The end of another "era"

On Friday, I posted the following on my Twitter account: “Auto reply stating I no longer work ‘there’ is set and in full effect. Pretty much an era (career-wise) is over. Crazy.”

An end of an era for sure. I spent almost seven years working for a Japanese- American company and selling the rights to our library of Japanese animation to various partners around the world. It was a good time and I learned quite a lot about brand management and life cycle, negotiations, selling, customer relationships and planning ahead. But as I mentioned before, there were lots of reasons why I decided to make the move to find a job here in Chile and though I’m starting to get really nervous about my first day at a new job, I still feel it was the best decision I could have made.

Then I started thinking about another said “era” that’s come to an end and that’s the written story about the California bred girl who moved to Chile to marry the love of her life.

In other words, this blog.

I’m not sure I have any more to say about my transition to Chile, my adaptation and my journey navigating this wicked system. I realize that anything else I have to say about life here has already been said – and quite well – in so many other blogs by expats who live here as well. These men and women continue to do an exceedingly amazing job about describing the life, culture and everyday of living here. (One has even written a book for the Kindle!) So much so, that I turn to their blogs for information and perspectives from a fellow gringos. Sure, my perspective might differ and sure, there are probably people out there who want to read about that (I think), but I feel that I wrote about all I wanted to write about with regards to my move and my life here in the first 18 months.

In making this decision, I looked back and thought about everything I wrote in the past and I think I did a pretty decent job of chronicling what it’s like to move from the U.S. to Chile and organizing the pieces of your life here and there. I covered:
– how I met my husband (why on Earth I moved here in the first place)
– leaving California
– opening a bank account
– making new friends
– missing old friends
– planning a wedding
– becoming a U.S. citizen
– getting a dog
– getting married
– Chilean nuances and idiosyncrasies, such as staring and opinions on responsible pet ownership (to name a few)
– dealing with my husband’s wicked ex
– starting a post graduate program at a Chilean university
– the process of finding a job
– everyday things such are supermarkets Jumbo and Lider
And of course, many many other things.
The whole purpose of this blog was to write about my new life here and now that I look back I feel content that I’ve done just that. Anything else after this post isn’t really about an expat living in Chile. Maybe to an extent it might be, but it wouldn’t be my main message. I think that anything after requires a whole new blog, something with a broader scope and something that would allow me to write more than just about my day-to-day (in the end, how interesting could that be?).
The reality is that my observations about Chilean life as an expat aren’t all that interesting nor are they revolutionary. Yet I bet that if I dig deep down into my bag of tricks, I can come up with something far more brilliant than what I’ve concluded here. That’s not to say I’m not sad about leaving my first blog behind. Part of me wonders if I’m copping out prematurely. But then I think, what the hell is left to say about being a Gringa who moves to Chile and adjusts to life here?
This blog had a life cycle and an expiration date from the start. And by no means do I plan to overstay its welcome. Even so, I’ll never stop writing and it may be that I’ll never stop blogging (at present, tbd of course). But in this age of constant online sharing and TMI of one another’s life, I offer the loyal followers out there an invitation to 1) join Twitter and 2) follow me there. There happens to be an inverse correlation between my blogging and my Twitter use.
What can I say? Maybe micro blogging’s my new thing…
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Work and travel, travel and work

My husband’s a busy guy. On top of that, he actually loves to work. So when it came time to plan yet another business trip to China to attend the Canton Fair, he went full throttle and built his agenda to include back-to-back meetings with suppliers, as well as back-to-back viewings of showrooms, booths and, in some cases, even factories. Meaning that even though he’ll be in China (including fabulously sophisticated Hong Kong) for two weekends, he’s left himself absolutely no time to sightsee, let alone rest.

Such a 180 from my days of international business travel. There were many times when I found myself working over the weekend and I’ve most certainly had my share of working on major holidays. Running from one meeting to another, schmoozing and negotiating from one client to the next, waking up at 6 am and going to bed at 1 am, and in between sitting in absurd Latin American traffic for hours on end. But despite this, I always found time to dabble in the sights, sounds, food and culture of the different countries where I had the privilege to do business. In fact, even my superiors were ok with mixing business with cultural expansion. Maybe it had to do with the fact that in knowing the culture, we were learning how to sell and market to said culture. Whatever the real reason (maybe we were all just slackers?) I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to travel for work for a good part of my career. Moreover, I’m in eternal debt to those who sidelined slave work for a moment and who shared the experience of being tourists with me, if only for a few hours.

Coworker and me on the beach in Cannes, France.

At Monserrate, a Church overlooking Bogota, Colombia.

Banderitas Mexicanas … yes, that’s Tequila and yes it was lunch time.

Well hello, Louvre!

Intersection outside the Shibuya station in Tokyo, quite possibly the most
congested pedestrian crossing in the world.

I see you Cristo Redentor!

And a dabble here and there in Leblon.

Hey, I know you!

Viva LV! I started with US$15 at the roulette table and proceeded to win US$420.

Traveling for work might seem 100% fabulous to those whose job doesn’t require them to travel. I agree. To a certain extent it IS fabulous. But it’s more like 20% fabulous, 50% stressful, 30% exhausting. The kind of exhaustion you just don’t recognize in your day-to-day life because when you’re at home you usually aren’t trying to adapt to different cultures, languages, business etiquette and so on. When traveling for work, you have to be on your toes, 100% of the time. Even sleeping isn’t necessarily all that great since half the time the hotel bed is a lumpy ol’ mess, no matter how fancy the hotel.

I hope that G finds a balance during his million-hour stay in China and that he comes back telling me about something amazing he saw, ate or did while he was there. So far, I’ve heard some stories but unfortunately they’re all still related to work. I guess it’s a good thing I’m not there with him right now … I’m not sure he’d really get the work done that he’s expecting of himself.

Actually, I’m pretty sure that if I ever traveled with him for work, I’d be the rotten apple, bad influence, Chileans-Gone-Wild instigator of the trip. As depicted below:

Downtime during a layover in Sydney before heading off to China (about three years ago.)

My version of downtime (business trip in Buenos Aires, night before heading home) About 2 years ago.
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Strange things are afoot at Dario Urzua*

Holy son of a motherless goat.

I just had the weirdest experience with the world outside of my apartment.

