Sawasdee Krap, Amigos

This is the obligatory I-made-it-safely-to-Thailand post. My trip was 33 hours door-to-door; flights mostly via Malaysia Arlines, but a quick jaunt at the end from Kuala Lumpur on Thai Airways. Here’s my flying steel tube parked in Cape Town, South Africa:

cape town

My leg from BsAs to Cape Town was maybe 8 hours and my row was empty. I stretched out and watched The Proposal and Running the Sahara (A+, highly rec’d). We skipped over to Johannesburg (or “Jo-burg” as the cool kids say), where I did not see any Prawns. JNB to Kuala Lumpur was maybe 10 hours or so, but I was too doped up to watch movies. They served free alcohol, so I went all menopausal and OD’d on white wine & Tylenol PM. I needed the doping to help me forget that the Langoliers stole my Thursday.

So far I’ve really done nothing in Bangkok, which is fine by me. My airline food was spicier than anything in Buenos Aires, and I’ve continued the streak here by eating green curry, stir-fry chicken, and pork noodles. Definitely wouldn’t mind having a Quilmes though. Here’s what else I miss about Buenos Aires:

— cafe culture
— great architecture
— millions of bookstores
— sweater weather (it’s mid-60s there, mid-90s here)
— cheap steak & cheap wine

Too bad TESL pays so poorly there. C’est la vie. Here’s to hoping South Korea works out.

My Last Days as a Porteño

In about 30 minutes I’m going to begin my 31-hour journey to Bangkok, with stops in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Kuala Lumpur. Eek.

I thought it’d give a quick rundown of my last weekend in Buenos Aires. Photos, of course, are up on Flickr. Friday I officially got my TEFL diploma/certificate, then we celebrated with a leisurely 4-hour dinner at El Callao. Meal was on the institute, but a sneaked a peek at the bill and saw it averaged out to only $15/ea — which is ridiculous because we ate a ton. For instance, I had a couple appetizers, wine, 2 beef steaks + 1 pork steak, 2 orders of fries, and chocolate ice cream for dessert.

Over the weekend I tried hitting a bunch of tourist spots, including the San Telmo antiques market / street fair on Defensora and Puerto Madero (again). I went to the Jardin Botanico, past the zoo, and over to the Jardin Japonese. On the way a couple Euros stopped me for directions and were amused when I interrupted their halting Spanish to ask if they’d like to try English instead. Also hit up El Ateneo, supposedly the 2nd-best bookstore in the world. For one lunch I finally tried California Burrito Company, a Tex-Mex chain started in BsAs by two Indiana University grads. Decent food (free guacamole!) but the whole time I just kept wishing I was at Chipotle instead.

Three real highlights from my final days:

1. Sitting in a typical Argentine confiteria with locals watching Argentine Juan Martin del Potro beat Roger Federer at the US Open

2. Reading the newspaper in Cafe Tortoni and sipping a submarino (steamed milk with a bar of dark chocolate submerged in it). Supposedly a very touristy cafe these days, but it wasn’t when I went, and still felt a little bit like we were in 1920s Buenos Aires.

3. Hitting up Hanan’s for Arabic food with my TEFL friends as my farewell dinner. We had another 3.5 hour meal, complete with some mint hookah. This place wasn’t as cheap as El Callao — and with smaller portions — but the food was delicious, the dining vibe good, and the company lots of fun. A great way to bid farewell to this city.

The Least of These: Buenos Aires (Pt. 2)

Yesterday I had a chance to do some humanitarian work with an organization called Luchemos para una Infancia Feliz y Con Esperanza — otherwise known as LIFE Argentina. I had heard of a couple poker players who’d volunteered with LIFE and it seemed to be popular in the expat community. I wanted to complement the online research I’d done on poverty in Buenos Aires by actually seeing the slums firsthand. (Skip to the photos if you’re in a hurry).

The Least of These: Buenos Aires (Pt. 1)

It won’t take long visiting Buenos Aires to discover that not everyone’s living large in this “Paris of the South,” even if you’re comfortably sequestered in a posh condo in Palermo or a swanky hotel in Puerto Madero. Argentina’s unemployment rate is currently lower than that of the United States, but this country’s own painful Great Depression still haunts a place that is now mercifully on the rebound. Less than eight years ago the employment rate was up to 25%, with nearly 2/3rds of the population living below the poverty line. Like too many other developing countries, their economic bust was the result of free-market reforms perpetrated, in part, by the monetary gangsters at the IMF.

