Wednesday, July 22, 2009


A few weeks ago, my friend Matt sent me an article that NY Times published about a neighborhood in Bs. As. called Barracas. The article claimed that Barracas is a bohemian and up-and-coming neighborhood that has been attracting a lot of attention and artists due to an abundance of warehouse-converted loft spaces along with a street called Pasaje Lanin.

After reading the article, I decided to check out the barrio with my friend Jake, who was leaving Bs. As. and need to squeeze in some exploring. I also didn't want to go alone since many travel books and articles claim that Barracas is not the safest area.

To convince Jake to come along, I told him a "little" lie. I told him that Barracas has a big Sunday market where he can get some last-minute souvenirs. When we got to the neighborhood I confessed that the mentioned market was actually a bird market which ended at 2 pm. We arrived at our destination around 3....

When we got off the train, it was obvious why the barrio is considered dangerous. The train station is located in a desolate area right next to the freeway and warehouses and we would have to walk 9 blocks with no people in sight to get to Pasaje Lanin. In order to avoid any unwanted adventures, we decided to take a longer route and make a loop through the neighborhood rather than the "scenic" warehouse stroll which would have been much faster. We also wanted to get a feel for the barrio.

The walk through sleepy Barracas on Sunday afternoon was very mellow and charming, but I wouldn't say the neighborhood was bohemian or up-and-coming as the NY Times article claimed. It seemed like any standard working or middle-class neighborhood of Buenos Aires. However, the history of Barracas will tell you that it was nothing like it is today.

The name Barracas comes from the word barraca, which refers to a temporary construction of houses using rudimentary materials. Throughout most of the 19th century, the neighbourhood was home to some of the wealthiest families of the city and housing many of the city's most famous stores. The yellow fever epidemic which broke out in late 1860's forced the rich families along with the middle class to relocate to the north of the city, leaving the neighborhood to become the working-class area which remains today.

Although many of the wealthy Argentine families retained properties in Barracas during much the 20th century, they were used as rental units. Immigrants, especially Italian and Polish, started to settle in the barrio to work in the factories for which the area was beginning to be known for. Factories dominated the economy of the barrio and were an important source of employment. After 1980, the factories of Barracas began to close and today many have been converted into loft spaces of varying prices and qualities.

One of the attractions in Barracas, which is hard to miss, is Iglesia Santa Felicitas. But this beautiful church has a sad story. It is dedicated to Felicitas Guerrero who was considered one of the most beautiful women in Republic of Argentina.

Born in 1846 into a wealthy family, at the age of 16 Felicitas married Martin de Alzaga who was 35 years her senior. Although her family was against the marriage, they didn't interfere because the suitor was wealthy and owned a lot of land. The marriage produced a son--Feliz Alzaga--who died in 1869 at the age of 6 due to yellow fever. The following year, Felicitas's husband died, leaving her with all his possession. At 26, Felicitas was beautiful and wealthy, attracting many suitors.

Felicitas's tragic death came by the hand of a possessive lover--Enrique Ocampo. Enrique, being jealous of hwe affair with Samuel Saenz Valiente, shot her in the head on January 29, 1872 and later shot himself. Felicitas died on January 30 and was berried in the famous Recoletta Cemetery.

The Guerrero family, shocked by the death of their daughter, built a church in her memory in the same place where she was shot. Felicitas's death and the construction of the church produced many legends.

One legend states that if you leave a handkerchief on the gate of St. Felicitas overnight, in the morning you'll find it wet with Felicitas's tears.

Some people that live in the area also claim that on the morning of January 30, they see a weeping figure of a woman dressed in white wandering around the church.

My favorite legend has turned into a local tradition. Over the years, women have been coming to the Igleasia Santa Felicitas on January 30th to tie a ribbon on the gate. Doing so will help them find their true love. A different version states that women tie ribbons to the bars of the doors and windows of their houses to attract the ghost. According to the legend, if a woman who is in love holds on really tightly to the bars that have been slightly touched by the ghost, she will keep her loved one. And if the woman is single and doesn't have a love interest in her life, she find one and fall in love.

On that warm winter day, the church was beautiful and majestic. We stood outside the gate and marveled at the architecture, but unfortunately we didn't get a chance to go inside because the church was closed. So we decided to find Pasaje Lanin ( luckily we didn't encounter any problems walking there) since that was the main reason for coming to Barracas.

Pasaje Lanin is only two blocks long and has been getting a lot of attention due to a local artist named Marino Santa Maria. His studio, which is in the same house he was born in, is also on that street (Lanin 33).

Santa Maria has been transforming the neighborhood since 1998 by painting all the houses in different colors. As the colors faded with time, he decided to apply colorful mosaic to the buildings using a technique called trencadis (also called pique assiette). This same technique, which is created from broken tile shards, has also been widely used by a famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi.