When I stepped into the elevator to take Obi outside for his evening stroll, I found this flier taped to the elevator wall:


It’s a call to prayer to the entire “community” (i.e. building) in honor of the “Month of Mary.” Said call to prayer is taking place ALL MONTH LONG in November, starting November 8th, Monday to Friday from 7:30 – 8:00 pm.

It was like a Twilight Zone version of the fliers one sees in college dorms. Specifically the dorm where the characters in the movie Saved! would eventually go to college. A call to prayer? All month long? I’m officially freaked out.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not freaked out by the notion of praying during the month of Mary (though I AM confused because as a former Catholic school student, I’m pretty sure the month of Mary is in May, not November.) What bothers me most about this is the invasion! In fact, I immediately got off the elevator and demanded to the front desk person “What if I’m Jewish?!” He answered that it wasn’t obligatory. Um, well then … this building has THAT going for it in that we aren’t all forced into month-long prayer with our fellow neighbors.

But seriously, if this were the U.S., this would be so unacceptable, it would border on illegal. In fact, I imagine that in the U.S. the buildings need to first reach consensus to allow such a thing to take place and furthermore, if we were going to be issuing a call to prayer during the month of Mary, we’d certainly have to organize the blowing of the shofar during Rosh Hashanah AND invite everyone to the Iftar meal when Ramadan ends.

I can’t put a finger on why I am so bothered by this but I can describe it as a feeling of invasion and it angers me that a few in the building would feel at liberty to air that in public, in the apartment building where my home is located, without so much as a single thought of concern for anyone else. Why are these few allowed to impose their will on the rest of us who live here? What if I put up fliers stating the Top 10 things that annoyed me about my neighbors each week? Am I free to do that just as they are free to put this flier in each elevator? What’s next? Will I find a rosary and a monthly Missal in my mailbox? “Oh you know, just because!”

What do you think? Am I being overly sensitive or does this reek of imposition?

Oh and the other gnarly thing I had to witness while I was outside was a taxi driver relieving himself on one of the tree trunks of our quaint tree-lined street. Sweet.

Stay classy, Santiaguinos.

[*Dario Urzua is the name of the street I live on.]
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Landing a job in Chile

We all need our lessons in humility; it’s good for the soul and puts hair on our chest. Though I’ve never been the kind of person who’s too big for her britches (in fact, I generally need a dose of self confidence more often than not) there are some aspects of my life that I tend to regard with a level of self assurance. In the past this has namely involved my career and my professional accomplishments. I generally felt secure in what I could do and what I could offer and never doubted for a minute that I could keep accomplishing one thing after another.

This outlook was immediately readjusted when I began looking for a job here in Chile in May of this year and I have since then learned a great deal about the job search process in my new home, all the while learning to reassess my strengths and weaknesses in relation to my career objectives. This year has already been chalk full of lessons in humility and picking myself back up again, rejection after rejection.

Let me rewind and clarify that during this process I’ve been fortunate enough to continue working for the company that employed me back in California, something I’ve referenced on a few occasions in this blog. I’ll always maintain that I am beyond grateful to this company for the opportunities they extended to me, including the possibility to work remotely when I moved to a foreign land (i.e. Chile) so that I could marry and be with the love of my life. I’m sure this sentiment of gratitude will not waver. What unfortunately did waver back in May was my sense of stability when, due to the economic downturn and other reasons I’m sure I’m not familiar with, the company I work for downsized. Suddenly I was in the dark and had no idea if I had a job, who was left at the company or even who would be my new boss (sadly, my former boss was let go.) Ultimately following the massive changes that took place, a level of normalcy was once again reached and I learned that I indeed continued to have a job, (thank God). However that feeling of uncertainty didn’t waver. In fact it began to consume me – how much longer would I have a job? What if the business in Latin America doesn’t grow? What if this market becomes completely incapable of generating income? What if they move the management of the territories in-house? In plain English I realized just how fragile my situation was and though I had years of experience working with the Latin American teams, I realized that in the blink of an eye, anything and everything could change, JUST AS IT HAD FOR MY COWORKERS WHO WERE NO LONGER THERE.

There is no sure-fire way to guarantee job security. G and I discussed that his situation was just as fragile as anyone else’s and he’s fortunate enough to head a department at his company. True, no matter the situation, I could never be guaranteed a job for an unlimited amount of time. However, I rationalized that I could help the cause by securing a job here in Chile. That way, should the worst case scenario someday catch up with me (i.e. unemployment) I would at least have Chilean work experience under my belt. So it was decided and the Chilean job search began.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I was going to face when looking for a job here in Chile.

I’ve used this anecdote on various occasions when describing the general process here in Chile. Take, for example, a fruit stand in search for a tomato seller (yes, someone who sells tomatoes.) The fruit stand will post an ad that specifically asks for candidates with tomato selling experience. They will ask that this candidate have a degree in Botany, specifically with emphasis in Pomology. They will stress the importance of having graduated from X, Y or Z university and they will punctuate their need for someone with experience selling in fruit stands. As a candidate, you will be overlooked if you don’t have experience with tomatoes. Yes, you may have experience with lettuce but hello moron – a lettuce is NOT a tomato! And forget about applying with experience in bananas – banana’s aren’t even ROUND! How could the two possibly translate? How could you know ANYTHING about selling round products when your bag of tricks only contains banana experience? You also need not apply if you happen to fill the tomato selling requirement but have only done so in supermarkets. What part of fruit stand did you NOT understand? Oh you have a degree in Pedology? Yeah, that won’t do.

[I have a real life example to offer you in lieu of this fictional anecdote: G and I were passing by a Chinese restaurant the other day and outside, there were various “wanted” posts offering employment with the said restaurant. One of the posts read “Looking for a server with experience waiting tables. Must have experience in Chinese restaurants.” Chinese restaurant. Not Italian, not French, not Japanese. Chinese. Otherwise, move along.]

