Monday, November 30, 2009

Just Visiting the General Cemetery

Tourist maps don't usually include cemeteries, but they do in Santiago.

The Grim Reaper knocking at the door is never a comforting feeling. Whether it be my door, your door, the doggy door or a neighbor's door, the cloak and sickle roaming the neighborhood gets everyone's nerves going. Fear, anger, anxiety and even excitement ripple out from every footstep as victims and survivors endure the many stages and kinds of pain, worry, heartache and loneliness that death's presence inflicts.

No place is his presence felt more strongly than at a cemetery and for this reason most people don't hang around graveyards to relax, kill time or have fun. But sometimes, the emotion, history and even beauty of these memorials can leave a stimulating, eye-opening and unforgettably profound impression on any visitor.

This was the case for me when I went to the general cemetery in Santiago, Chile. The tragic history of death in the country at the hands of the Pinochet dictatorship, along with the site's accessible urban location (a stone's throw from Metro stop: Cementarios (cemetaries)) and colorfully worn-down appearance combine to pepper the cemetery with tragic injustice, somber longing and deep-seeded struggle, love and beauty.

It provides a fascinating glimpse into Chile's past and is one of the best ways to familiarize oneself with a major part of Chilean culture. Run-of-the-mill town's people, past presidents, political leaders and those killed or "disappeared" all rest in the Cementario General. And though they have passed on, their memories remain loudly present in Chilean culture, resonating in this fascinating cemetery.

Cementario General is free and open to the public, located right next to Metro Stop Cementarios.

Natasha Young provides more info in an excellent article about a very unique way to take it in:

Here are some photos I took:

Grave Shelves

Detenidos Desaparecidos (Memorial for the detained and disappeared)

Grave of the Press

Victor Jara's Grave - at the back, with the pueblo

Victor Jara's grave up close

General Graveyard


Executed Politicians

Fitting in

Friday, August 14, 2009

Teaching English in Santiago: 101

During my first month in Santiago, I treated Chilean pesos like Monopoly money that I could use in exchange for completos, beer and cover charges. I was going out every night, writing every day and yuckin it all up. Then one day I got the horrible idea to check my bank account and see how much of a dent I had put in the savings that I was supposed to live off of for the next four months.

Remember the scene from "The Royal Tenenbaums" when Margot is leaving Raleigh? They're all standing outside when a beat-up, piece-of-shit, about-to-collapse taxi pulls up to take Margot away and Dudley points and says, "That cab has a dent in it."

Well, I had made a similar dent in my savings and it was time to panic. So, like most gringos who need money overseas, I bit the inevitable bullet and started looking for jobs teaching English.

While I don't particularly enjoy teaching English, it definitely has its up sides and served me very well while living in Santiago. There is an exceptionally high demand for native English teachers down there and it's usually pretty easy to find a job for both the experienced and inexperienced, certified and not certified.

My English-teaching experience in Santiago was with institutes and private lessons. The institutes are abundant and come in all shapes and sizes. Many require some sort of training, certification and/or teaching experience, however many others don't. I have a CELTA and while at times I regret forking over all the cash and spending all the time on it, I know that it opened a lot of doors for me and was a major factor in securing a job at an institute.

It's kind of a tricky subject though, because there are times when inexperienced, untrained teachers land jobs because they were in the right place at the right time (i.e. teachers skip town, return home or are unable to teach in the middle of a student's contract and the institutes need someone to fill in. This is exactly how I got my job, by the way, but still, I wouldn't have gotten it without the CELTA), but having a CELTA/TOEFL/Whatever never hurts you and should definitely be considered if you're planning on making English teaching your primary source of income.

Some institutes recruit overseas and some only hire from Santiago. I've found that most of the agencies that recruit overseas pay much less, as they play off of the teachers' desires to have a job secured before they arrive. In addition, they take advantage of the teachers' unfamiliarity with the local market. Face-to-face is huge in Santiago, and spending a month learning the ropes while networking, interviewing and job hunting is the best path to landing an ideal gig, that is if you can afford it.

Most things in Chile happen in person, and references are many times the golden ticket to a new job or client. So, casting a wide net, putting yourself out there, actively exploring opportunities and meeting people are the best ways to get started. These gigs and new contacts will inevitably lead to private classes which pay more than institutes, are more fun and a great way to meet new people outside of your normal circles.

