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Day 007 Randomocity

Day 007 – July 29, 2011

Random Observations

Wiping the Plants

As mentioned earlier, our family makes the trip to our local Starbucks to use their wi-fi signal so we can keep in touch electronically with friends and family back in the States. Today, while browsing through our e-mail, I saw a gentleman who was dressed in worker-type clothing approach one of the plants that grace the outside of this coffee-serving establishment. This man, let’s call him Ishmael, was standing next to the plant when he brought out a squirt bottle from his belt and began to spray down the flora. After the initial spritz was done, Ishmael took out a rag and began to wipe clean the leaves of the plant. At first, I thought that these plants were fake and decorative, but when I went to examine the greenery later, I confirmed that the plants were indeed real.

Ishmael’s job was to clean the plants.

Where we live is quite dusty. The main reason for this is that our area is surrounded by mini-mountains (not quite mountains, but larger than hills) that are nothing but dirt. No trees, no grass, no other vegetation reside on these features. It’s as if all the dirt from Lima’s construction dating from 1675 has been dumped in the four or five mini-mountains that dominate our horizon. The ocean breezes play across these features and pick up the dust which then gets deposited everywhere.

Since the Web is a visual medium, here’s an example of what I mean.

Here is a picture of my thumb and a local plant…

My thumb and a plant

The "Before" picture

…and here is that same thumb after rubbing it on the leaf.

Thumb after rubbing on plant

The "After" picture

Photographic evidence that I truly have a black thumb.

Tanned, Rested, and Connected

Here it is, the final, stirring, and monumental ending to the Cell Phone Saga that started here and continued here.

Today’s final installment showed us how to put money on my cell phone with the SIM card. This process was eons easier than I would have thought considering my earlier thoughts about this country’s culture of inefficiency. All we needed to do was to go to our local grocery store, stroll through the cashier line, and simply provide the helpful attendant with our phone number and the amount we wanted placed on the phone. We didn’t have to actually provide the SIM card or even the physical telecommunications device itself. Just provide the number and that’s it.

Oh, we did have to pay. Can’t forget that step.

A One-Sided Cola War

In the States, it’s Coca-Cola vs Pepsi as those two companies account for 71% of the soda market there in 2010.

Here in Peru, to my untrained only-been-here-a-week eyes, it appears that there are also two main players in the soda market and they are Coca-Cola and Inca Kola. However, since the company from Atlanta with the distinctive ribbon logo owns part of the company that makes Inca Kola, it’s almost as if there is only one player in the carbonated beverage world.

Pepsi appears almost nowhere. When I have seen their product on grocery store shelves, it occupies a fraction of the space that Coke and Inca have. In addition, Pepsi is cheaper as if they are trying (and failing) to give the stuff away.

There are a few other players in the Peruvian soda market, but I can’t recall any of their names.

Two other items of note concerning soda and they both revolve around Coca-Cola. Diet Coke is also almost nowhere to be found here. Coke Zero appears to occupy the no-calorie space that Diet Coke would normally take. Also, it is noted that caffeine-free soda appears to be a no-show of a product here also.

Happy Belated Birthday

Before I go, I was remiss in my last Randomocity posting so let me make up for it to wish a lovely and rousing Happy Birthday to my paternal grandmother, who turned 95 yesterday. Born when Woodrow Wilson was president, she lives in an era to have seen the rise of the horseless carriage, the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, and the rise and fall and rise again of Richard Nixon.

She has also seen the birth of a technology that allows her to read her grandson’s ramblings from Peru.

And with that, Day 007 (and Week 001) was finished.

First Contacts

Day 003 – July 25, 2011

It had to happen sooner or later and today was that day.

Living in a country where I am not fluent in the local language is eased by the fact that my lovely wife speaks Spanish. Over the past weekend, she took the lead in any interactions with the non-English speaking population for the same reason that I handle all the problems and issues regarding computers – we speak the same language and culture.

This Monday, with her at work, would see the end of that support for me as I would have to linguistically fend for myself.

Around 10:00am, the doorbell rang. I went to the door and met a gentleman in a T-shirt and jeans. There was a van in our driveway which appeared to be holding vast amounts of bottled water. As best as I could understand from this individual, he was here to deliver the bottled water to our residence.

As fate would have it, just last night I read a “Welcome to Peru” booklet provided by my wife’s employer and in the section on Safety, it advised the reader to never, NEVER allow in any unscheduled delivery person. So, there was no way in Hades that this individual and his companion in the van were coming in, not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin. Using my awesome command of Spanish, I told him in no uncertain terms that I was not accepting any bottled water and that he was not coming in.