Once you are able to find something that somewhat fits your work experience (tomatoes!!) and education, the next step involves the Headhunter. This is the team (or person) that places the ad for the company and proceeds to do the narrowing down of candidates. Narrowing down means calling you in (once your resume and experience has been screened, of course) and asking you the typical questions one expects of a job interview. The frustrating part is that the Headhunter doesn’t work at the company you’re applying with and usually has a very top-line idea of what the position involves and demands. Further, many times the Headhunter won’t even tell you what company you’re being reviewed for until your 2nd meeting with them. It’s happened to me on various occasions that I’ve gone in, met with the Headhunter, didn’t satisfy and to this day I have no idea who the companies were that were looking to hire! In the off chance that you pass the Headhunters screening and you make it to the actual company for interviews, expect a series of interviews (something like 2-4). Also expect, in many cases, having to prepare a case study related to the position you’re applying for (as was my case with the searches I was involved in.) One thing is certain: of all the resumes the Headhunter receives for any particular opening, in general, only 3 candidates pass on to the company itself for further interviewing. So if you make it to that, congrats! You at least beat out a plethora of candidates before you! Note that if you’re a woman, you’ll most likely the ONLY woman passing on to the next level. Rarely have I found myself in the top 3 with another female.

During the interviews, they want to know everything – literally EVERYTHING – about what you did, what you’ve done, what you want to do and how you do it. They want to know about your significant other and they want to know what you do in your free time. They want to know where you see yourself in five years and they want to know what your supervisor would say about you and your working style. They want you to take them through your typical day at work and they want to hear about a time when you faced confrontation and how you approached it. In my case they’ve wanted to know how I would feel working with a team, outside my home, adhering to “office hours.” They also wanted to be sure that I was here to stay and not about to hop a plane back to CA at the drop of a hat. And finally, one of the most shocking things they want to know about you as a woman is if you’re thinking of popping out any kids some time soon … if so, that could immediately disqualify you as a potential candidate.

Somewhere along the lines, either before making it to the company itself for interviews or shortly thereafter, comes the biggest twist of all when it comes to interviewing for jobs here: the psychological assessment. Otherwise known as the “B*tch-better-not-be-crazy” test. I’ve been scrutinized, analyzed and prodded with inkblots (“tell me what you see here, first thing that comes to mind”); color selection (“of these eight options what’s your favorite color? Next favorite? After that? Next favorite? What’s your least favorite?”); drawings (“draw a picture of a person in the rain”); handwriting analysis (“write a letter about anything you want”) and finally, S.A.T. style logic tests that serve to give an indication of your math and problem-solving skills. Needless to say, in the last six months I’ve become a guru of psychological tests.

The verdict is still out on whether or not I’m crazy. However, I’m happy to share that despite the difficult selection process, the daunting psychological exams, the torturous waiting game and the devastation of defeat, I’ve finally landed a job here in Chile – after six months of searching. It’s actually more than a job – it’s definitely a career builder and an important stepping stone to whatever lies ahead for me professionally.

I’ve never been through so many series of frustrating events in my life. I’ve never worked so hard to make something happen for myself and I’ve never learned more about adaptation than I have with the experiences of the last few months. I’ve learned humility and patience as well. It took me SIX MONTHS to find something, with a few near hits along the way that ultimately didn’t pan out. I had to learn how things are done in this system and I had to mold myself to fit into their processes. After all, I’m looking for a job in their market – who am I to parade around thinking that just because I’m American they should be chomping at the bits to hire me? The fact is that they aren’t chomping at the bits to hire me just because I speak fluent English. Chileans are better prepared in universities than we are back home and if you add post-graduation work experience to that, they are BY FAR better candidates than many of us out there. Of course circumstances vary. One could be a recent college graduate, looking for an entry level position and entry level pay and that person may very well have a much easier time than I did. If that’s the case for anyone, awesome!

Ultimately though I think that this experience taught me to truly define what it is I wanted to do with myself professionally, where I want to be now and where I want to be 5, 10 or 15 years from now. It also made me slow down and truly think about the kinds of companies I’d be best suited to work for. Where would I excel and where would my skill set be most valued? I think the wait was worth it because I learned a LOT. I’m excited about this new career opportunity, the company itself, my future role in the company and the compensation offered. Yeah I’ve been dragged through the mud in this process but then again, keeping my eyes on the prize turned out to be the best strategy I could have possibly adopted.

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25 Random Things

In March 2009, I was tagged in one of those Facebook Notes entitled “25 Random Things.” I thought it was pretty cool and so I did one myself and tagged 25 friends with whom I wanted to share my own version of the list. Over a year later (tonight), since I happen to be the biggest of winners (take a gander at my previous blog entry to understand my history of uncool), I decided to clean up my Facebook page a little and once again came across my list. I’m both pleased and surprised at how true all points continue to ring, despite the time, distance and life that has marched on in the past 17 months since I first wrote them.

And so I thought I’d put them on my blog, share them with you and personally marinate in 25 random thoughts that continue to describe me and/or how I see the world around me. [Note that in this blog version, I did add a few clarifications below as noted in brackets … ]

25 random things by Andrea Gonzalez on Friday, March 13, 2009 at 1:55am

1. 95% of people either bore me to tears or annoy me. If you’re tagged, you fall within the 5% that I actually dig and feel bring some measure to this world. Nicely done.

2. I have an obsession with purses.

3. Of all my travels, by far the best food I’ve ever eaten has been in Tokyo.

4. I loathe the Dirty 30…my SF peeps, you KNOW WHAT I MEAN. [Bus line that runs through Downtown and Chinatown in San Francisco.]

5. I really enjoy making cupcakes. I even have a secret method. Truly, they are amazing. I might open a shop called Dre’s Cupcakes (per Lauren’s suggestion).

6. I hate The Gap. I kind of want to throw eggs at it. It baffles me when foreigners obsess over that dumb ass store.

7. I like 80s glam rock bands… Poison, Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi…you get the picture. I’m pretty sure these bands make up half my iTunes playlist.

8. US Weekly is THE BEST MAGAZINE EVER. And Time. I like that one too.

9. I never leave the house without makeup. That’s just all kinds of not ok.

10. I believe my boyfriend has the best facial profile ever. If you see him, ask him to turn his head – you’ll totally agree me. [Still 100% true except that this said boyfriend is now my husband.]

11. I find that watching Back to the Future over and over again is quite therapeutic.

12. I think porn is really funny.

13. In college I was known as the “grandma” among my friends. Actually this might still be the case, I’m not sure. They’ve gotten a lot nicer about pointing out my “Golden Girls” ways…

14. I sleep with socks on every night (per point #13)

15. I’m obsessed with Shiloh Jolie Pitt.

16. Anything romantic makes me want to laugh out loud…like setting the mood with rose petals and David Gray. Nothing is funnier than people trying too hard.