Teaching English may not be my main purpose or passion in life, but it's come up big in the clutch for me as a pretty painless solution to the all-to-common financial pinch while abroad.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Ciao Chile. Gracias.

After a year full of pisco, pebre and periodismo (among other things) and lacking plata, plata and plata my tenure as a gringo journalist in Chile is coming to an end. I'm moving back to my native Phoenix, Arizona (gringolandia) to pursue a job opportunity in event management and will most likely reside there for the next few years. Events will be my full-time trade, but I'll be looking to continue writing freelance on the side.

While I'm excited at the outlook of a steady income, mexican food, good beer, ESPN, moving in with my girlfriend and reuniting with family and friends, I'm sad to leave all of the people, places and projects that have made this one of the most fun, beneficial and educational years of my life.

I originally came to Santiago on an internship with The Santiago Times, looking to explore and develop a career in journalism. I recognized it as a starting block and though it provided a great amount of frustrations, it also provided me with my first ever reporting experience and a portfolio of stories that won't win any nobel prizes, but will compliment a nice foot in the door for any potential writing/reporting gig.

After a month into my four-month stint with "The Times" I had teamed up with a few other gringo-journos to start Revista Revolver, the only bilingual cultural and entertainment magazine in Santiago. The project took off very quickly and soon I was engulfed in the operations of a startup business. This was the last thing I expected to be doing when I initially made the trip here and goes to show that for better or worse (better in this case...I think) things don't always play out the way you plan them to.

I'm a firm believer that life is about decisions and making the best of the situation. Sometimes things line up just the way you want them to, other times they fall apart and most times they're somewhere in between. The key to success (with exceptions given to the phenomenally talented, wealthy or lucky) is keeping a cool head, avoiding peaks and valleys and continuing to step up to the plate.

While these concepts are obviously far from novel ideas, they are lessons that need to be learned and reinforced through experiences on the road of life, and ones that aren't taught at the starting gates. (Sorry for the bombardment of sports analogies; brace yourself, there's sure to be more comin down the stretch.)

I remember first tasting these concepts as a teenager during annoying lectures from my mom and shrugged-off advice from basketball coaches. Even though I recognized them as important, I was more occupied with worrying about not having a date to homecoming, improving my crossover dribble (NO L...the cat was out of the bag a long time ago) and listening to the Beastie Boys, and never gave them much thought.

Since then, lessons have come in a variety of shapes and sizes. For example, I thought about decision-making when my long-time friend Sean Higgins fell out of the back of a pickup truck and died, sophomore year of college. While I thought about consistency and keeping an even keel reflecting on the career of my favorite basketball player Charles Barkley, one of the most heated and emotional players of all time. He never won a title. Tim Duncan, on the other hand, who I've never seen crack a smile or make a frown, has four championship rings. (Very difficult paragraph to write.)

I went to Japan two years ago to teach English, looking for an exciting jolt from the day-to-day in Phoenix. I was looking for an easy job with ample time to party and go wild while I could. Instead I was blind-sided by a year in a small town, with no night life and a frosty mountain range of a language and cultural barrier. While I'm in no rush to go back to Japan, I grew from the experience and wouldn't change a thing (see posts labeled "Japan" on this blog for more details).

My experiences in Chile provided yet another set of lessons, affirming these values and propelling me towards this next stage in my life. I saw some beautiful sights, met spectacular people and got to know the country as intimately as I've known any country.

Gracias Chile and ciao.

"Gracias a la Vida que me ha dado tanto
me ha dado la risa y me ha dado el llanto,
así yo distingo dicha de quebranto
los dos materiales que forman mi canto
y el canto de ustedes que es el mismo canto
y el canto de todos que es mi propio canto."
--Violeta Parra

(sidenote: with my move back home, I technically won't be a "Gaijin" anymore, but I'll find a way to keep this blog going in one angle or another)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Poor Perros

I live with two dogs. One is a basset hound named Leo who is a bastard. Adorable, but still a bastard. He urinates on most walls and corners of the kitchen and living room, goes b.m. on the patio next to where I dry my clothes, barks all day long and cries and moans if he isn't showered with affection.

There is a chair placed in front of the refrigerator, which is fastened shut by a velcro strap on its door, in efforts to deter the animal from his routine rummage through the leftovers and perishable provisions placed on the lower shelves. When these tactics don't work, Leo gets a stern, "Leo...what are we going to do with you?" talk from my roommate and a pop on the bottom, which the dog shrugs off and then runs into my roommate's bed where he licks his chops for extra tomato sauce or cilantro before taking a nice nap under the blankets.