As we close out this decade, the reminders of those horrid depression years are still everywhere, but never more obviously than at 8 or 9pm every night, on every street, all across Buenos Aires. This is when the cartoneros come out: they’re recyclers, using Argentine ingenuity to manage the budget crunch by sorting the day’s trash and selling it to factories on the outskirts of the capital. Most of them travel to the city centers via El Cartonero, a special train that transports the cartoneros, their carts, and that night’s haul. The train is one of many rights the increasingly-organized group have won for themselves, but it’s still not a luxury. The trip is obviously crowded, dirty, and smelly, with no lights and no seats. It leaves early evening and returns to the city edges in the early morning, when the cartoneros unload and sell off their collection of bottles and cardboard. A good night’s work can bring in AR$15, or about US$4, a day. This is roughly equivalent to the salary of a public elementary school teacher, but is barely enough for a meal of empanadas from a downtown confiteria.

Uno Más Día

Happy 09-09-09! At 09.09pm on 09.09.09 I was eating dinner with two friends and we actually noticed the clock in time. Salud! We were celebrating the completion of another day of lesson planning and teaching. I was celebrating with a copa de vino blanco… except they brought it warm, with ice. That’s a first for me. But we are all excited to be wrapping this class up since we have very little to do tomorrow except teach our last lesson and then just party on Friday.

I have to mention how awesome my “high intermediate” class was last night. These students are pretty close to fluency, so you can talk at a normal pace with natural language and we dispense with the endless repetition that’s so key to lower-level learning. They mostly need help with confusing phrases, idiomatic expressions, connotations, etc. The lesson was prostitution so I started my class by doing a “word web” eliciting words they’d expect to hear in a discussion:
Which may be true, but I was more looking for “red light district.” I think the only phrase that was totally new was “curb crawler,” which I think is a pretty archaic expression for someone who prowls along looking for “street walkers.”

But then we also talked about how prostitution is a “complex” issue, also known as “tricky,” “muddy,” complicated,” “thorny,” or “gray” issues. As opposed to “straightforward” (this was a new word, surprisingly), “simple,” “black-and-white.” We then went over a sheet asking, “Should we legalize brothels?” with a pro/con perspective. I pulled out trouble words/expressions like “consensual,” “condone,” “plain fact,” “devil’s advocate,” and “abysmal” (which I had a lot of fun explaining). For a word nerd, getting to talk about connotations and natural usage was really interesting. Both the pro/con view approached the issue differently, so we discussed various angles on an issue: political, scientific, moral, practical, experiential, etc. With almost all the other classes we try to only teach such a limited number of words — tomorrow I’m introducing just four new vocab — so it was very refreshing to work with a very wide lexical set.

Oh, for what’s worth: 8/9 students — including all the old women — were fully in favor of legalizing brothels & prostitution. The last lady was a bit on the fence and just wanted to remind us to “keep the moral argument in mind too.”

Home Stretch Drag

Sorry for the lack of updates — I was in bed all weekend, knocked out by flu-like symptoms that appear to be a mild version of Swine ’09. Things were looking up a little yesterday, but today I’m feeling awful again. Unfortunately I have to keep lesson planning and keep on teaching. Tonight I’m working with “high intermediate” students, so it’ll be very different than what I’ve had so far. We’re discussing prostitution and various attitudes about the profession and the legalization of brothels. I’ve heard this class loves to talk since they’re basically fluent, so hopefully they’ll carry the hour and I can give my vocal chords a rest.

I should also mention that there’s been a major change in plans. My goal coming to Argentina was to get my TEFL Certificate and then teach ESL in South America. I was shooting for a $12k+ salary to cover living, food, and student debt repayment. Unfortunately I’ve discovered that teaching here is basically break-even, with a good salary being $700/mo… which is just not workable for me because of my loans.