When Marino started transforming the street, it caused a lot of conflict, not because the neighbors were mad, but because they were fighting over whose house would be decorated next.

Santa Maria's project is even sponsored by UNESCO's Ministry of Culture and Education (I actually applied for a position in this dept....) and this "open air museum" has been credited with bringing attention and attracting people to the barrio that is not listed on many tourist maps. Pasaje Lanin now also hosts an open-air weekend arts festival July through December.

We slowly strolled through the colorful and lively street taking a million pictures as the residents stared at us. No house was the same color nor had the same mosaic design. All the houses had their own personalities and erupting colors which made the building fronts seem three-dimensional.

I really enjoyed my time in Barracas and learning about it's history and art. Would I consider this an up and coming neighborhood? Probably not. Would I go back to check out the art festival? Absolutely!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Saving Diana's Passion

My roommate Diana loves loves loves passion fruit. Since many fruits and vegetables are imported into Buenos Aries, many exotic items--such as passion fruit--may be a pricey treat.

The first time she bought passion fruit, we were at a market in San Telmo. If you've ever bought passion fruit, you'll know that from the outside, it looks like a old and rotten yellow mango or apple. But when you cut it in half you'll see the hidden edible treasure that looks a bit slimy and has a very pungent smell. So when Diana brought her home treasure (2 passion fruits) she cut it in half and we marveled at it passed it back and forth as we tasted it. We ate one of the fruit and she put the second one in the fridge.
Twice a week, we have a cleaning lady--Becci--that comes to do all the household cleaning chores. Often times she goes through the fridge and the fruit bowl that sits on the counter and throws away all the spoiled-looking items. Since passion fruit looks spoiled, when Becci came across it, what did she do? She threw it away!

Later that evening I was sitting in the kitchen playing on my laptop when Diana came home and headed straight for the fridge. She opened it, searched for something for a while and then started staring at me.

"What," I said, "Why are you staring at me?"
"Did you eat my passion fruit?" she asked, "Cuz if you did, it's not a problem, we'll work something out."
"No, why would I eat your passion fruit?" I responded as I started laughing, "Clearly it's not mine so why would I touch it?"
"Well, it's not here," she said, "Do you think Mike could have eaten it?"
"I doubt it, none of us have ever eaten each other's food without asking."

And then we both looked at each other as our eyes opened wide and simultaneously said, "BECCI!"

"I bet you she thought it was spoiled fruit and threw it away," I said.
"Nooooooooooooooo!!! I really wanted to eat it tonight! Do you think it's in the garbage?" asked Diana.
"Uhm, I wouldn't dig in there if I were you," I responded.

Diana spend the whole evening sulking and cussing out Becci under her breath, but as time went on, she healed from the incident.
A month later, Diana was planning a get together at the house and wanted to make some drinks with fresh passion fruit. She managed to find them at the corner Bolivian fruit/vegetable stand. She used some of the fruit for the drinks and left 2 for herself.

Forgetting about her previous loss, she placed her passion fruit in the fruit bowl to be consumed later in the week. Once gain, Becci came over to clean the house and once again threw away the expensive and delicious passion fruit.

When I came home from school that day, for some strange reason the first thing that popped into my head were the passion fruit. I immediately rushed into the kitchen and looked for them, only to find them gone. I even tried looking in the garbage can, but it was too late. Becci had already taken out the garbage. I couldn't help but laugh about the situation.

I didn't know how break the news to Diana or how she would handle the pain and the loss..... again.....

I turned on my computer, and saw that Diana was on Google IM so I decided to tell her right away about what happened.

Me--I have really bad news for you
Diana--What happened, is it really bad? Are you talking seriously?
Me--I don't know how to tell you this cuz it might make you really upset
Me--Becci threw away your passion fruit.... again! Yes!
Me--Ha ha, I came home from school and as soon as I got into the kitchen I thought about the passion fruit, and it was gone.
Me--Nope, it's gone
Diana-- :'(
me--Sorry, but this shit is hilarious, I can just imagine you at work right now...
Diana--hahaha, i will kill that bitch
Me--I'm glad you are being so optimistic!

Once again, time passed and healed Diana's pain and losses. She forgot, forgave and moved on.

This Sunday we decided to take a walk to one of my favorite destinations--Barrio Chino (China Town). We both wanted to buy some food and spices that we weren't able to find at local grocery stores. Since the weather was descent, we decided to take a 2 hour stroll which proved to be very painful and long since the both of us were functioning on about 4-5 hours of sleep. In the supermarket, Diana got some goodies for the house and also managed to find some passion fruit. We came home, unloaded our groceries and once again, Diana placed her passion fruit in the fruit bowl.