The other dog doesn't have it quite as nice as Leo. He's a stray that has chosen my street as his best option for residence. I see him either lying on the sidewalk, scampering off down an alley or trying to follow me into my house about every day.

He's lost about a quarter of his hair, sleeps in trash piles at the end of my street and can barely open his eyes or wag his tail. Sometimes I see him in the morning nursing fresh wounds from battles the night before. Lately he's been wearing a blue dog sweater that some kind soul has donated to help him get through the dreary Santiago winter.

Unfortunately, the dog needs a lot more than a sweater and he is not alone.

The stray dogs in Santiago are some of the most eminent, depressing and reverberating blemishes on the capital city's streets. Downtrodden, malnourished, limping and sick, the pooches roam parks, sidewalks, plazas and marketplaces looking for food, shelter or a scratch on the head. The big ones who've been on the block for a while (because only the strong survive) dominate their domains, while the little guys scurry off in search of neutral territory, which usually means foodless territory.

They eat scraps out of trash cans, chase cars and bark at hubcaps (maybe they've lost a friend under the crunch of a taxi's tire and are trying to get even) and plunge their noses in tourists' pockets looking for lunch.

The pups that spent the previous night fighting for their lives lick their scrapes as the overfed bulldog saunters by with a new manicure on a walk with its owner through the park. They probably think, "You wouldn't last a week out here mamón." And you know what? They're probably right.

The clean-up crews work surprisingly fast and roadkill and remains of the defeated are rarely seen on the streets. Like they're sweeping 'em under a rug before the visitors walk by.

Most people are decent human beings and either verbally acknowledge the strays, glance at them, throw them a scrap or walk by felling sorry for them. Other less-caring individuals yell, chase, smack or brush them out of the way.

Granted, some of these dogs can be trouble and I can see why a business wouldn't want a bunch of stray dogs hanging around the storefront. But that's one thing. It's another thing entirely when they are kicked with steel-toe'd boots by drunken thugs, smacked with sticks or driven out to the countryside and dropped off to fend for themselves.

Coming from a family that has a history of volunteering at the humane society, postponing appointments to stop and pick up strays and worshiping its three canine members, this kind of treatment and environment is unnerving at best.

There are ways to help, but it's not as easy to make a dent in the problem like we do back home. A group of us recently helped out at a dog shelter in Melipilla, a town about an hour away from Santiago. Surprise surprise, most dog shelters in Santiago receive little/no government funding and survive solely on donations.

The conditions were startling. About 70 dogs living in an area a bit bigger than a basketball court. There wasn't much grass and the shelters were made from scraps of wood and chicken wire. We shoveled shit, cleaned the kennels, bathed, fed and played with the dogs for an entire Sunday afternoon. It felt nice to help out, but I left feeling like we could have done more. We're planning another visit in July and hope to build some new kennels for the dogs.

Don't get me wrong, the dogs in the shelter have it a lot better than those on the streets, but there is still much work to do.

One of the main problems, similar to the case with Leo, is the people. Many get bored or frustrated with their pets and discard them like an old toy. In addition, there is no push to get people to spay/neuter their pets, the cost of such procedures is pricey, leaving most dogs fully in tact, raring and ready to litter.

There are organizations working to combat these problems, but something so ingrained in such a polarized society is not easily remedied. It takes a lot to shorten the drop off from Leo's pillow on his balcony in the sun to my stray friend's spot on the sidewalk below.


- Protectora de Animales San Francísco de Asís
Phone: Monica Cuevas: 765 919 60

- Humane Society International:

- Agrupación Cultural Amor a Los Animales (ACUAA)
Esperanza 475 El Bosque
SANTIAGO, Región Metropolitana
Tel: + 56 (2) 5277 026

- Coalición por el Control Ético de la Fauna Urbana (CEFU):

- Organización por la Protección y Respeto para los Animales (OPRA):

- Somos Perritos:

- Teleton de los Animales Chile:

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Meet the Padres

June 4 is my mom's birthday and what better way to say feliz cumpleaños than to post the epic tale of my parents' week-long visit to Chile. In early April my mom (who henceforth will be referred to as "Mom") and Carlos (my stepdad, who henceforth will be referred to as "Carlos") took a break from the hustle and bustle of their busy, doggie-dominated daily lives to visit me on the other side of the world.