Actually, what I did was just say “No” many times with a few repetitions of “Lo siento, no entendio” (I’m sorry, I don’t understand.).

Not the most satisfying of first attempts of using the local language to communicate, but my needs were met in that he did not come in to the house.

Frustration and unmet needs would come with the next interaction.

Later in the afternoon, I took the kids shopping at the local grocery store. Near the entrance was a kiosk for one of the telecommunications companies that provide cellular phone services. I had a cell phone, but for it work down here in Peru, it needed a SIM card.

I approached the kiosk and stated “Quiero un SIM card” (I want a SIM card). The response that came back from the red-uniformed woman was such a staccato volley of Spanish that I lost her at “Buenas tardes”.

This is a large issue with me when attempting to communicate in Spanish. I know the basics and can make simple requests. It is when the conversation is elevated to a more complicated level, that I become lost and frustrated. For example, I can ask for a chicken sandwich at KFC, but when I am then asked if I would like either dsghjkff fdjshf uu hsahufda y asda9vdsa, well…you can see my confusion.

This woman had no issue handing me a SIM card, but I had other questions, such as how do I know how much money was left on the SIM card and how do I put more money on the card. Try as I might, I could not get the words out in Spanish. I even forgot how to say the word for “When?” (which is cuando, by the way).

My Spanish was so horrendous at that kiosk that my children were offering their services to translate for me. Such is the wonderment of youth that they felt that they could rescue me and such is the folly of non-youth that I told them that I was fine and could do this myself.

After fifteen minutes of futilely searching the air for words that wouldn’t come, of drawing, and of pantomime, I left without the SIM card.

More than not obtaining what I wanted, the biggest frustration for me in these interactions is that I know what I wanted to say, but I was helpless. The concepts that I wanted to impart to the woman in the kiosk were in my head, but that’s where they stayed. Try as I might, I could not make her understand me, and the fault lay completely with me. I am a gentleman with (IMHO) above-average intelligence, two college degrees, and a deep appreciation for the works of William Shakespeare, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and George Carlin.

Yet all the woman in the kiosk saw was a babbling, blundering, mildly incoherent man with the vocabulary of a six-year old.

In only four days, I had gone from a man who could pontificate and communicate on all manner of subjects vegetable, animal, and mineral…to a person who appeared to the world to be suffering from aphasia.

A tiny bit humbling.

Scenes From an Airport

Day 000 – July 22, 2011

At 9:09pm local time (or 2109 for those, like me, who enjoy their time using the 24-hour clock), our plane touched the tarmac at Jorge Chavez International Airport and we were now semiofficially in the country in Peru.

It was oddly comforting to know that even though the family and I were in foreign country, some customs appear to be universal for as soon as the plane parked at the jetway, the “Wejusts” appeared.

The “Wejusts” are the name I give to the people who, as soon as the plane stops, whip out their cellular phones, call up their buddies, and say “We just arrived…” or “We just landed…” or “We just got here…”.

We de-planed and walked down the jetway and I entered…almost every other airport terminal for a major city I have been to in life. I’m really not sure what I was expected (llamas? alpacas? chickens? Please see Disclaimer No. 1), but I really should not have been surprised by this modern terminal that serves a city of almost 9 million people.

I did have my first taste of what living in Spanish-speaking country would mean for me for when I walked around the terminal to find the baggage area, a large majority of the billboards were in Spanish. This did not affect me that much as I have lived in Southern California for a large part of my youth and am used to this experience. However, I could feel the tranlsation-engine in my brain begin to clear out the cobwebs and prime its engine. It would soon be getting a large workout.

Coming out of the jetway, our family was greeted by two co-workers of my wife who were to greet us, meet us, and drive us to our house. The gentleman was holding up a sign that had our last name on it, but it was misspelled as an “A” was in place of the “E”.

More on this in a later posting, but that vowel switching would be the least of our problems concerning our last name.

Digression: The funniest “waiting” sign I ever saw was when I came off of a plane in Boise, Idaho (which probably was the type of terminal I was expecting when de-planing in Lima). As I came through the jetway’s door and into the terminal, I saw a cardboard cutout of a chauffeur with white gloves and driver’s cap. He was holding a sign that simply said….

…”GODOT”

It still makes me chuckle.

Back in Lima, we stopped at the baggage carousel and did the “wait-and-pray”, but it was not needed as yet another of my wife’s airline-elite-status perks kicked in and all of our eleven bags were given “Priority” stickers and were some of the first ones off the plane. We had all our bags in under fifteen minutes.

After a wait in line, we presented our passports to the kind-looking and smiling immigration agent. All our papers were in order, our books were stamped, and we were given a quiet “Bienvenidos” by the agent.

We were now officially in Peru.