On Monday morning, Diana went to work and I was woken up by the door bell. It was Becci who came to clean the house on a Monday instead of her regularly scheduled Tuesday. I let her in, while I was half a sleep, and went to make my coffee. Once I was in a functional state, I turned on my computer to check my email and started chatting with Diana online. When I told her that Becci was at the house, Diana got alarmed and wrote:

Diana--Oh no! Can you please ask not to get rid of my passion fruit? I didn't hide them...
Me--How do you say "do not throw away" in Spanish?
Me--Ok, I'll tell her
Me--Ok ok, I'll hide them in my room, just remind me to give them to you when you come home, I don't want to forget about them and then find moldy shit in my room!
Diana--OK, I will.
Me--This shit is funny. I can't believe how much panic these passion fruit are causing us!

I ran into the kitchen, grabbed the passion fruit and hid them in my purse that was hanging in my room! When Diana came home, I handed over the protected treasure. Finally, a happy ending!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Colonia del Sacramento

I can't believe I've been living in Buenos Aires for 3 months. It seems like I arrived just yesterday not being able to mutter a single word in Spanish or walk down a street without a map.

Since I hit the 3 months mark and I'm living in Buenos Aires on a tourist visa, I needed to leave the country and re-enter in order to remain in Argentina for 3 more months. Uruguay is the closest country and is a destination for many non-Argentinians living in Bs As wanting to extend their tourist visa. Catching a 1 hour speed boat to Colonia del Sacramento solves all the legal problems if you want to live in Buenos Aires over 3 months.

I didn't know what to expect from the trip nor was I super excited about going, I just knew I needed to go to Colonia and stamp my passport. My roommate Mike went to Colonia about a month ago for the same reason, and spent the majority of the day reading a book in a coffee shop because it was too cold. My friend Jake with whom I went to Colonia, has visited the city a few years ago and wasn't too keen on going back. So based on Mike's and Jake's low levels of excitement, I felt neutral about my trip, but in the end was pleasantly surprised. Just to give you a brief history: Colonia del Sacramento is the oldest town in Uruguay and is known for it's historic quarter which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For years Colonia was a smuggling port, evading the strict trade measures imposed in the Americas by the Spanish. Although it was initially founded and colonized by Portugal in 1680, Colonia, through the centuries, has changed hands many times between the Portuguese and the Spanish. Even Brazil controlled it for a short while, until the new country of Uruguay declared independence in 1825. Jake and I arrived in Colonia at 11 and had an entire day to explore. We didn't have anything planed other than wondering around, checking out local attractions and renting bikes to explore the city further.

I found Colonia to be extremely charming and quaint. Wandering through the cobble-stoned and curving streets of the Barrio Historico, it's easy to notice architectural similarities of old Lisbon. The tree-lined streets were stacked with colorful houses along with Colonia's trademark yellow lamps, as well as antique cars. The town was very mellow and sleepy. People went on with their business at a slow pace while sipping on their mate. Jake and I walked around town, snapped a million picutes, poped into a few building and churches, climbed a light house to check out the 360 view and occasionally stopped for coffee and snacks. For the second part of the day we wanted to rent bicycles and ride them to the beach and then to either a bull-fighting ring or a winery that we discovered at the tourist/information office. We decided to figure out our plan of action over lunch. I didn't know anything about Uruguayan cuisine and blindly ordered a traditional sandwich called Chivito. How was my sandwich? Well... uhm.... it was finger-lickin-good. The best sandwich I've had and, in my opinion, a best cure for a hangover. No, I didn't have a hangover at the time, but I imagined that if I did have one, the magic cure for it would be a Chivito.

The hot sandwich consists of thin and tender slice of churraso (grilled beef) topped with bacon, cheese, egg, lettuce, tomatoes and a mayonnaise spread with olives. Wash that down with a cold beer.... or two, and you are in heaven. After eating our Chivitos and splitting a liter of local beer, Jake and I were in no mood to ride bikes. We needed a plan since it was going to get dark in a few hours and we wanted to maximize our activities in Colonia. Jake had a brilliant plan, he approached a taxi driver and worked out a deal where the taxi would drive us to all out of the way places we wanted to see, places such as the beach, the bull-fighting ring and the winery.

The taxi driver--Sergio Ortiz--was very chipper and happy to have us in the cab. As he was driving us around, he provided us with the history of Uruguay and Colonia as well as the elections that were going to take place on Sunday. When I asked him who he was going to vote for and why, his decision-making process between the two presidential candidates was simple. One candidate was a lawyer while the other was a doctor. According to Sergio Ortiz, a lawyer is a crook while a doctor saves lives, so there you have it.

