Monthly Archives: November 2011

None of These Things is Quite Like Another

Day 013 – August 4, 2011

I’m not sure what the phrase would be in Spanish (and sure, I could go to Google Translate to find out but where’s the fun in that) and even if they had one, they wouldn’t use it here in Lima because to my (limited) knowledge, there does not appear to be anything remotely resembling a “planned community“.

Homes are like snowflakes here in the City of Kings in that no two are alike.

At a recent dinner party two nights ago I was having a conversation with a fellow attendee. When I commented on the uniqueness of each abode, he said this gives everybody the chance to be a designer and create their own house.

That philosophy would be a marked difference from the United States where whole communities are built by developers on huge tracts of land (fans of Monty Python and the Holy Grail are having a snicker right now) and then prospective buyers are able to choose between four or five models with names like Winston, the Albacore, the Hedgemont, and the Cranston-Duvey. The only customization that happens is on the inside where the future home owner can choose what carpet is laid down, what type of cabinetry is installed, and if the basement is finished or not.

Yes, I’m generalizing here, but it’s for a purpose.

From the newspaper, this is an example of one house in my neighborhood.

Picture of home in La Molina

Hip to be Square

Looks fairly modern with all of its angles and clean lines. I’m sure an architect out in cyberspace would be able to tell me what style this house is. My point here is that in this same neighborhood, sits this house…

Picture of house in Lima

Casa Numero Uno

Notice this structure has a typical Spanish tile roof which makes it quite unlike the home in the first picture. On the same street as the above home, there is this pair…

Picture of house in Lima

Casa Numero Dos

Picture of house in Lima

Casa Numero Tres

The diversity goes on and on.

Everybody’s a designer. I think that speaks volumes about the level of creativity, individuality, and sense of form in this here country.

End Note: Courtesy of the title of this post, I now can’t remove this song from my head. Click, if you dare, and share my earworm.

Peru: Know Your Currency – Part Three

Day 013 – August 4, 2011

For those who would like to catch up, Part One is here and Part Two is here.

It appears that the Peruvian central bank has channeled the same spirit that drove the United States Mint to create their Fifty States Quarters Program.

As I mentioned in first post about Peru’s currency, the reverse of the one nuevo sol coin contains the country’s coat of arms.

However, I have since come across two coins that do not fit that mold. See for yourself…

Reverse of Peruvian nueva sole coin

Tails...I win

The coin on the right is from 2010 and it depicts the Tumi de Oro. A tumi, as the linked-to Wikipedia article helpfully states, is…

…a sacrificial ceremonial knife distinctly characterized by a semi-circular blade, made of either bronze, copper, gold-alloy, wood, or silver alloy usually made of one piece and used by some Inca and pre-Inca cultures in the Peruvian Coastal Region. In Andean mythology, the Moche, Chimu and Incas were descendants of the Sun, which had to be worshiped annually with an extravagant celebration.

The coin on the left is from 2011 and it depicts Machu Picchu, one of the New7Wonders of the World.

In Peru, they appear to be quite proud of Machu Picchu, and rightfully so. From what I have read of it and from the pictures I have seen, it is quite impressive. This New Wonder of the World is definitely on our family’s To Do List.

The Blank Page

Day 013 – August 4, 2011

Today was the first day for my children’s School. Their bus arrived at 6:45am, which to me is an unholy time for any child to be on a bus, and whisked them away to their educational future.

My lovely wife was picked up by her carpool and went to her work.

At 7:30am, the door closed and I was in the house by myself and facing a new situation.

I am staring at a blank page.

I am in a foreign country with no employment activities to clog up my schedule. I can finally work on all of the goals I have had in the back of my brain but have not had the time to do courtesy of that pesky obligation called a job.

Here in Peru, with time enough at last, I can free the (at least) four books that have been running around my head.

Here in Peru, as a house-husband, I can become more involved in the lives (educational and social) of my children.

I am staring at a blank page.

As I stare at the new document in Microsoft Word, the whiteness of the blank page I see in front of me, both metaphorically and literally, is a cause for great joy and trepidation.

This blank page is ready for me to fill it in with whatever I can conjure be it books, short stories, blog postings, e-books, house-husband, volunteer coach, homework helper, and so much more.

Yet, it is this same blankness that leaves me paralyzed.

With all due respect to Friedrich Nietzsche, I must modify his famous quote and say that when you stare into the blank page, the blank page stares back at you.

I am afraid that the blank page is mocking me.

What if all the creative ideas swimming around my head are just swill? What if I can’t write my way out of a paper bag? What if I can’t cook, clean, or keep a clean house? What if I find that I despise volunteering?

I am staring at a blank page.