So now I’m moving to Asia. The plan is to leave BsAs on Wednesday the 16th and arrive in Bangkok on Friday where I’ll stay with my parents until I can find my feet. Hopefully from that base in Thailand I can devote my efforts to finding a job in South Korea, where they’ll pay $2k/mo + benefits (like free housing). I’m disappointed that my grand South American adventure has to halt prematurely, but doing my teacher training here in Argentina has been a very valuable experience. Now that I have a plane ticket, however, it’s hard to focus on my remaining work here. I think really everyone in my class is dragging however. We’ve got three more classes to teach and one more lesson plan to do, and I think we’re all really looking forward to being done with this.

The Mean Streets of Buenos Aires

Argentina’s three most gullible criminals just tried to mug me. I was walking home when three gangbangers approached and surrounded me. I initially thought they were just normal beggars or perhaps porno-flier distributors (they guys are everywhere). But the littlest one, maybe 16 or so, immediately got in my face and started demanding shit in Castellano. I understood almost nothing, but aggressive body language translates pretty well. This is how I interpreted our conversation:

“Can I have some money?”
“Give me your money.”
“I don’t speak Spanish.”
[Scarface Jr. grabs my arm while reaching into his pocket.]
“I have a knife.” (But I hear this as “Tengo un tomate”)
“You have a tomato?”
“Do you have a cellular?”

…And with that they just walked away [LOL]. I stood there for a bit, not even aware the pedestrian light had turned green, because I couldn’t figure out why three criminals would so easily believe that I was carrying neither money nor cellphone. Or that I might be carrying a camera in the, you know, camera bag slung conspicuously over my shoulder (which, incidentally, also held my wallet & cell). So by saying “no” and “que?” a lot, I somehow avoided a mugging. I’m pretty sure these were the Porteno equivalent of Kevin, Scott, and Kraig and had no idea how one might go about being nefarious criminals. By the way, this was on Avenida 9 de Julio — not exactly the ghettos of BsAs — a little before 10pm — so not exactly late at night, either.

Earlier in the day I also had another pickpocket attempt, this time in the subte, that I successfully averted.
So here’s the score so far:
Thieves — 1  Kevin — 3


Museo de Awesome

We finally got our lesson assignments for the next two weeks. The summary:

Tuesday –>  high beginners –> house chores
Wednesday –> low beginners –> talking about past vacations
Thursday –> basic beginners –> describing daily and weekly routines

Tuesday –> high intermediates –> compare & contrast dating customs
Wednesday –> basic beginners –> houses / our dream house
Thursday –> low beginners –> our future vacation plans

They also gave us the grammar points we need to teach with each (eg the “going to + verb” structure for that last class) but I won’t bother typing those all out now. I wish I had more high beginner & intermediate students but my schedule’s pretty decent otherwise. Monday we take our final exam over grammar & phonology then start prepping for Tuesday’s trial by fire.

I feel like I spent all of today taking public: taxi to class, bus home (my first time on a colectivo; cost me a whopping 30¢), then subway to and from the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires. I had a couple places to see tonight but lots of sites close at 6pm; MALBA was open til 8pm thankfully. It’s normally $4, but I got in for $1.30 as a student with my BAIS card. This museum was well worth the hassle of the subte and is a total bargain even at $4. Mostly 20th-century and contemporary art — which is my preference anyway — though I forgot to look for their Frida Kahlo stuff. As my guidebook points out, MALBA is the only BsAs museo built-for-function, ie it’s not a re-purposed mansion, warehouse, factory, etc. Thus the building itself is extremely interesting, a bit of which you can see in my recently-uploaded photoset. Indoor photos are forbidden so I could only sneak a couple. Unfortunately my shots of the world’s most amazing benches didn’t turn out (someone obviously beat me to it anyway).

Flickr Me Liquor

Today was our first chance to observe an actual ESL class in action. It was very eye-opening & helpful, but actually made me more nervous for my own classes. Tomorrow will be more lectures with another hour of in-class observation. Monday we start doing lesson plans for Tuesday; Tuesday we do lesson plans for Wednesday + actually teach our prepared lesson; Wednesday we do lesson plans for Thursday + teach Tuesday’s lesson; Thursday we do zero lesson plans but teach Wednesday’s lesson. Rinse & repeat for the last week. By the end I will have 6 hours in-class teaching + 8 hours in-class observation + 24-page portfolio. Scary.