Our last destination was the Bernardi Winery located a few miles outside Colonia. The winery was founded at the end of the 19th century and in 2000 it has opened doors to tourism, offering guided tours, tastings and a point for sale of it's products. The winery has remained in the Bernardi family for 4 generations and is known for its artisan productions of wines and highly praised line of varietal grappas. When we arrived at the winery, we stood outside a huge cement building that looked abandoned, but as soon as we stepped inside, we were warmly greeted by Anna, a Bernardi descendant. She took up on a tour of the winery and explained to us the process of making their wines and grappas. After the tour we got down to the tasting. I liked the wine, but my favorite part was tasting 4 varieties of grappa. I think I had a little buzz going after tasting all the products. Unfortunately, I'm not a big drinker so I didn't buy anything. Jake, however left the winery with 2 bottles of wine (at US$4 a bottle) and a bottle of their best grappa (US$6). I think he'll be stocked for a while. Sergio Ortiz was waiting for us outside the winery and took us back to Colonia. We only had about an hour left prior to departure so we spent it walking around some more. As we headed to the boat, I made the best purchase ever. This is something that I've been missing since I arrived in Bs As and not having this item made my life miserable. What did I buy? A BATHROBE!

I forgot to pack a bathrobe in California so not having one has been a pain. I usually wake up, make my coffee and take a shower. Because I didn't have a bathrobe, after the shower I was forced to put my pajamas back on. The whole process annoyed me so my Colonia purchase made me happy indeed.

Jake also made a purchase which made him extremely happy--a scarf. He spend the rest of our time in Colonia and on the boat trying to figure out how to wear and tie it. Quite comical.

All in all, the trip was great. I highly recommend it as a one day trip to anybody visiting Buenos Aires.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Barrio Chino

I love exploring Buenos Aires and the city offers a lot of adventures and mysteries. One of the hidden treasures which I was happy to discover is Barrio Chino or China Town!

Barrio Chino is located in one of my favorites and less touristy areas in Buenos Aires called Belgrano, which was named after Manuel Belgrano, a politician and military leader who created the national flag of Argentina.

Belgrano can be roughly divided into Belgrano R, central Belgrano, Lower Belgrano and Belgrano C which contains a few charming and packed streets that encompass China Town. The streets are densely packed with Chinese restaurants, tea houses, grocery stores, and even a Buddhist temple.

Barrio Chino is the heart of the Chinese community in Argentina. The neighborhood began to develop in the 1980s when newly-arrived Taiwanese and Chinese immigrants settled in this area. Today, China Town is not only a mainly Chinese neighborhood but a superb market place for all sort of fresh great quality and exotic products. It has also become, in my opinion, a local attraction for Argentinians.

The environment in Barrio Chino is always hectic and going into the stores is a bit suicidal. The isles are packed with local Chinese residents and restaurant owners buying massive amounts of food. The carts are filled to the top with different types of meats, seafood, tofu and vegetables. All the while the Argentinians wander through the store, poking and examining the foreign food and condiments. Maneuvering in the stores feels like a survival of the fittest. It's likely that you'll get pushed and shoved around and even get hit with a shopping cart, so watch your back!

My friend Brian, who grew up in Belgrano, told me that 10 years ago, Barrio Chino was a calm area that was under the radar, but now, Portenos flock to the area to peer into the restaurants, sniff the exotic foods in the stores and crowd around the street food vendors. It's quite a circus.

As hectic as it sounds, I adore China Town for many reasons. First of all, I love the tea houses. They provide me with a perfect atmosphere to meet up with my language exchange buddies. We sit in a garden, sip on tea and chat chat chat.

I've also discovered that Barrio Chino is one of the best places to buy healthy foods and great produce at much lower prices than any regular store in Buenos Aires! Whenever I'm in the area, I stock up on flax seed, brown sugar, different types of teas, grains, tofu, spices and veggies.

China Town is also packed with Chinese restaurants and street vendors selling different types of food and drinks, so when I get tired of the local cuisine or my own cooking I head to Barrio Chino for a taste of something different.

Last weekend, my friend Jake was sick so I recommended that we go to China Town and have some soup. I've been wanting to try one of the Chinese restaurants and since it's been freezing and I've been obsessed with eating soup to keep warm, China Town was a perfect venue for the both of us.

We chose a restaurant that has been recommend to Jake and placed blind orders for our soups. Looking at a million different types of soups described in Spanish, we couldn't really understand the differences between them so we just pointed at our order. My soup was really good and I was happy with my choice while Jake's soup was a lil different. He thought he was getting soup with smoked chicken and when his food arrived, the chicken was served separately. This presented us with a dilemma.... Does Jake put the chicken in the soup or leave it on the plate? Jake chose to eat it separately.

After we ate, we wondered around for a bit, stocked up on some goodies from the stores and decided to get get some tea with milk and pearl for desert. These drinks are very popular and common in US, but in Buenos Aires, the drinks attract a lot of attention, even in Barrio Chino.