The cursor is blinking, waiting for me to make a move. I realize that once I move, all my notions will start to become a reality, but maybe they are better left as the wispy notions of a dreamer.

Then again, as Robert Browning put it, a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for.

So I place my hands on the keyboard ready to fill up the page. I press a key and let’s see where it takes me.

Four Syllables, Lots of Humor

Day 013 – August 4, 2011

I’m in our local grocery store, avoiding the sponsor-emblazoned sample senoritas, still gazing in awe at the 5-kilogram buckets of ketchup, and trying to see what else is sold in pouches here in Peru, when I find myself in the beverage aisle transfixed by a television screen.

In a beautiful bow to advertising to a captive audience, our local grocery store has placed TV screens around its aisles so that it may show commercials concerning the products on sale. As I was in the soda (or “pop” for those of you reading on the eastern side of the Mississippi River) section, it was no surprise that I was viewing an ad (or “advert” for those you reading on the eastern side of the Atlantic Ocean) for Coca-Cola.

This commercial is playing off the fact that Copa Sudamericana, a soccer tournament, was just starting.

The commercial shows a group of Peruvian fans who have travelled to Argentina to see their team play. Upon arriving at the stadium, they are chagrined to see that all the tickets for visitors have been sold out. Undaunted, the hero of our 30-second story zips up his jacket to hide the red-and-white colors of Peru and he marches off to buy a “home team” ticket.

The next shot shows him in the midst of a sea of blue-and-white Argentinian fans. Our protagonist looks left and right and sees nothing but large, burly, and unruly fans that would make the fans of the Oakland Raiders blush.

When his beloved Peru scores, we see quick shots of people at home and at work cheering their heads off, but our main character must remain silent lest he blow his cover. However, the struggle to keep his cool is lost and he explodes with a shout of “GOOOOOOLLLL”.

How will he save himself now that the home-town fans are on to him?

You know what? Instead of my words, why not let the commercial speak for itself. You can watch it here.

What I enjoy about this commercial is that even though I don’t speak Spanish, I can still appreciate the humor in it.

In finding that commercial on YouTube, I came across this interesting bit of cultural humor. In the Peru version, as mentioned above, the brutish fans are Argentinian. That country also provides the hooliganish fan in both the versions shown in Uruguay and Chile.

So, who plays the villain in the Argentinian version of the commercial? Click here to find out.

Of course, it’s easy to be jealous of a country that has won the World Cup five times.

The Tooth Fairy Visits

Day 013 – August 4, 2011

Last night, our middle child was quite excited.

Let me make one thing perfect clear: He was not exciting over the prospect that the next day was his first day at his new School. Nope, not a chance about being exciting over that.

He was excited because he had lost a tooth and that meant a visit from the Tooth Fairy.

Now, we like to think of ourselves as fairly progressive and science-based parents. As our kids our growing up, we taught them that thunder was not caused by giants playing bowling; rainbows were not caused by pots of gold; the stars in the night sky were not pinpricks in the canopy of Heaven; and so on.

I firmly believe that the wonder of the natural of the world is magical enough as it is without embellishment from fairies, unicorns, chupacabras, or it being turtles all the way down. Those elements of fantasy are fine to have and can do wonders to fire up a child’s imagination, but it must be made clear (so I say) that those elements of fantasy are just that – fantasy.

Electricity, gravity, natural selection, quantum mechanics, physics, history, astronomy, and cosmology (to name a few) are infinitely fascinating to me and I desperately want to impart my love and curiosity for learning about the natural world to them. I know I can see my children’s eyes roll into their heads when I being one of my lectures as to how a microwave oven works, why the Moon looks larger on the horizon, and why the number 13 is considered unlucky (to name a few), but I am trying to convey a more important message.

And yet…

And yet, through all of this instruction as to how the world works, my lovely wife and I have gleefully told our progeny the story of how the Tooth Fairy comes to children’s beds and leaves money under their pillows in exchange for their recently lost teeth.

It is the exception to our rule and I can’t fully explain it.

Our oldest child has become wise to our game, our youngest child still believes, but as for our middle child, he is on the fence. He thinks he knows what is really going on, but he is still entranced by the possibility that maybe…just maybe…

Whether true or not, he was excited last night that he would receive the Tooth Fairy’s usual bounty of $1.00 (the going rate for our family…your mileage may differ).

This morning he was a tad chagrined to find S/.2.70 under his pillow, which is the nuevo soles equivalent of one dollar.

What did you expect?…the Tooth Fairy works with the local currency. Everyone knows that.

Day 012 Randomocity

Day 012 – August 3, 2011

Random Observations

I’m Known

On my walk today around the neighborhood, I went to buy today’s edition of El Comercio. My local newspaper vendor is a kindly, elderly gentleman with tanned, leathery skin who sits on a corner and has a rack full of periodicals for people to look at before buying. Those are simply the display models because when someone wants to buy a paper, the vendor has a stack of newspapers next to where he sits that he picks from.