17. When I’m ready to retire, instead of knitting or playing with grandkids, I want a Harley so I can go ride with my husband. Seriously.

18. I’m getting married in a short wedding dress and red heels. [I didn’t end up doing this but looking back, I should have totally stuck to this idea.]

19. I hate mainstream anything. If everyone is doing it, I want nothing to do with it. Peace out. [This holds true EXCEPT when we’re talking social media.]

20. I’m obsessed with Mexican food, drinks, people… and beaches. Mexico might be close to the most perfect place on Earth.

21. I’ve kept a diary since I was 7 years old. I had some MAJOR problems back then. Grade school is a dog-eat-dog world…especially that one time my best friend stole my Hello Kitty pencil case. Biiiiitch.

22. I’m supposed to wear glasses everyday but I never do (have you seen me with them on? No. I rest my case.)

23. I can watch movies over and over again and never get bored. When I watch Back to the Future, I’m always stressed out that Marty won’t make it back in time!! [Continues to get me every time.]

24. A glass of white wine with my boyfriend is my ideal way to end a day. [Again, my then-boyfriend is now my husband.]

25. My youngest nephew’s name is Guillermo (we call him Memo sometimes) but I decided it would be funny to just call him Juanito. And will you believe that the six year old actually calls me Juanita back?? We’re totally related.

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The weirdo

I can’t remember where it was I read that one of the key elements to writing a ‘tween or young adult book was to make sure you had an awkward, relatively weird, outsider kind of protagonist. This made sense to me since teenagers, especially pre-teens, are all kinds of awkward. In fact, today we needn’t think any further than Twilight and its leading lady, Bella Swan, who embodies clumsy, awkward and weird all in one package. When I was younger, I used to be drawn to these kinds of characters as well. Deenie, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Blubber, Ramona Quimby, Age 8, and of course, Anne of Green Gables, were all books that I adored when I was younger. I’d go to the library, check them out, read them, re-read them, take them back and repeat the process the following week all over again. I loved them because each protagonist was, in a word, weird. Since I considered myself to be weird too, reading about kids who were awkward and totally different from the norm allowed me to believe that I had a posse of like martians ready to hang out with me at any given notice. Books were my escape and my entertainment, more so than television or anything else available to me (which, let’s face it, was very limited). I was constantly fighting against being different and desperately tried to be “normal” like everybody else.

When we first arrived in San Francisco, I can safely say that I didn’t notice that I was different. My classmates were all different too. Some were Chinese, some were Korean, some where Russian, others Italian. I had a Mexican friend and a Filipino friend and I sat behind a red-headed boy named Billy in class who was probably of Irish-decent or something. We all attended Catholic school and as such, wore uniforms to school everyday. Because of this, no one noticed if someone had “cooler” clothes and the concept of “designer” anything just wasn’t our reality due to our age and our different backgrounds. Then of course there was the ONE thing many of us had in common besides this: being the first generation “Americans” growing up in a major city. When we went home, yes, some of the kids spoke English with their parents and siblings, but many of us went home and spoke a completely different language! You’d see the influences of our parents’ heritage in our packed lunches which ranged from PB&J to sushi to some kind of Chinese soup that was heavy on the cabbage. Sometimes you’d go over to a friend’s house and notice the traditions there: removal of shoes before walking in, eccentric, colorful art hanging on the walls, spicy cooking and the rich smells associated with it and multi-generational households that included the grandmother and sometimes even the great-grandmother! We lived in a city so many of us took the bus to school and as is the norm living in a city, many of us lived in apartments or flats, not always houses. And you know what? Because of this, I don’t recall any of my school mates and/or friends having pets.

To me, all of the above foster great memories of my childhood. I wasn’t weird because we were all “weird.” I wasn’t any different than my Korean classmate who removed her shoes before going inside her apartment and who brought sushi for lunch. Whereas I went home and spoke Spanish with my mom and ate “lentejas” for dinner, my Chinese, Mexican and Italian friends had their own traditions and day-to-day at home that greatly differed from my own. Such was the melting pot of my early years that soon took a nasty turn to dullsville Suburbia when I turned 14. It was at this age that we left San Francisco and moved to the Peninsula, 30 minutes south of the city. With this move came a change of school and a new chapter of my life that took an eternity to shake myself out of: weirdo martian from another country chapter.

From the time I was 14 to oh, about age 28 or 29, it was a constant battle to be considered part of the crowd and “normal.” I moved to Edward Scissorhands town and realized that the melting pot that had been my home for as long as I could remember, was no more. I found myself in a place, in a school, in a town, where every single person was “normal” and even those of a different ethnicity were, to the naked eye, diluted. I became self conscious of the fact that my mom didn’t speak English fluently. I was anguished like only a teenager can be over the fact that we didn’t live in a house like everyone else did. I didn’t grow up playing soccer so I immediately signed up for AYSO soccer and made a fool of myself trying to perform with non-existent skills. At 14 I had never shaved my legs because my mom never told me about it (in Chile people wax and she grew up always waxing, something she obviously thought I would do too once I was old enough.) All of a sudden I was the brown, hairy girl who moved from SF! No I didn’t have Guess jeans but realized soon enough that if I was going to be anybody at the new school, I NEEDED GUESS JEANS (is 14 too young to be sporting $80 jeans, anyone, anyone?) I didn’t even know about the GAP until I moved to this said Edward Scissorhand town and apparently, by the time I hit high school, it was the only option for my wardrobe. That and Eddie Bauer’s flannel shirts, what with the grunge thing in full effect.

I looked around and realized something that rang true in high school, college and some time after college as well. To be popular, interesting, solicited and listened to meant that you had to somewhat blend in and only stand out in the most traditional of ways. In high school this meant that I had to be in student government (all the cool kids were in student government.) It also meant that I had to be in drama but this only lasted through my freshman year and I gladly gave it up in lieu of the school newspaper (which incidentally, wasn’t “cool” by any means.) So I ran for Student Body Secretary my senior year in high school and lost to one of my classmates who was (and continues to be) Ms. Overachiever (actually now she’s Dr. Overachiever). That was a blow but thankfully, since I ran for a “big” office, I was given a pity prize and co-chaired something that had to do with school clubs (my co-chair was another popular girl, known more for her work in dance and performance arts.) I didn’t wear the right clothes, didn’t run with the right crowd (though GOD KNOWS it wasn’t for lack of trying!), didn’t play the right sports, I didn’t dance or do drama (which in my high school was the epitome of cool.) I did manage to break into Honors/Advanced English (again bc all the popular kids were in that class) and ONCE even pulled off the 2nd highest grade on a term paper (the highest grade went to Dr. Overachiever, I believe.) Still, I felt I had proved something to the “right” crowd.

