Suitcase on wheels     stuck in the snow   sniffer dog

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

24. Working man (B.A, Argentina)

I've finally gotten some work through Brooklyn Bridge. My first gig was last Thursday, on-site at a pharmaceutical company located on the outskirts on the city, which meant a half hour train ride, but it took me half an hour to get to the train station. So it's like a 2 hour round trip for a 1.5 hour lesson... add in the 4 hours preparation time and you have a lot of work for $22.50 pesos ($NZ11).

The lesson went well, it was 2 students which seems to be par for the course for the in-company work here. A bit easier than the 10-15 students we taught on my CELTA course. I've since given another lesson which was at a chemical company based downtown, and again it went well. All my students have been married corporate guys in their 30s.

So now I'm just waiting for Brooklyn Bridge to assign me more classes. A full teaching schedule is normally around 20 hours a week, because of the required preparation time and travelling. I guess a more experienced teacher could fit in a few more hours, but I think with 20 I'll be busy. The teaching is usually either a couple of hours early in the morning, a couple at lunchtime, and a couple in the evening - whenever the students can fit it in around their jobs.

My goal has always been to set myself up so that I can live off my teaching wages. I don't expect to be able to save any money, I just don't want to have to dip into my savings once I start working. If I can do this, I could, in theory, remain here as long as I like.
I've been doing the math though, and it looks like it's gonna be tough. In the past 2 months I've spent on average $90 pesos (NZ$45) a day. On what, I'm not sure. I guess a hostel is an average of $22 pesos a day, around $6 pesos for lunch, around $15 for dinner, and $15 pesos a day for my hour of private Spanish lessons. Throw in my trip to Brazil, and other entertainment and I guess that's what I've been spending my money on. That's a lot more than I budgeted for, but I always expected to spend more money in the first month or so - but on partying, not just on living! What annoys me is I still haven't seen Buenos Aires' renowned nightlife since the clubs have been shut down (they're opening up again now though). And I still haven't found an apartment.

Anyway, if I'm gonna be working 20 hours a week at $15 pesos an hour that's $1200 pesos a month... = $40 pesos a day. So if I'm to survive here solely on my wages I'm going to have to halve my already modest spending. But if I'm going to be pinching every penny (and those who know me know I can pinch it pretty hard) it won't exactly be a holiday. Then again, that's what my objective always was, to try and live like a local by learning the language and living as they live, rather than backpacking from town to town.

So, from now on it's operation cutback. I've moved into a cheap hotel which is only $12 pesos a night for my own room. That's half the price of a stinking dormitory (with 4 or 5 others) in a hostel - I wish I'd found it sooner! I've given up on the idea of cooking my meals, as the few test meals I have cooked worked out to be much the same price as the cheapest restaurants are. Plus it's a lot harder to cook in another country, if you're not much of a chef - all the brands and ingredients you get used to aren't there. Where's the Dolmio? Where's the frozen mixed vegetables? The Continental alfredo packet pasta? (Man, I miss green peas. The peas here are tinned and more brown than green) So now it's budget restrictions on food - < $5 pesos for lunch and < $10 pesos for dinner. Spanish lessons are going to stop for now - I've picked up a local girlfriend who doesn't speak a word of English so I'm getting some good practice with her, even if she gets frustrated when I don't understand something basic. I might start taking lessons again later on, but in a exchange situation - I'll teach someone English for an hour and they'll teach me Spanish for an hour. At the moment I've only got 3 hours a week teaching but I hope to have a full schedule in about a month - Brooklyn Bridge need to confirm classes with companies etc, and then allocate them to their 50 or so teachers. Stay tuned...

Monday, March 21, 2005

23. La Boca, St Patrick's (B.A, Argentina)

Last Sunday I went and checked out La Boca, which is one of the oldest neighbourhoods of the city. Near the port, it's famous for the Boca Juniors football team, for which Maradona played, Tango, and technicolour houses. It's also still famously dangerous outside of the few tourist streets.

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Me in front of some of La Boca's technicolour houses

We strolled around checking out the artists and their paintings on display for sale, and sat and watched a Tango show at a streetside cafe. The girl dragged me up for a dance, I think I wowed her with my paso basico (basic step) which I'd finally got the hang of after 3 free Tango lessons during Tango week.