This was the first time I've had my parents visit me while abroad. While I've hosted visitors before (see archives) both in Chile and Japan, at various times of the year, each time has been a completely unique experience. This one was no different and definitely the most comfortable/classiest and tastiest visits of them all.

When my parents travel, the trip revolves around food and given that I've spent the past nine months starving myself, surviving mostly off of hot dogs, ham-and-cheese sandwiches and cheap beer, I was more than willing to comply with their restaurant-heavy itinerary.

They arrived at 7am on a Saturday. Lovely. Even lovelier was the fact that I'd been covering the KISS concert the night before and had been up all night finishing the article. So on no sleep, running on fumes and mate, I showed up frantic and an hour late to pick them up from the airport. When I arrived, they had just gotten through customs and I laughed at myself for forgetting that everything in Chile runs an hour behind schedule.

We had a flight scheduled to Puerto Montt that same night, so we spent the rest of the day taking in the sights of Santiago: Plaza de Armas, La Vega, Mercado Central, Lastarria. Laura (my lovely media naranja) assisted me in my tour guide duties, joined us for the rest of the trip and hit it off with the fam (yes, even with my mom; a feat that many a customer service representative have crashed and burned upon attempting).

We caught the plane that night after a much needed afternoon nap (in the filthy, piss-stained house I currently reside in) and got into Puerto Montt late and went right to bed. A big bed, with a TV in front of it and clean warm blankets on top of it. I'd forgotten how nice hotels are. It's great traveling with parents, especially when you're broke.

After multiple failed attempts at renting a car, and cursing myself for not remembering that everything is closed on Sundays in Chile, we took a cab to Puerto Varas in the late afternoon and set up camp at the luxurious Solace hotel for the next few days. Wonderful establishment. Highly recommended if you have the means and are in the area.

Puerto Varas and the lakes region was one of the most beautiful places I've seen in Chile. I realize I'm not the first person in the world to state that, but I'll reiterate it none the less. We rented a car (which we conveniently found available two doors down from our hotel) and drove around Lago Llanquihue. Stopping to eat, pick berries and apples and trespass onto beautiful somewhat vacant property.

The next day, it was time to fish. Carlos and I hit the river with our fly-fishing guide early in the morning, leaving the ladies on their own to drive around and most likely sample every type of chocolate available in the region.

We were pretty much the only boat on the river and fished the whole day. I, a novice fly-fisher, got some lessons (much more difficult than it looks, and it looks pretty difficult) and Carlos got to revisit his zen fly-fishing state. I forgot my camera, so while it would've been nice to have some pictures of the beautiful scenery, or one of those standard son/dad-holding-fish-on-a-boat shots, I'm almost glad I did. We were able to sit back and soak everything in. It was something that I'll always remember and the kind of beauty that can't be captured in photos.

That night, we ate at La Olla, a restaurant that came highly recommended and whose praise I will shout with all my mite. We ate at some excellent restaurants during this trip, but for me La Olla was the best. They specialize in sea urchin and serve mammoth-sized portions. I ordered a seafood sampler type plate that the server assured me was for one person. She must've meant one-hundred persons. I felt so bad leaving so much good food on the table.

We spent the rest of our time exploring the various lakes, waterfalls, mountains and rivers in the area and left Puerto Varas sad to be leaving, but ecstatic to have gone.

"Did they teach you to apologize at lawyer school? Cause you suck at it!"
--Brian Cox's character in Erin Brockovich
(the trademark Carlos twist)

We only had a couple of days left, so we spent the time seeing more sights in Santiago and then journeying to Valparaiso for their final day before they caught their flight home that night. We enjoyed Valpo, but it could've been better (I hate tour guides).

The general consensus was that it had been an excellent week. We ate well. Saw nature. Saw the city. Saw the ports. Went fishing. About as much as you can hope for in a one-week vacation. Mom and Carlos loved Chile and I was reminded of how lucky I am to be living in such a unique and beautiful a country; and more so, how lucky I am to have these people as parents.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

State of the Gaijin: Trying, Very Trying

I've been malnourished, keeled over, sleepless, burning up and freezing for the past three days. The house I'm living in has no insulation and most of its windows are left either wide open or partially broken. The temperature inside is usually colder than outside. I've been battling a bout of food poisoning while dealing with the recent departure of Laura (my media naranja) to Winnipeg for brief trip home. I've been "sleeping" in ski pants, jackets and sweaters to fight off the cold and eating only ham-n-cheese sandwiches, bananas and medication.