I think the tea, with the over-sized straw and the big black pearls sitting at the bottom of the see-through plastic present the locals with a sense of mystery, intrigue and curiosity. As Jake and I were walking around and sipping on our tea, many people would stare at us, point at our drinks or make strange faces. We were stopped numerous times and asked what we were drinking. Luckily, I was armed with an answer in Spanish!

"Estoy bebiendo te con leche y perla," I would say to the inquirers. Although I couldn't really explain in Spanish what pearl is.

"Aaaaah," would be their response while making a face of disgust.

It got to be too much when we were walking down a street away from Barrio Chino and the passer-bies were giving me crazy looks as I was drinking my tea.

"Alright," I thought, "That's enough attention and crazy looks, it's time to toss this puppy."

And then I walked over to the garbage can and threw away my tasty tea to avoid attention, questions and possible confrontation.....

Monday, June 8, 2009

My Next Career?

There are many things that I love about Buenos Aires and I plan to do a mile long entry about all of them sooner or later (maybe later....). But this one just can't wait!

This is something that I've seen only in Buenos Aires and it puts a smile on my face every time. In fact, seeing this makes me so happy that I'm even considering making this my next career.
What am I talking about?

Paseador de Perros

A Paseador de Perros is a paid dog walker whose responsibility is to walk a dogs a few times a day. Can you believe people actually get paid for this luxury?!?!

I've seen as many as 14 dogs being walked at the same time. It's quite a site. The interesting thing is, these dogs never fight!

Often times, a Paseador de Perro is hired when a family is too busy or too lazy to walk their dog.

Although this jobs seems fun (well, to me it does), it's not as easy as it looks and comes with a lots of responsibilities.

A Paseador de Perros must:
  • First and foremost, LOVE dogs
  • Know as much as possible about every dog that is walked
  • Know which breeds are compatible with others
  • Know how to handle a dog that suddenly becomes aggressive
  • Provide K-9 care such as grooming and providing a dog with medicine if the dog is ill
  • Monitor the overall health of the dogs
  • Pick up dog poop (I question whether this task is ever done, Bs. As. sidewalks are notoriously covered with dog shit)

The service is also great for dogs because they get to go out a few times a day, interact and play with other dogs, and learn how to obey orders!

I think I'll start training for this position by enrolling in Doggie First Aid courses.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Me and My Botella!

I confess. I'm a water-a-holic. It's a fact. I drink water all day long and you will never see me without a water bottle. NEVER! Me and a water bottle are attached at the hip and never leave each other's site. I don't think I can last without water for 10 minutes, I'm addicted.

Everywhere I go, I bring a water bottle with me and I refill it every chance I get! I usually buy a plastic bottle of water at the grocery store, and reuse it over and over and over again until it's gross and embarrassing. And then I buy a new one, and the cycle continues...

Diana always makes fun of me and my nasty plastic bottles, she tells me that it reminds her of the Lost TV show. I have no idea what she's talking about...
I walk to school every day and it usually takes me more than 1 hour and 15 minutes each way. As I walk, I carry my water bottle and drink the whole way to school. As soon as I get to school, the first think I do is re-fill my bottle!

Since I've been studying Spanish for 6 weeks and taking the same route every day, I decided to be brave and map out a different way to get to school to get a change of scenery. In the past, I walked down Santa Fe street, but I grew sick of seeing the same stores and maneuvering around tons of people.

My new route was brilliant. I simply started walking down a parallel street called Paraguay and this made me happy because it provided me with new scenery and less people to dodge. As I walked down my new route to and from school, I noticed a fishing supply store with a cool, metal, pink water bottle! These types of stainless steel bottles became very popular in US once numerous reports came out stating that plastic water bottles contain bad-for-your-health chemicals.

I passed the fishing store a few times, each time I marveled at the cool, pink, metal bottle. As I pressed my nose to the window, I saw that the price was very reasonable, the bottle was only 26 Argentinian Pesos! You'd be lucky to find one of those bottles in US for 26 Dollars! I wanted this bottle and nothing would stop me from purchasing it. I pealed my nose away from the window, marched into the store and made my purchase!

I came home, threw away all my plastic bottles and filled the new bottle with water! When Diana came home, she immediately noticed the new member of the house hold.

"What is that?" she asked.
"It's my new water bottle! Isn't it cool? I can't believe how cheep it was!" I said.
"I like it, it's very nice," Diana responded.

My school routine continued, but this time with my new bottle in hand!

The bottle was a big hit at school. Alejandra, my Spanish teacher, wanted to know where I bought it and asked me to get her the name and the address of the fishing store.