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The tango show. She dragged me up for a dance

On Thursday it was San Patricio (St. Patrick's Day), and as is the tradition throughout the world, it was nothing more than an occasion for a pub crawl. The city obliged by closing 4 blocks off to traffic, and they were absolutely packed with young people looking for a party. We didn't even try to go into any of the pubs as the streets were that packed, and at midnight the rain started absolutely pouring down. As we huddled under the shelter of a building, the fun really started watching the young local guys go mental dancing and singing in the rain. For the most part the songs were football songs, sung in huddles jumping up and down. The funniest part was when about 20 of them sprinted off down the road (in the rain) at top speed - I thought maybe the cops had come, or a fight had broken out, but they soon came back triumpant with their bounty - a Quilmes beer beach umbrella someone had stolen from a roadside cafe.

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Reconquista St packed with bodies (before the rain!)

Monday, March 14, 2005

22. Faked out (B.A, Argentina)

On Thursday I moved into another guesthouse that a Scottish friend Duncan found. How he found it I don't know, as it's not listed in any of the guidebooks or well known at all. It's pretty much across the road from Etty's House where I stayed for 2 weeks in January. There's no signage or anything so it's not obvious its a guesthouse. So I'm back in the Congreso neighbourhoood, which I don't really like, and it's pretty much the same as Etty's House was, i.e. a lady is renting rooms to tourists and students in her house, but Arahaus is much nicer and cheaper; I've got my own room with a double bed for $350 pesos a month. Compare that with around $500 pesos for a dorm bed sharing with 4 others in a hostel at Tango Backpackers. But best of all, the only other people staying there are 2 Argentine girls my age, so I've finally been getting to practise my Spanish. Friday was a great day, I went and checked out La Boca (another one of the touristy areas of town) with Steve from SE Asia and with Ruth, a girl from the hostel, and since Ruth speaks no English Steve and I mostly spoke in Spanish when we could. That night we went out, and although the night was crap party-wise since as usual we couldn't find a party and we had to wander the streets, I had fun being an interpreter between Ruth and her friends and an Irish couple we'd met.
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Random pic: More bank protesters. Most of them are over 50
One of the bemusing things here is often when you pay for something the cashier will quickly inspect the bill - even with a ten peso bill. And now I know why:
When I moved hostel I took a cab from Palermo to Congreso and paid the $10 peso fare with a $50. He gave me my change, part of which I used to pay for my room in Hebe's house. After I'd paid her I noticed one of the ten peso bills I had left was a bit dodgy looking. The print on the bill was ever so slightly blurred. So I showed Hebe and she thought the same, we checked the other bills I'd paid her with and sure enough, the taxi driver had given me a fake $20 and two fake $10s as change. I was pretty pissed off, especially as it's quite obvious they were fakes. But I had my suitcaseonwheelsn and bags with me so was in a hurry to get out of the cab and into the guesthouse. The prick even shook my hand and wished me luck with a big smile on his face. He had a bill-holder full of bills too, obviously fakes.
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Random pic: The oldest tagger you'll ever see, protesting at the bank
So there it is, in the past two weeks I've fallen to the two of the infamous South American tourist traps - cop bribery, and fake bills. I managed to offload one of the tens to another cab driver and another in a bar, now I'm just stuck with the twenty which will always be subject to slightly more scrutiny than the tens. I think I'll keep it in my back pocket for the next time I have to bribe a cop...
Listening to:

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

21. A night at Tequila (B.A, Argentina)

I'm still at the hostel, but now it's gotten old. Some interesting characters have passed through though, from the young American first-time author (book available here on with her long-haired stockmarket-playing boyfriend who was playing Wall Street from the roof of our hostel, to the young South-African alcoholic who since staying at the hostel was back on the sauce, to the two famous Dutch Actresses who slummed it with us for a couple of night before returning to the pool at the Sheraton, and to the Chilean 'actor' in his fifties who was recuperating from plastic surgery in my $18 peso a night (NZ$9) dormitory, it's been interesting. But I didn't get photos of any of them. But I confess to having kept my distance from the crowd a bit as I'm still trying to learn Spanish by meeting locals, and find work. And I really want my own room again. And I'm sick of 20 faces being replaced by 20 new ones again every few days.
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Random pic: half of Avenida 9 de Julio - it's wide
Had a pretty big night on Saturday night. Two American girls I met at our "new teacher orientation" at Brooklyn Bridge were having some party, so I took a couple of Spanish speakers from the hostel along. Granted, one of them was a German also studying Spanish, but we only talked in Spanish together.