As I walk toward the rack on this cloudy (still cloudy) Wednesday, the vendor sees me, goes to his pile, and offers me El Comercio without any word from me.

That’s service.

I feel bad that next week I will mess up his system because I’ll be trying out another newspaper.

Peru and the Isle of Man

Today, I saw a windmill on the roof of a building. This would be new place for me to espy such a device as the other places I have personally seen windmills include…

…on Interstate 5 outside of Carlsbad, California;
wind farms in California; and
miniature golf courses

The name on the windmill identified it as coming from a company called WindAid. The logo looked oddly familiar. One of the issues of having a head full of random knowledge is that things look oddly familiar when they actually aren’t.

However, in this case, I was right, as the logo for this company looks like the flag for the Isle of Man.

Coincidence? No sé.

Rings

Once is interesting, twice is curious, and three times is a trend.

So far, in twelve days, I have seen three instances of what (to me) is new.

At a dinner, at the School, and at the local grocery store, I have seen women wear rings that span two or three fingers. The ring itself fits on the ring finger (not to be confused with two-finger rings and three-finger rings…which remind me of brass knuckles), but the item on top (i.e., stone or whatever you call it) covers not only all of the ring finger but all or part of the pinky and/or middle fingers.

Again, I’m a writer, (not a jeweler, Jim!) so if this type of ring has been around since the Eisenhower Administration, I apologize for being the last person on the planet to answer the Clue Phone.

Mea Culpa

An apology.

Courtesy of wife’s company’s Work Sponsor program, our house has been furnished with a welcome kit of household items that will tide us over until our own plates, silverware, pots, pans, glasses, and other kitchen items show up.

The pots and pans from our welcome kit are coated with Teflon which is helpful when making sure the scrambled eggs slide off the skillet and onto the plate.

However – and this is where the apology comes in – we have also been provided with spatulas and other kitchen ware that are only metal so that every time we use the metallic spatula, we carve away a little bit of the polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE).

For the next people coming to Peru who use these welcome kit pots and pans, we’re sorry.

And with that, Day 012 was finished.

The Garden Guardians

Day 012 – August 3, 2011

While strolling around our front and back yards, I noticed that I have some helpers in my desire to not kill off all the flora in our gardens. Like gargoyles in cathedrals, these guardians, I believe, will scare away the nasty spirits.

Picture of bench in garden

Guardians on the Bench

Picture of fountain in garden

Guardians of the Fountain

Picture of statue on garden wall

Our Thinker Guardian

I will need all of their assistance as it turns out we have a type of weed in our grass that is quite pervasive.

Picture of weed in our garden

We have met the enemy...

While I enjoy our guardians, we should probably hire a gardener to also take care of the weeds and critters.

Vestful of Dollars

Day 012 – August 3, 2011

In my walks between our house and our local grocery store (and after taking a moment to say hello to Señor Ferrero), one of the establishments I pass by is a bank.

Loitering around this house of finance are people in photographer-style vests. However, instead of their vests being filled with lenses and other camera paraphernalia, these garments are splattered with the logo of our fine district and with dollar signs and euro signs.

These gentlemen also have the distinction of carrying with them huge wads of cash including dollars, soles, and euros.

Considering Lima’s reputation for crime, I found it odd that folks would be so open about handling large amounts of money. This is from the U.S. Department of State’s website about Peru: Violent crime, including carjacking, assault,…and armed robbery is common in Lima and other large cities.

It probably helps that banks employ security folks who patrol outside, so the monied folks hanging around these financial institutions are probably safer than the average person.

After watching for a while, I noticed that several regular people would walk up or drive up to the money people and an exchange would take place. The customer would hand over soles and receive dollars or vice-versa.

Picture of money changers outside bank in Peru

Psst...Got any tens?

My best guess is that these vested individuals are money changers.

But, wait, don’t banks exchange money? Can’t a customer simply go into the bank with a fistful of dollars, wait in line, and exchange them for soles? Are the banks aware of this competition?

It’s just these types of observations that I love about coming to a new country. Keeps me on my toes because I may get the wrong idea…but only when it suits me.

>>>>>>>>>>
UPDATE: NOVEMBER 14, 2011

I have since learned that indeed these folks are money changers. If they have a different official term, I haven’t discovered it yet.

I have also found that these money changers offer a slightly better rate. However, there is a catch. Once again, from the State Department’s website about Peru…

Counterfeit U.S. currency is a growing and serious problem in Peru. In many areas of the city, moneychangers openly change money on the street. These individuals should be avoided as they are a conduit for counterfeit currency and in many cases, work in leagues with pickpockets by pointing out potential victims. In addition, these individuals have frequently been the victims of violent robberies in which bystanders have been injured.