By the time I got to college, I’d somewhat mastered the wardrobe mess I had when I first arrived at a public school and found my own style (or lack thereof). This wasn’t a major issue in college for me. The major issue was once again being the one “foreign” girl in a sea of … politely speaking, non-foreign boys and girls. Many grew up in suburbia, had a mom and a dad (dad was always a lawyer or some corporate executive and mom was most likely a school teacher) and I just had my mom. My mom who was a nanny, a great one at that, for a very successful, very wonderful family. No, there was no dad. No we didn’t take vacations to Tahoe every winter and summer. No, we’ve never owned an SUV. What was that? Was I going to Europe after graduating college? Um, no. I guess I could have done myself a favor and NOT gone out and join a sorority which only served to remind me how different, poor, weird, and non-mainstream I really was. Instead I DID join one, proceeded to binge drink to fit in, gain 15 pounds my first year at Davis, spend money I didn’t have on monthly sorority dues and pretty much drag myself through the mud trying to “be cool” and fit in with those I considered to be cool. That’s not to say or imply that people weren’t NICE. They were nice, actually. It’s just too bad that I was so awkward about being different that they couldn’t get to know me for me. It wasn’t their fault, it was mine. I assumed they thought I was weird and so I took that as fact and acted accordingly to try and fix it. The irony is that people who are NOW my good friends post-college are women who 1) weren’t in a sorority or 2) are the “cool” girls I wanted to impress who are more impressed with my weirdo foreignness than whoever it is I was pretending to be in college.

Life works in the kookiest of ways, really. Post-college it was through work, my career, travel and my accomplishments in the workplace that actually helped me shed all embarrassment for being different. I was given opportunities at a relatively young age that NO ONE my age had and that made me feel like a bad ass. I ended up working for a Japanese company and getting to know a culture that was a million times removed from both my own and actually LIKING and APPRECIATING it. It dawned on me that different was funky and I liked it. It also finally dawned on me that “normal” was so boring, I could die. Yawn. It helped that I was back in San Francisco (albeit for work only) and that I could once again be reminded that the melting pot existed and that I was a fabulous part of that.

The irony is this: I’m now living in Chile and again, I’m reminded with constant lucidity of how different I am. I’m a gringa in a Chilean world. I’m weird, I’m a foreigner and I’m not “normal” (what’s this about wearing open-toed shoes before October??!!! Owning a Bulldog? Not partaking in “once” and checking my blind spot when I drive?) That’s ok though. This time around in life I’m fine with it. I’m actually in the process of maintaining said weirdness, working off it and finding my place in this Chilean world. I’m sorry to tell you Chile, I don’t plan on playing the role I once did of fitting in. This is me, foreign and awkward, take it or leave it.

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2010, all eyes on Chile

When I lived back home, I don’t recall Chile ever being in the news (more so, editorials regarding wine and travel).

Yet in the span of one year – even less, really – Chile has been in the news twice: both reasons due to major events that catapulted us to the forefront of world news and updates.

An 8.8 earthquake and now the unprecedented rescue of 33 miners who have been trapped below ground since early August. With these two events, Chile has shown the world its strength, its integrity, its ingenuity and its perseverance.

From the bottom up, in both cases.

But this brief blog is to say, hello there Florencio. We’re happy to see you up top and we look forward to seeing all your fellow miners here soon as well. Thank you Chile. Thank you God. Thank you Minister of Mining, Laurence Golborne. Thank you U.S. for the help and equipment you provided from Day 1.

You all brought tears to my eyes tonight, one amazing and unprecedented image after another.
Who’s just as proud to be Chilean as she is to be American?

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Overdosing on nostalgia

There’s something that is quite evident between Chileans who live outside of Chile, something that I too used to share with enthusiastic vigor. There is a tendency to idealize this country and recall with a deep sense of nostalgia all the memories ever created during the time spent in this narrow land. It wouldn’t be fair to begin this blog immediately removing myself from this since in reality I spent the majority of my life in the exact same state of mind as those I now observe as quite nostalgic.

Growing up as “foreigners” wasn’t an easy feat in the San Francisco Bay Area, especially during the early 80s when being Latin wasn’t necessarily celebrated. Sure, it could have been worse (we could have been living in the middle of Kansas or Minnesota) but it took a bit before being Latin was actually celebrated. Even as I recall high school and certain “movements” by the Latino groups, this was mainly centered around Mexican-Americans, who, let’s face it, far outnumbered the Chileans. As such was the case, the small close-knit group of Chileans who lived in the Bay Area had a reduced network of neighbors and peers who “got” what it meant to be Chilean and who understood firsthand all the idiosyncrasies involved with being Chilean. My thought is that the likelihood of building and sustaining nostalgia bubbles involving all things Chilean was much, much greater because the real thing was much, much farther (it’s not like we could walk down the street and hit up a Chilean restaurant just like that.) Everyone who surrounded you felt the same distance, the same void, the same yearning to be closer, the same awe, the same patriotism and much, much more. The result was always the same when groups of Chileans got together: it was as if celebrating the 18th of September each and every time. Cuecas (Chile’s national dance), wine, “ensalada a la chilena,” a good asado produced our own little Chile no matter the occasion. – birthdays, anniversaries, marriages and even 4th of July resulted in the creation of a little Chile.

The fact that we were greatly outnumbered by Mexicans and Central Americans only perpetuated the nostalgia bubble. It was as if being the cheese that stands alone meant that it was our duty, our calling, our right, to show the world “We’re Chilean, dammit! Not Mexican! We don’t eat burritos!” (Actually, neither do Mexicans.) And in feeling this national pride, we tended to migrate towards others who shared like sentiments and who would join us in talking about how great Chile was or who would take the time to comment with us on the breathtaking, majestic beauty of the Andes Mountains. If we came across Chilean tourists it was if we’d been reunited with a long-lost sibling and we bombarded them with questions about “la patria” – now I realize that in acting this way, I’m sure that the visiting Chileans pretty much surrendered to the fact that Chileans who lived abroad were weirdos. We stopped at nothing, even inviting them to our homes for an “asado” because LORD KNOWS they must miss it, right? I mean, we did!