We went to the party at the American girls' house, first thing that went wrong was the elevator wasn't strong enough to take the six of us up to the 10th floor. It took a while before we realized we'd stopped, and it was getting hot in there fast. There was no roof panel to climb out, and we could only get the inner-door open. After about ten minutes my German friend forced the door and we could climb out - lo and behold, we'd only gone about 2 feet up and were still on the first floor. So then we had to climb the ten flights of stairs which took ages with the few beers under our belts.
The party was lame me and my group hit the road to Tequila, one of the few local boliches (nightclubs) which had just been allowed to re-open by the government. We were walking down the street on the way to catch a cab, and Stefan the German asked where he was allowed to piss. "Anywhere man" I replied. He took a leak behind a tree and then we carried on, only then spotting the cop patrolling the street corner.

He let us carry on, but then called as back and confiscated the open beer I had passed to Stefan. Stefan started trying to talk to him in Spanish - "Hey man, it's only a beer...". The cop spotted his accent and asked in Spanish - "Where are you from?". "Germany". "Tell me, is it allowed to urinate in public in Germany?", asked the cop. Stefan was silent. "Umm, no." "Well, then what makes you think you're allowed to piss in the streen in Argentina?" Stefan was silent. "I'm sorry." But now the cop was worked up, and proceeded to lecture us for 5 minutes, saying it was too late, that Stefan was off to the comisario (headquarters). Stefan's Argentinean girlfriend returned and started talking to the cop, I was keeping my distance though, but the next thing the cop was telling me to sit down, that I was going to the station too for carrying an open beer in the street. Well that was just great. So I sat down on the side of the street and contemplated running while I lit a cigarette. Stefan's girlfriend came back - OK, we're gonna have to try pay him. How much have you got? So Stefan gave her $50 pesos (NZ$25) and after more chat she came back - let's go. I retrieved my stash and we caught a cab to the nightclub. Stefan's girl said it was good we didn't go to the station as they can keep you overnight and anything can happen there.
So there it was - the much feared cop bribe. Not too scary, and admittedly we'd gotten ourselves into trouble in the first place. I don't think the cops are that corrupt as to plant something on you as happens in other countries, but I don't know anyone who's paid off a cop in say NZ.

The club (Tequila) was awesome. It was a small place with only a few hundred people, and lots of beautiful girls on the dancefloor. We partied until the music died down at 6am, and I stupidly caught a bus home instead of a taxi and ended up travelling all over Buenos Aires for 2 hours for what would have been a 15 minute taxi ride.
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Steve at Juan's
Another asado (BBQ) at Juan's on Sunday, but this time it was all in English as it was a smaller crowd and I'd taken along Steve, an English guy I met in SE Asia in 2002.

Friday, March 04, 2005

20. Tango time (B.A, Argentina)

The 7th annual Buenos Aires Tango Festival is on right now for the next week so I've been getting into it a little, well I've had a couple of free lessons anyway. Buenos Aires is the home of tango, but it's kind of for the oldies these days. No, plenty of young people are into it but the average young local you'd meet here has never done it in their life. It's pretty hard dance, but I'd like to get the basics down anyway.

My phone's started ringing on the job front, yesterday one of the institutes here (Sol Vasquez) offered me a one-on-one conversation class for today, so I spent last night preparing for it - only for it to be cancelled today. I think I still get paid because the cancellation was late. And then today another institute, Brookyln Bridge, invited me to their orientation for new teachers tomorrow afternoon. It's a chance to press the flesh with the directors anyway.

I took two Spanish lessons this week but other than that the Spanish has been on hold for the last 3 weeks while I was in Brazil and looking for work. I want to get back into it but I just haven't had time, and I don't think I will have much time once I start working either, unfortunately. I'm still living in the hostel but looking for somewhere else.

Last Sunday I took Juan and a group of my friends from my hostel and university to one of the public pools here, it was a pretty cool afternoon - about 1000 people laying on the grass around the pool, a few swimming, a DJ playing and you could buy beers from the cafeteria. Then they started an aerobics class in the pool which was quite spectacular, especially when the hundred people started splashing simultaneously, or later when they made a big whirlpool. I jumped in for that one!

Aerobics in the pool

A plane coming in for landing overhead

Later Juan and I went and did a Wayne's World, and sat under the end of the runway of the airport which was next door to the pool, and freaked out as the planes came in for landing only about 15 metres above our heads. I've always wanted to do that!

Watch yer head