Now you know. And when a man has information in his pocket, he begins to appreciate the place where he is.

The Universal Language of Bullets

Day 012 – August 3, 2011

This is one of those rare posts where I will actually document a (quasi-)similarity between my previous life in the United States and my current life in Peru.

Brace yourself.

Today’s big assignment on my jam-packed calendar of being unemployed was to attend the orientation session of my children’s School (yes, the same School I wrote about earlier with the Uniform Racket). On the schedule was the opportunity to learn all about the educational system of an international school.

Side Note: This School touts itself as international in flavor as almost half the student body does not hail from Peru. Those of you with good math backgrounds can deduce from my previous sentence this means that over half the student population is from Peru and not native English speakers. What this heralds for our trio of children is that they will have the opportunity to learn Spanish in a social setting. “Opportunity” may be too mild a word because if they want to make friends with Peruvian children or have them throw their ball back on the playground, our kids will have to use Spanish. An opportunity usually denotes an element of a choice, whereas our threesome of kids will have no option but to use the local language to communicate. Which is fine with us because one of our three goals for our kids in this living abroad adventure is to expand their ability to speak a foreign language. We believe that being bilingual, among other things, is an excellent skill that can only help their future employment prospects.

Boy, that was a long Side Note.

Back to the School’s Orientation and the first item on the agenda was to listen to a presentation about the School. Actually, that last sentence should read “listen to multiple presentations”. Since these were presentations given to a large crowd, that could only mean that one thing (cue the scary music here)…and office drones reading this world-wide are already starting to feel the hair on the back of their knees stand on edge.

The presentations were given using PowerPoint.

AAARRRGGGHHHH!!!

Here I was, out of work, living south of the Equator, and thousands of miles from home, and I was still seeing PowerPoint presented poorly.

From an over-abundance to bullet points, to presenters simply reading the text that we as the audience were smart enough to read on our own, to that bane of all homo sapiens-related existence…the mission statement, this PowerPoint presentation had it all, or to paraphrase The Bard, it was…

…full of bullet points and animation, / Signifying nothing

Forget Esperanto. Perhaps PowerPoint, flaws and all, is becoming the world’s lingua franca.

That thought should make every rational being shudder.

Day 011 Randomocity

Day 011 – August 2, 2011

Random Observations

My Daughter, The Rule Stickler

The slaughter at the hands of my daughter at the game of Mille Bornes continues.

Game #4 was played today and after the fifth hand, the score was Daughter: 5,000 – Me: 4,975.

As I started to deal the cards out for the sixth, and final, hand, my daughter stopped me and said she had won. I countered that the winner of Mille Bornes was the player who had the highest total over 5,000 points after a hand. As she had only 5,000 (and not over 5,000), I contended that we needed to play another hand to see who would end the hand above the 5K mark.

That’s when she brought out the big guns…the rule book.

Hard to believe that after forty-plus years of this game migrating across the United States (California, Illinois, Minnesota, Utah, Virginia) and the world (that would be Peru, where we are now), that the rule booklet is still in this package, but it is, and there it was, in faded black-and-white…

The final object of the game is to be the first team to accumulate a total of 5,000 points…

…my daughter’s salvation and her fourth consecutive win.

I am seriously thinking about having this game go “missing”.

And did I mention that my daughter is less than ten years old?

The Chatty Cabbie

Yet another story about cabs in Lima.

When I wasn’t having my head handed to me by my daughter via a card game, we were running errands. As we were still without our vehicle, we were still relying on the kindness of cabbies.

For the past ten days, my interaction with cab drivers has been limited to telling them where I want to go (“Yo quiero a ir a…”), asking how much the fare will be (“¿Cuanto me cobra?”), and inquiring into their general state of well being (“¿Como estas?”).

On our way back home from our latest errand, my general conversation was thrown for a loop as we encountered The Chatty Cabbie (TCC). After my initial trio of statements, TCC asked me where I was from, how long had I been in Peru, how was I liking his country, and was the weather too cold for me.

This loquacious and gregarious hack provided me with the opportunity (as I was a captive audience) to flex my language chops so I was able to tell him (as best I could) that I was from los Estados Unidos, I had been in Peru for once dias (eleven days) and that me gusta su pais (I liked his country).

In addition to being able to practice my Spanish, I learned something from TCC. As we passed by a local agricultural school, TCC informed me that over 100 types of potatoes are grown there and that Peru is the birthplace of the potato.

Fascinating what you learn from the people in your neighborhood.

And with that, Day 011 was finished

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