The distance between San Francisco and Santiago meant that when you took time off to vacation in Chile, you went for at least two weeks. Some people, like my mom, rarely went for less than one month. ONE MONTH of vacation, can you imagine? But people did this and no one thought anything of it. During that time, you jam packed your days traveling from north to south, to the coast and back again and made sure to visit each and every family member and friend who ever meant anything to you, even if that meant having back-to-back asados. It was great to visit, especially during summer in Chile, because the family would usually try to coordinate their vacations with yours. You can imagine the nonstop fun that resulted with a handful of people on vacation, ready to let loose, go to the beach and have themselves a whole heap of fun. You’d spend Christmas and New Year surrounded by family, enjoying the hot weather, eating, drinking, dancing and being merry. All of this was quickly compared to the cold, gray, desolate life you returned to when you went back home to the San Francisco Bay Area and of course, you quickly saw Chile as the only place in the world where you could possibly be happy.

Immediately returning from sunny, warm, family-oriented vacations, it was easy to recall the memories of a short time ago, when you were setting the table for “once” (tea time), going to the grocery store to pick out the meat for the asado in the evening, opening a bottle of red wine so that it could breathe or sitting down with a “pucho” (slang term for cigarette and no, I don’t smoke) ready to discuss the latest happenings with friends or friends of friends.

I was part of all this, an active part of all this. Nothing was better than Chile. Chilean wine was better, Chilean seafood was better, the Chilean way of life, the fact that people knew how to balance work and life, the proximity you had to others, the way people knew their neighbors … I would be in awe just standing in line at the supermarket, listening to the Chilean accents all around me. Each and every single vacation abroad was to Chile and when I returned, I’d immediately calculate when I could return again. Back home, I had an entire wall in my apartment dedicated to Chilean artisan crafts. I had a sticker on the back window of my Jetta with the Chilean flag on it. I had a notebook that I carried with me to all meetings, in SF or elsewhere, with a panoramic view of Santiago. In short, I was obsessed with my “patria” and made sure to say it loud, say it proud, every chance I had – “I’m Chilean!!!!!”

Then, I moved to Chile and began building my life here.

There are so many great things about this country, it would be unfair to say that I was completely wrong to idealize it when I lived back home. But it would also be unfair to not acknowledge that living here is considerably different than visiting. One of the first things I realized is that there really isn’t a work/life balance. People work a lot and they work constantly. Vacations are usually reserved for 1-2 weeks in February and a week in August – that’s it. It just so happened that when I would visit in December/January, family members would coordinate their vacations with mine. The food is good, but honestly, there is much more variety and richer tastes elsewhere – notably for me, in the U.S. Wine is amazing but then again, I miss not having the option of a California wine, New Zealand wine or Australian wine. It’s just Chilean, all.the.time. Also summer here is suffocatingly hot and most of the time, you have to endure it in Santiago because an escape to the beach is 1) expensive and 2) requires reservations far in advance during the peak summer months. Also, I don’t really see any difference in the way people live their lives here in that, most of the time, people go on their merry way, following the routine of their lives and rarely weaving in and out of other people’s lives. In short, it’s not all that neighborly as I once thought it to be. One more thing: we don’t do “once.” In fact, I don’t even LIKE “once.” There was once a time when I truly longed for it. Now I just find it utterly mundane to repeat breakfast a second time around. Finally, unfortunately enough, I take for granted the fact that my entire family is here and that, as such, I could pretty much see them more often than I ever could. If not more often, at least, much more easily than before. I’m as much of an “ingrata” (ungrateful or, in this case, absent) as everyone else in my family and because of this, we never see each other! And it’s a damn shame.

When it comes to Chile and the nostalgia it promotes in Chileans who live abroad, I’m on the other side of the looking glass now. I see them and I hear them talk about Chile with a sense of longing and a sense of pride that I no longer share. I see their pictures of the September 18th celebrations that were held back home, and they enjoy it with 100% more patriotism and passion than I’ve seen in the two dieciochos I’ve spent living here. Their Chi-chi-chi, le-le-le’s are louder and more heartfelt, especially compared to mine, which haven’t been uttered in well over a year. When I see these people on Facebook or in person, hear them over the line or in front of me, I no longer recognize those sentiments – ones that used to define me as a person! It’s like I’m looking at a picture of a great-great-great grandmother and trying desperately to find a nose-hair of resemblance.

I don’t recognize myself in them, or in their sentiments anymore, and I can no longer relate.

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The loaded question

As I was leafing through today’s El Mercurio, I came across an editorial piece entitled “¿Donde estudiaste?” or “Where did you study?” After reading the one-page article, I actually felt PLEASED (of all things!) because the author reflected what I have thought all along about this ridiculous question:

  1. Discriminatory by defacto, this question seems to have little-to-no socially relevant objective.
  2. Those who pose the question want nothing more than to tell YOU where THEY went to school because in their mind, something about the school is better than yours
  3. There is no Eton-equivalent in Chile (sorry, Grange and Nido) so there is no justification for such a mundane question
  4. In the end, most, if not all of us, are pretty much run-of-the-mill and no amount of English words in your school’s name will change that

But I guess what I should do is take a step back to clarify that here in Chile, perhaps in Latin America as a whole even, the question “where did you study” does not automatically mean “From which university did you graduate?” or “Where did you attend college?” Rather, this question literally means “Where did you go from Kindergarten to 12th grade?”

The author of this article goes as far as to claim that said question is usually third or fourth in a conversation between adults who are meeting for the first time, usually following suit shortly after “What’s your name,” “What do you do,” “Are you married/have kids?”

When I moved to Chile, this issue came up in various conversations with different groups of people. At first I found it hard to believe that anyone would care where one went to school 20, 30, even 40 years ago especially in light of the fact that most real-world experience is obtained later in life, in college and post-college. Perhaps this is why I find it more relevant to be asked where I attended college and what it is I studied there. My personal experience here in Chile has been that people don’t ask me this question once they find out that I didn’t grow up here. But it has been the case that I’m asked where my husband went to school. (After the snide “What do you care” crosses my mind) I answer that he grew up in the northern part of Chile and didn’t move to Santiago until he was 11 and then, he attended a Catholic school in Macul (a middle/working class district of Santiago). The answer is met with “Oh” and followed by “I went to Santiago College” or “I went to Nido.” At which point I make it a point not to ooooh and ahhh over said statement.