A few of us went out to dinner afterwards: omelette con queso y papas fritas, complemented with a glass of wine that was only $1.30. Kazim & I attempted grocery shopping afterwards, but I only ended up buying pop & chocolate ice cream; ie a lot like my old grocery habits in Ohio.

As promised, photos from last weekend: (more…)

Dr. Strangelove Finds a Home

Tiny update because I have to share some good news. I pushed & shoved and bribed & bartered and managed to get a single room here at the Azul Residence. It just goes to show that good things come to those who wait who throw down cold hard cash. This is a good compromise though, because it’s expensive compared to, say, a triple… but way cheaper & easier than finding my own apartment (which has hitherto been my goal). It’s on the first floor (remember, this really means 2nd floor) so the street noise is significantly louder… but I’ll pay that price (oh, and the $$$ price too).

Photos & details from the weekend forthcoming tomorrow, I promise.

The Choo-To Train

A lot has happened in the last couple days, but I wanted to share my cultural experiences from Thursday. After class that day the founder of BAIS took Rachelle (another TEFLer; very fluent in Spanish) and me to look at a few apartments. We had to take the subte a number of times and so we learned lesson #439 about BsAs: avoid the subway between 4-8pm. It was — I never thought this was possible — more packed than what I saw in Korea. It costs like 30¢ per trip, but the experience is so apocalyptically claustrophobic that it hardly seems worth it.

Apt. #1 was pretty much what I expected and something I’d definitely like… except it was $1k/mo. Half the size & twice the cost of my Ohio apt. You could theoretically get 2 people in there, but that’s still too expensive for me. The next place was an absolute dungeon — absolutely zero windows and tons of people crammed into like 3 bedrooms. Just a total hellhole. Diego from BAIS had to leave us after this but sent us to a pretty decent place in Barrio Norte (I think). It had 4 bedrooms, 3 of which were occupied by students from France, Mexico, and Brazil. The people were very friendly and very funny, especially when it came time for an impromptu English lesson. They all had apparently been debating how to say “to” — as in, “to go” or “nice to meet you.” But the Brazilian seemed hellbent on “choo” and, despite our gentle correction and the cackles of his friends, just could not seem to make the hard “T” sound. “Nice choo meetch you” was followed by a say-and-repeat dialogue:
Us: “To”
Him: “Choo”
“Very nice! Well done!”
“Oh ok, so is ‘choo’?”

…and so on. It was good prep for week three when we’ll be actually doing our own English lessons in front of a whole class. The Brazilian & Italian guys who had shown us the place were heading for sushi @ 9pm but we politely declined and finished out the night by finding a little eatery that seemed to cater to locals, unlike the places right around me in Congreso. Baked chicken + fritas + Fanta naranja for $4 ain’t too shabby.

So since I’ve been in Buenos Aires for a week now, I thought I’d give a list of observations & things I’ve learned since arriving. (more…)

Gaeilge for Fun & Profit

Step 1: Learn Gaeilge
Step 2: Move to Ireland
Step 3: ????
Step 4: Profit!

Today we had our last session on Gaeilge (it was about 4 hours over 3 days), and I have to say how impressed I am with this pedagogical tool. It conclusively proved the effectiveness of the school’s methods, and it was very eye-opening to start learning a language from scratch (unlike Spanish, for example, which has a lot of overlap with English and bits of which — “adios” etc — are known by millions of non-speakers).

I like being able to walk most places, but today was rainy, about 50 °F, and kinda miserable. I’ve gone to the same confiteria for lunch the past two days: carne empanadas the first, and an enormous ham/cheese/egg/mayo/lettuce sandwich for today. The place is cheap and very close to the office so it’ll probably be a frequent stop. I went with Arbi, an Indian chap from Britain with a masters in applied linguistics. He’s spent the last 8 years teaching ESL in China and recommended I do TESOL in Asia if I want to pay off my student loans. We’ll see.

Yesterday we got BA International Student cards which should get me a few decent discounts in addition to a whole new support group with options for plenty of activities. They’re arranging a trip to Iguazu Falls next month which I’m definitely interested in. A few BAIS reps have been coming by to talk with us, and tomorrow they’re actually taking a few us apartment hunting. Dorm living is getting shittier by the day so moving out ASAP is a huge priority (if GIC will refund some monies, that is).