I didn't realize my bottle would become so popular.
On Sunday, Diana and I decided to go to a coffee shop in Palermo to study. I needed to study for my Spanish test and she needed to study for her Statistics class. And of course, my water bottle was in my hand. Prior to going to the coffee shop, we decided to pop into a few stores.
As we walked into a store, I went straight to the clothing racks as the sales girls talked among themselves.

Diana followed me and said, "You know, those girls are talking about your water bottle, they are trying to figure out what it is."
"Ha," I said, "That's so interesting that nobody here has seen a metal water bottle, everybody in US has one, I guess it hasn't caught on here yet."

As we were about to exit the store, I was looking at the pair of boots when a sales girl came up to me and said something in Spanish that I didn't understand.

"No gracias," I said, thinking that the girl was asking me if I wanted to try on the shoes.

"No," Diana said as she came up behind me, "She wants to know where you got your water bottle!"

I froze! I didn't know how to explain in Spanish where I got the bottle. I barely mumbled the street name, "Pa-ru-guay," I said to the sales girl.

"Ahhh," she said, thinking that I got it in a different country, but then Diana explained to her, in Spanish, that I got it in a fishing supply store on a street called Paraguay. The sales girl wanted one too!

This bottle had a fan club!

We went to the coffee shop and sat down. I put my bottle on the table and it caught the attention of the two women sitting next to us. They started talking about it and and trying to figure out what it is and what it's for.

"Es una botella para agua," Diana said irritated before they even got a chance to ask.

I honestly think she was jealous that my water bottle was getting all of the attention. I hope this doesn't cause any conflict between us at the house.

As we walked back to the car, we were trying to figure out what made this bottle such an enigma.

"Maybe it's because it's phallic," said Diana.

"Huh," I said, "I never thought of it that way.... by the way, how and why do you know that word in English?"

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Intercambio de Slang

I'm currently studying Spanish in a charming school in San Telmo. I have classes 5 days a week for 2 hours per day. Since I don't speak much Spanish outside school nor have any practice other than my homework, I thought it would be a good idea to find some language exchange buddies!

I searched Craigslist for some partners in crime, some local Portenos who want to improve their English and in return help me improve my Castellano (Argentine Spanish). I found 2 adds and contacted them immediately. Both of the people responded to my inquiry and now I have two buddies--Francisco and Guillermo--with whom I meet about once per week and practice practice practice.

What I like about my language exchange buddies that they are NOT weird. I was a little skeptical about meeting up with strangers and going to a bar/cafe to chat, but since we were meeting in public places and I ALWAYS had an option to make an excuse to leave, I felt pretty safe. I also like the fact that both of my exchange buddies are very interesting and in very different ways. I genuinely enjoy chatting with both of them and learning about their lives and hobbies.

As much as we all talk about our hobbies, jobs and studies, sooner or later the conversations lead to the same subject--SLANG. And I'm a queen of slang! I love it, I use it and I love love love to teach/explain/translate it. I not only teach and explain slang to Guillermo and Francisco, but also to my roommate Diana and my Spanish teacher Alejandra.

I put a lot of effort to ensure that my "students" understand the meaning of each and every slang word that I use. I provide them with detailed definitions, real life examples, explain how the slang term is used and even the location of where the slang word is predominantly used.

Guillermo is in his early twenties and is a student at a local university. He loves loves loves literature and we spend a lot of time talking about Franz Kafka, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edgar Allen Poe and Nicolai Gogol. What I find shocking is the fact that he actually knows, has read, and loves Nicolai Gogol who is one of the most famous Ukrainian writers. I haven't run across too many Americans who even recognize the name. Guillermo and his friends recently created a book of their favorite Fitzgerald stories and he brought it to our latest chat to get my opinion. Outside his love for literature, he also likes photography, independent cinema and indie music, so we have a lot to chat about...

Guillermo wants to improve his English because he's going to North California for about 4 months to hang out with his cousin who lives in San Francisco. Since I'm from North California, often times we talk about San Francisco and all the different things he should do. We talk about weather, we talk about culture, we talk about food, we talk about art, and most importantly we talk about slang!

I thought it would be important for Guillermo to understand and correctly use the word "Hella". If you are from North Cali, you probably say hella a million times a day, but nobody in South California really says it. If you go to South California and say "wow, that party was hella dope," everybody will know you are from North California. I explained to Guillermo that hella is used as an emphasizer of an item or an event, I guess in Spanish, it would translate to a word "muy." After providing Guillermo with multiple definitions and usage examples, I now feel confident that he is well-equiped to interact with the Bay Area natives.

In case you are curious, the link has definitions and exaples of how "hella" is used

My second exchange buddy is Francisco. He's in his late twenties and works in the financial sector while simultaneously studying toward his masters in Econometrics. Since my background is also in finance, we spend a lot of time talking about economic developments of other countries. I also found out that Francisco has made the national team for Japanese Fencing also known as Kendo ( Prior to meeting Francisco, i had no idea what Kendo even was...