When considering where G and I would send our future kids to school here in Santiago, we discussed three fundamental factors for selection: 1) the school needs to be fully – and I do mean 100% fully – bilingual (English and Spanish), 2) the school must not be psycho heavy on religion (Catholic schools are OUT OF THE QUESTION in a dominantly Catholic society), 3) the school must have a curriculum that promotes individuality, adventure, exploration, teamwork and curiosity (in other words, I want innovative, forward thinking education. Not something that’s stuck in the dark ages.) Given the above criteria – things that are FUNDAMENTAL to us – are the chances high that our kids will go to the Granges, Nidos and Santiago Colleges of this world? Maybe. Unless I found another school that will prove to support our criteria for our kids’ education, it may very well be the usual suspects as contenders. Regardless, I’m not bound to any brand name school in Santiago, I’m bound to the three points above. Unfortunately (or fortunately) every adult I’ve met who attended one of the brand name schools of Santiago speaks pretty fluent English. Even the kids I’ve met who currently attend these schools are already on the road to said fluency. The fact of the matter is that in my case, English is my first language and as such, it remains a priority for me to make sure it’s always spoken to a good extent in my home. Sadly, the options are limited in Santiago.

This brings me back to the author’s last point of the article where he states that the answer to the infamous question does not grace the person answering with some kind of admirable quality or attribute. After all, they didn’t decide where to go to school – their parents decided that FOR them. If the person did happen to attend one of the brand name schools, does that mean that the parents are worthy of all the merit? I think it depends. If they carefully looked through all possible schools that combined their fundamental educational goals for their children, and then opted for what turned-out-to-be a brand name school, then yes. If said decision was based more on status and keeping up with the Joneses, allowing the family to use the child’s school as another indicator of the family’s wealth (such as the car and the house), then no.

Taking that into consideration, when someone in Chile asks you where you went to school, what if they’re really asking “how much money did your family have while you were growing up?” Which actually equates to asking for the family’s financial statement prior to engaging someone in conversation, interviewing them for a position or, generally speaking, deciding their worth as a human being.

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Our dining experiences in Santiago (Part 1)

G and I were a long-distance couple for about eight months before I made the big move to Chile (You can read about the beginning of our relationship, how we met, our courtship and the proposal here.) Granted, we were lucky that our time apart didn’t span years, as it does for so many other LDR couples, we still missed out on the usual day-to-day activities that come with the start of any new relationship.

Which might explain why we find ourselves going out on dinner dates quite frequently now that we live together. Of course outings are (and should be) part of every married couple’s life, but it does seem like we are trying to make up for lost time considering the fact that we try to head out at least twice a week. In defense of this lavish tendency, I’d like to note that G and I figure our time for such gastronomical activities can be measured in an hourglass and what’s left is less than half the sand. In addition, I tend to cook more times than we actually go out and it’s refreshing to know that if we don’t cook, it doesn’t mean we’ll starve.

Santiago has its wealth of restaurants, relative to those you’d find in Sao Paulo and Mexico City (both cities where I’ve eaten mind blowing, delicious food) and I also find that there seems to be a wide variety of options – diversity in their origins and applicable to any desired price range. For a country that seems to be far from hopping on the diversity bandwagon, I personally think that there are many, many options out there and the list of restaurants G and I are looking to try, grows with each new edition of “El Mercurio’s” Club de Lectores list of participating restaurants (Chile’s largest newspaper, “El Mercurio,” has an agreement with American Express to offer card-holding subscribers, discounts at many restaurants. In our case, the cost of having the card, including the monthly subscription fee of the paper, is more than justified considering how much money we save whenever we dine at one of the participating restaurants.)

Some of the restaurants we’ve been to in the past few months, include:

Aquí Está Coco – recently reopened after falling victim to a fire a few years ago, a local online media outlet had it right when they stated that it reopened in “2.0” style. I’d been to the restaurant, which mainly serves fish and seafood, back in 2000/2001. The food was great and the restaurant itself had an old-world charm, literally having been gutted out and remolded from a former home that stood on Avda Concepcion in Providencia. Now, the restaurant is set to challenge the likes of La Mar in Santiago with it’s modern decoration, Peruvian-fused seafood dishes and wine cellar dining option, all which offer the differentiation necessary to call out its dishes from the various seafood alternatives available in this city. Note that their pisco sour “aperitivos” are literally the size of shots but their “Ceviche Altiro” more than makes up for that lapse in judgment by the staff. I feel like their menu needs more options, but can hail an “Amen” for their MEDITERANEAN TURBOT dish, which was, in a word, A-mazing. I’m sure G and I will go back at some point, but despite having had a great experience there, I’m not sure it can be repeated. Their menu didn’t scream “I’m delish” through and through. BTW, can I point out that when we went, G’s Mazda 3 was the “poorest” (his word, not mine) looking car in the lot. What, with the BMWs, Benzes, Porsches, Land Rovers and what not, we felt a little like Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman” when she went to the boutique to buy a cocktail dress.

A Pinch of Pancho – I recall that this restaurant was one of the first I’d heard about when I moved here because it was highlighted as an option for “good ol’ comfort food.” Located at General del Canto 45, near the Manuel Montt metro, the first thing we noted about this restaurant was how the outside SO DID NOT do the inside justice. The decor is eclectic, to say the least, bright and perhaps a bit overwhelming but nonetheless very, very cool. The food is definitely “comfort” and I went ahead and ordered the ribs, something I’ve never done in any restaurant. I can only attribute it to a deep feeling of nostalgia for all things American. They were good, but I’m not particularly a rib fan. G ordered some kind of meat, which was also pretty tasty, but rather basic with its potato side. I think G and I decided that we wouldn’t go back any time soon, not because the food wasn’t good – it was – but because it wasn’t really our style of food. After we left I’m sure we weighed a good 30 pounds more, combined, given the heaviness that is any and all comfort food. Still, it’s nice to know that solid American-style options are available in my same comuna.

