floor of Makushita Towers. And anyway, the mistake was easily rectified the next day.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

How can you tell when a Chilean is lying?

Their lips are moving.

Harsh? Perhaps. Untrue? I'm afraid not. The opinion of a belligerent Gringo? Well, yes. But also of the Chileans themselves. Chileans just don't trust Chileans.

There are fewer unpatriotic places in the world than Chile. People here don't puff out their chests and proudly proclaim who they are. Sure, they go nuts when the national football team does well but they go equally nuts when their own league team does well. That's more of a football thing. And of course you won't find a sober native during the Fiestas Patrias. That's more of a beer thing.

Some Chileans are almost embarrassed to call themselves Chilean. Obviously, they can't deny it if they were born here and willingly carry Chilean passports and ID cards. This is more evident in the affluent parts of Santiago. Many of them would not consider themselves Chilean and reading the telephone directory they may have a point when you see the glut of Germanic and English surnames. It's a class thing too.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

No, thanks. I'd rather walk.

I imagine the Gates of Heaven to be God and his clipboard. I imagine this clipboard to have a special sheet at the back titled 'Don't Bother. Just Send Straight to Hell'. It's a short list. After all, everyone deserves the opportunity to plead their case. There are some groups, however, that won't be listened to. Wedged in between paedophiles and reality TV stars are Santiago taxi drivers.

Never use a taxi if it can be avoided. Taxis are cheap and plentiful here but the drivers are basically unscrupulous con men.....especially the older grandpa types. The transport system is quite extensive here and the metro is quick and cheap. If you live here, you should be using public transport the vast majority of the time anyway. Taxi drivers here eyeball Gringos the same way a cheetah does a gazelle.

If you must use a taxi, then follow my Rules of Engagement:

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Sont les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble.......

Today is one of the saddest days in Chile's history. I say one of because the worst is yet to come. Today we begin our farewell to one of the greatest players in Chilean history since Bernardo O'Higgins, the Irishman who liberated Chile from the Spanish.

Depending on which one you read, polls put Michelle Bachelet's popularity rating as high as 80%. Amazing when you think that she's been in power for four years and she's a woman. Unfortunately, due to Chile's ridiculous law that she can't run for a consecutive term, she will not be president for the next four years at least. I won't purport to know the intricacies of the policies she introduced or the effect of them. One thing I can say is that she has highlighted the inequalities between the sexes and worked tirelessly to rectify that imbalance in machista Chile. She has played her part by building and trying to maintain a cabinet of 50% women.

Obviously her work is nowhere near complete. And while her labours may not have yet borne fruit, the green shoots of change are evident. Four years is a short time to change a mentality that is so ingrained in a culture. Besides she has had other side projects to work on such as forging trade relations with China, trying to get Chile into the OECD and getting the country through a global recession.

Ms. Bachelet is exactly the type of person you would want to run your country. Being a woman, she doesn't suffer from that macho bullshit you get from male politicians but she's not nearly as hysterical as a Hiliary Clinton say. She's separated - no happy families bullshit for cameras, only honesty. She doesn't do religion, only she makes the decisions - Hallelujah. She has been a working parent all her life and she's a pediatrician. She speaks at least five languages. When she speaks, you listen. She doesn't use maxims or sound bites. She doesn't care if you like her or not. She's intelligent, compassionate and fair.

So, what are the world saying about current events in Chile?

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Underachievers Apply Within.

As I write this Colo Colo fans are making their way to Plaza Italia to celebrate being the Primera División Clasura Champions 2009. Buses are full to bursting point. Arms, legs and flags are vying for space to hang out the windows. The stores on my street have closed early and a helicopter is flying back and forth keeping an eye on proceedings. The obligatory car horns are being played with finesse and the beer bellied, tattooed hinchas are in full voice.

Fans of Los Albos are quite accustomed to such victory celebrations. In this decade alone, they have been champions seven times. It should be noted that the Chilean league has two seasons per year called the Apertura (Opening) and Clausura (Closing). It should also be noted that this is how it's done in most of Latin America. Therefore some countries have two champions per year. Some countries have a play-off between Apertura and Clausura winners to have an ultimate champion. Colo Colo have just won the Clausura. Confused? Well, wait! I haven't got to the ridiculous part yet.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Dogs and Camels

Sunglasses are essential during sunny weather. In Santiago, you need them pretty much all year round. While officially not summer here yet, the fact that there are more sunny days above 25°C than not, makes it summer in my book.

The hotter weather has a noticeable effect on the many aspects of Santiago life. Dogs are less mobile. Their scavenging activities are punctuated by lots of siestas, usually at the top of metro steps, the pavement or pretty much anywhere they damn well please. This makes them more nocturnal and bouts of barking at night more frequent.

Hot weather also means ice cream. Ice cream is another source of the junk food that Chileans gorge themselves on but more so in the summer. Buses and streets are abundant with leather-skinned flaites who take a break from drug dealing to scream heladoheladohelado followed by chirimoyafrutillamorapiña.

The third most notable effect is the increase in the amount of female flesh on display.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

La Mala Education

Education is very much on the agenda at the moment. Teachers have been on strike and there is an election next month. As I understand it, the teachers are angry because of a reneged agreement for pay increases dating back more than a decade. To be fair, education is pretty much on the agenda all year round. If the teachers aren't on strike, the students are. That's right, the students!! Striking is popular here. It generally consists of making a whole load of noise and breaking stuff.

If you work for a language school here in Santiago, quite often the students are there at their employers' behest. That's right, their bosses pay for them to be taught English. Sweet. You would think!