One of my favorite slang terms which came up in a conversation with Francisco is "Cougar." We were hanging out at a tea house in China Town (yes, there's a China Town in Buenos Aires) and while chatting over green tea, I confided in Francisco that because I look young for my age, I tend to attract young men (or boys I should say...). I've had 21 year old youngsters hitting on me... Francisco asked me if I have a problem dating younger men to which my response was, "well, I don't want people to think I'm a cougar!" His face lit up and of course he wanted to know what I meant....

I took out my Spanish/English dictionary and looked up the word cougar which translated to puma in Spanish. I then proceeded to explain that a cougar is a woman who likes to date much younger men. I expanded on my definition by using examples of Demi More and Ashton Kutcher as well as Sharon Stone. My mission was accomplished, Francisco had a full understanding of what a cougar is!

Teaching slang makes me feel like I'm teaching my Argentinian friends something super important and useful! It's my way of giving back to them, and thanking them for helping me with my Spanish.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Symbolism Behind a Raised Eyebrow...

I met him when I was walking to dinner on Saturday night. I was walking down Uriarte in Palermo, when he asked me (in Spanish) if I knew where Soler was (a name of the street).

I said "no se" which means I don't know.
In perfect English he said, "Do you really not know or do you just don't speak any Spanish?"
My response was, "NO! I really don't FUCKIN know!"

We both started laughing and walking together. As we walked and talked, we passed the street that he was looking for, and he walked me to the restaurant where I was meeting some people. He was really funny, nice and curious about me, so when he asked me for my number, I thought..... "Hey, why not!" Then we parted.

He texted me on Monday and asked me if I had any plans. I told him I didn't so he asked me out for a beer.

We met up later that night and went to a bar.

Things were harmless at first. We were having general conversations about where we are from, what we do, or in my case what I did, travels and interests....

The entire time he was showering me with complements and getting a lil touchy as the night progressed. All of my friends know that I'm not a touchy/feely person and the fact that this guy was so touchy was really grossing me out. On top of that, I know this sounds crazy and neurotic and I really don't care, I was really disgusted by his hands.... I don't know how to explain it, but he was a grown man with extremely chubby, feminine baby hands that were very sweaty/moist, hot and looked like he's never touched anything rough in his life. Every time he attempted to touch my arm or my back, I was secretly vomiting in my mouth....

As we exhausted all the safe subjects, he started drilling me about the types of men I like, what attracts me to a man physically, what qualities I look for, if I prefer love affairs or relationships... It was to the point where I was getting uncomfortable.... Meanwhile the touchiness increased. I started dodging his playful and disgusting caresses with his gross baby hands.

and then I learned something new...

He commented on the fact that I raise my eyebrow when I speak and told me that when people do that it means that they are really rough in bed!

Let me explain this: Raised eyebrow during conversation=Rough in bed

My beer almost came out of my nose.
"Yes, yes," he said, "It's true, I've been with two women that raise their eyebrow and they were both very rough!"
Uh huh....
"But not me," he said, "I dont raise my eyebrow and I'm very gentle and nice."

And that's when the situation got worse....

He told me I have beautiful cheeks and then started pinching them, both of them, with his gross baby hands. I think I was frozen and in shock. He kept pinching my cheeks and and saying over and over again, "You have such nice cheeks, you have such nice cheeks!" which with his accent sounded like, "You have such nice tits, you have such nice tits." And when he was done pinching, he caressed my face with the back of his hand. I was unable to move. It was the most disgusting thing I've ever experienced and I couldnt believe that it was happening to me.

I wanted to escape but he wanted to chat further and this time on more sexual subjects. He told me that he's an extremely open person and likes to discuss sex the first time he's out with a girl. I told him that I disagree and dont find those types of conversations appropriate. He blamed my "shyness" on cultural differences and told me that I, unlike Argentinians, am not an open person. He told me there's nothing wrong talking about sex and the likes/dislikes when he's on the first date. I told him that just because there's a first date, it doesn't necessarily mean that the two people will have sex down the line so the whole conversation is pointless.

I FINALLY told him that I was really tired and wanted to go home. We walked to the main street together where we would part and he started talking about women in California having a lot of breast implants and then he said, "But you dont need it, yours are very nice."

To which I said, "Thank you, you are very observant and kind."

We walked to the main street, I hoped in a cab, and hoped for a hot shower and that I would never hear from him and his gross baby hands again.....

Sunday, May 17, 2009

New Beginings.....

When I arrived in Buenos Aires, I stayed in a hostel located in an area called Palermo. I thought that by staying at a hostel I would meet people aand spend the first few days exploring the city with them. That was not the case. The hostel was very small and often times, there were only couples staying there, so I was doing a lot of exploring solo.