Surprisingly, I woke up feeling a bit better today and looked forward to a nice sunny Saturday of sleep and recovery. Then they started drilling next door, the dog started barking and my roommates turned up the hits from the '80s on the radio. I went downstairs to make "breakfast," stepped in one of the many puddles of dog piss marking the house as "Leo's," found a mountain of dirty dishes in the sink and the refrigerator left completely ajar.

Even under clear skies it rains and it pours.

It is in this depraved state that I attempt to bridge another month-plus long blog gap. So I apologize for the cynicism, moodyness and tardiness. This is also, coincidentally, the first of these posts to be published on my Facebook page. Welcome first-time readers and fear not: not all postings are this downtrodden, self-pitying and wiry.

Now then...

My ever-lurking departure date from Chile is still up in the air, maybe more so than ever. I'm waiting to hear back from an excellent job opportunity that would keep me in Santiago, working in journalism and able to financially support myself. So as not to jinx things (which I've probably already done elsewhere) I won't delve into much detail here. I'll find out the decision this coming week and if I get it, I'll stay in Santiago indefinitely. More details to come once things have solidified (both figuratively and literally (food poisoning...get it?)). Sorry for the vagueness.

If I don't land the job, however, I'll most likely leave Chile in early June, returning home briefly to look for employment in journalism or event management elsewhere. The goal at the moment is to get a job with the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games. We'll see.

On the Revolver front, the magazine continues to evolve and grow with new contributors joining the team almost every week and some of the best content the site has ever had. We've just begun a more structured weekly edition where we post (at least) five fresh articles every Monday; a big step towards a more stable publishing process. I've also taken on the role of managing the editorial process which has been educational and beneficial on multiple professional, journalistic and literary levels.

My most recent article deals with the controversial Dia del Joven Combatiente (Day of the Young Combatant) "celebrations" in Chile. It was one of the most powerful events I've witnessed down here and I encourage you to read the story here. Sadly, it is most likely one of my last articles for the magazine, due to the changes coming down the pike.

The silver lining of my current bed-ridden state is that I have discovered that streams most of the NBA playoff games live and have been able to maintain some semblence of sanity by catching up on hoops. Thank you ESPN for once again proving why you are the worldwide leader in sports. How great would a Cavs-Lakers Finals be? And how are the Nuggets surviving with The Birdman and K-Mart on the same squad?

That's it for now. Posts on the way include "Mustacheando" (my painful attempt at growing and supporting a mustache) and "Meet the Padres" (my parents' week-long visit to Chile (photos currently available on Facebook)).

Monday, March 16, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Once again, after promising myself at least a post a week, I find myself making the attempt to bridge another month-long blog gap. Blog gap sounds like an ancient sea-fairer's term for some apocalyptic oceanic rift that could only occur when the planets align on the summer solstice during the...perfect storm. But, in this case, fortunately it's not.

Continuing from my previous post: Valentine's day in Chilean nature was lovely. Hiking. Swimming. Climbing. Good stuff. If you're ever in the neighborhood check it out if you're looking to get out of the city.

Here's how to get there and more info on the place:

Since then, the past month has been spent getting back into the swing of things with Revolver, trying to figure out how long I'll be able to afford living like this (financially, physically, mentally and spiritually) and trying to enjoy the final few weeks of the Santiago summer by running from shade to shade in efforts of saving my skin from this ozone-less environment.

I also wrote an article about fine Chilean cuisine for Revolver:

Working on a few more music related stories as well as getting ready for the beginning of the 2009 Dimayor hoops season. More to come...

In health-related news, a benign cyst (Cysty) on my back became infected last week and I had to get her drained at a clinic in Providencia (a nicer area of Stgo). The doctor incysted that it was a cystematic procedure and there was no need to get hysterical about the cystuation. Her acystant echoed her sentiment. Their calming efforts were in vain however, as I was dystracted by a picture on the doctor's desk of a young womanl in front of a colorful and beautiful building. "Who's that," I asked. "That's my cyster at the cysteen chapel," she responded. "Interesting," I replied. "Now what were you saying about that thing on my back?"