Nolita – Nolita is actually owned by the same people who own A Pinch of Pancho and as such, they seem to have consulted the same interior decorator. This time, whoever did the decorating, did so with a less exaggerated hand (lowered the uppers and upped the downers). It’s located in the El Golf area of Las Condes at Isidora Goyenechea 3456 (in a neighborhood otherwise known as Sanhattan). Their specialty is their pasta, so I went ahead and ordered their lasagna, which of course, was amazing. The owners of both A Pinch of Pancho and Nolita are all about making sure their customers leave feeling like a grossly overstuffed pig sitting on King Henry the VIII’s table because I don’t recall actually having walked out of the restaurant. I’m pretty sure G rolled me to the car that time. As the New York Times adequately describes “the pasta dishes are rich and decadent.” No sh*t. Would we go back? In a heartbeat. Would I make sure to not eat for 3 days straight prior to going? Definitely. BTW those on TripAdvisor who described this restaurant as “disappointing but edible” must have been sniffing White Out – it doesn’t come close to being like that at all.

NoSo at the W Hotel – Ok, so I’m cheating a bit because I didn’t technically go there with G, but rather, with my mom. This restaurant describes itself as being the meeting point of French and Mediterranean cuisine but I personally found it to be more like it was sitting on the corner of “Falling a Whole Leap Year Short of being Good” and “Ridiculously Overpriced for such Small Portions.” Rather than being “succulent,” it’s pretentious and don’t get me started on the ridiculously small portions. I don’t tend to agree with my mom when she claims she should have brought her “lupa” (magnifying glass) in any given case, but this time around I agreed that we should have added my own personal lupa to the outing. That way we would have been able to see a fraction of what we were actually eating. I ordered one of the fish options and honestly, I can’t recall too much about it other than it tasted overly fishy. I’m all about fish but when the fish has too much of a fish taste, I find it’s rather fishy of it and the restaurant. But, it’s in the W (also in Sanhattan) so of course, I’m sure it will do well no matter what I write so more power to them, I guess. Also, and this could be me being persnickety of course, but I find that the table and the way the chairs are shaped and placed, make it really awkward to hold a conversation without yelling across to the other person.

Mestizo – I was actually a super fan of this restaurant (located in Vitacura, at one end of Parque Bicentenario) until I went for about the 5th time and realized that what I’m actually a fan of is their Mero (Grouper fish), their appetizers and their pisco sour. I like when I get to the point of actually knowing what it is I particularly like about a restaurant. It saves so much time and is much more cost-effective. I’m not gonna lie. Their grilled octopus appetizer is TO DIE FOR and I could eat it until the cows come home. It’s the kind of good where you want to take a piece of bread and soak up anything left on the plate – but of course, in this particular restaurant, I’m sure the Annie’s would frown upon that (if they only knew what they were missing. That, and garlic). You can tell there’s a lot of money invested here and besides the menu as evidence, there’s the geometric shape of the actual restaurant itself. It’s so random that it’s as isolated as it is, literally without any other restaurants or even hotels in sight, and located instead in a very residential neighborhood, at the foot of a park. One of my favorite times there was when I went with KM during lunch, drank a little vino, people watched and ate … salads perhaps? I can’t recall but in memory of that, I’d like to highly recommend this place as a very SATC option for outdoor/trendy lunching. Also, keep to the bar if you’re going for dinner – much cooler and the service is faster!

Epicúreo – Here’s a restaurant I really, really like. I like it because it sticks to offering good food, low on the holier-than-thou factor other restaurants we visit tend to have. It’s located outside of Patio Bellavista, right next to the Dublin Pub, on Constitucion. Though the location screams nightlife, the reality is that this restaurant is very below-the-radar in its appearance. In typical Chilean fashion, the site itself is a refurbished and remodeled former home, with wood floors and a comfortable, welcoming ambiance that seems to be both spacious and intimate, if that makes any sense. At the core, the restaurant states that its driver is the French cuisine. I can kind of see it, but not really. What I definitely CAN see is that the chef takes note of details when preparing and presenting the food and the result is pretty impressive. I had the Centolla (King Crab) black raviolis and of course, they were delish. The steamed mussel appetizers were amazing as well, as are their salads, notably their Asian option. The pisco sour is ok, nothing to write home about, BUT what lacks there is made up with a shiny gold star for outstanding service. Plus it’s rather inexpensive. My mom, sister and I ate there the other night and for three main dishes and three non-alcoholic drinks we paid less than US$50, with tip included. Not too shabby.

Pasta e Vino Santiago – The original Paste e Vino is located in the hills of Valparaiso, Chile and I went with G last year when we took a quick weekend trip to Con-Con so that this California girl could get a dose of ocean. Known for their pasta and wine (obvi) this place did not disappoint. Thus, you can imagine our enthusiastic surprise when we took a wrong turn one night (coming back from Epicúreo actually) and stumbled upon The Aubrey Hotel (btw my newest hotel obsession) with its sign for Pasta e Vino. It’s located at the foot of Cerro San Cristobal, at the end of Constitución in the Bellavista area of Santiago. The good thing is that it’s, in three words, ridiculously good pasta. The bad thing is that half of their pasta options are gnocchi and for those of us who don’t like gnocchi (G & me), this automatically reduces your pasta options by half. Furthermore, I’m not a big ol’ fan of raviolis either so for me, the menu was reduced to the three remaining fettuccine options. No bother though as each one looked so tasty, I had a problem deciding. The one I settled on was a cream sauce with a taste of honey intertwined, which resulted in a medley of nectar of the gods in my mouth. It was that good. But then I found myself with the same problem I had at Nolita, in that I’m pretty sure that G rolled me out to the car. There was no way I could walk – I couldn’t even finish the entire dish! Although if you go, bring a flashlight because at night, it’s impossible to see what’s in front of you. The servers, all of apparent different nationalities, are also a little on the slow side, though they do aim to please.

That’s a little overview of our dining experiences here in Santiago – very subjective and not at all to be taken as the bible of culinary experiences. In fact, it’s not even representative of what Chile, as a country and culture, is truly about. Yes, it’s a part of what makes Chile Chile, specifically Santiago Santiago. I encourage you to check out Cachando Chile for a true-to-reality take on culinary experiences here (the link is tagged for food entries) that will help round out an entry such as this one, which is focused on the subjective view of particular restaurants in Santiago.

Stay tuned for the other Parts (II or even III), budget permitting and as I get around to eating more (and working out so that I don’t balloon into a hippopotamus. That’s Obi’s role.)

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