I was only paying $15 a night for my room and I did have my own bathroom, a tv and wireless. At the same time, my bed was a squealy cot and the walls were so thin that I could hear everything that was going on at the hostel. The room did come with a wide array of cock-roaches. I think I saw five different types of roaches in my room, and who knows, there might have been more.... Along with the cock-roaches, I was under suspicion that my room/bed had bed-bugs! Yes! Bedbugs! Every morning I would wake up with tons of mysterious and very itchy bites all over my body. When I tried talking to the hostel manager about it, he laughed and told me it was mosquitoes.... but my bits were on parts of my body that weren't easily accessed by mosquitoes.... I was so paranoid that I had trouble sleeping and conducted sneak-up attacks on my bed a million times during the night. Since I had my laptop with me, I did a lot of research about bed-bugs and I realized that they lived in a mattress (how convenient for them) and they come out at night to feast on delicious people while they were sleeping. So in the middle of the night, I would jump, turn on the light and flip my mattress to try to find a trace of bed bugs....

Rather than loose sleep, I decided that I would put all my energy into finding a room to rent in an apt. I used Craigslist because that was all I knew at the time and majority of the posting were in English. Some of the places that I saw scared me but there were a few nice ones as well. Whenever I contacted/emailed people about their ad, their first response was about my last name and how strange it was....

I finally saw a place that I liked and moved in 2 days later. I now live in an area of Buenos Aires called Barrio Norte which is located between Palermo and Recoleta. The area is really convenient and has everything I need--transportation, banks, grocery stores, fruit stands, etc--within 2 blocks.

I live with 2 other people and a sinister cat. One of my roommates is Mike who's' from Australia. He came to BA for a wedding (about 4 weeks before me) and decided to stay and teach English. My other roommate's name is Diana, she's Argentinian and owns the apartment. Her cat, Shibu, should be called El Diablo. Coinsedentaly, Shibu is an name of an Indian God that's known as a God of Destruction... Accident? I think not! I've never encountered such an annoying and malicious cat!

I spent my first few weeks sight seeing and exploring the city, but not being able to speak Spanish and understand what's going on around me made me frustrated so I decided to find a language school. I did my research, narrowed it down to 4 schools, met with all of them and picked the school that I liked the best.

Let the learning begin!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Let the Wind Carry Me Away...

I've been feeling restless and out of place ever since I returned to the Bay Area in January of 2006 after a year and half adventure in Rome. Living in Rome proved to be, literally, the best time of my life. Yes I was there to pursue my MBA, but my experience proved to be much more than working towards a degree. I made amazing friends with whom I still continue to travel and share laughs, I've traveled, got sunburned, laughed my ass off, got lost a gazillion times, ate amazing food while washing it down with cheap and delicious wine and..... as I already mentioned, gained wonderful friendships...

I wasn't able to adjust to the US life although I tried very hard. I got a job in the corporate world and tried to convince myself that I liked it, but I didn't..... My instinct didn't fail me on my first work day, I wasn't keen on my job, but what kept me there for a year and a half were the amazing people that I worked with and adored. That was the ONLY reason why I lasted at that company for a year and a half.

I left my job in December of 2007 and embarked on a Southeast Asia adventure with my friend Nicole, with whom I became friends in Rome! When I came back, I decided to look for a different type of job, a job where I can actually enjoy what I do and can relate to the products. My previous experience has been in the marketing world of financial services.... Can't say it was too sexy or interesting.

This time around I wanted to find a job in the marketing department of the MOMA (modern art museum) or DeYoung, but as the economy started collapsing, my job prospects became slim. I tried to be optimistic, but after looking for a job for about 6 months, the reality set in. The economy wasn't getting any better any time soon so that's when I decided to close up shop and move!

I got rid of my apartment, sold my furniture and car and decided to move to Buenos Aires, Argentina! Why BA? Well, I originally wanted to move to Paris and even started studying French, but as I was researching the country, it became apparent that the EU laws are very strict and don't have many loopholes for non EU-residents. So as much as I wanted to move to Paris, I always had a some doubt that I wasn't able to camouflage, so I accepted the fact that at that time Paris wasn't an option.

But I was still restless and thirsted for change.

I haven't traveled through South America and I was trying to figure out when I would get to it. So one day I woke up and the first thing that popped into my head was...... BUENOS AIRES! And I thought to myself, "Well, why not Buenos Aires?" I've always heard wonderful things about Argentina and Buenos Aires being the Paris of South America with European architecture and way of life. The endless cafes, the European way of life, the wine..... My decision was made! 3 days later I gave notice for my apartment and started the preparations for my departure!

On March 30 I landed in Buenos Aires!