Suitcase on wheels     stuck in the snow   sniffer dog

Friday, June 30, 2006

72. Los All Blacks (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

On Saturday I awoke to the sound of rain dripping. Somewhat rarely for BA, where it usually only rains 10 minutes or so at a time, the rain stayed all day and by early afternoon I was wondering if it would be worth heading across town to Velez Sarsfield stadium to watch the All Blacks play that afternoon. Firstly, because it wasn't really THE All Blacks playing but, what seemed on paper to be a second string side. Hell, the new captain wasn't even playing. Secondly, rain means slippery conditions which means dropped balls and slow backline play. Thirdly, I didn't want to get wet. And finally, Argentina were playing in the football World Cup at the same time.

But I put all these objections to one side and decided that hell, they've come all the way over here to play, I'm a Kiwi, I've never seen the ABs play live, so I have to go.

We arrived late, at 3:45pm, expecting the game to perhaps be already underway. However, everyone outside the ground was piling in to the clubrooms to watch Argentina play Mexico in the football. I asked a security guard - is there Rugby here today - Los All Blacks? He told me yes, at 8:30pm. So we were in fact 5 hours early. I'm sure it was due to start at 3:30pm but I guessed they changed the game time due to the Argentina football game, and I hadn't re-checked the game time. I was stoked - now we could watch the football game too!

Argentina scraped through in the football extra time to beat Mexico 2-1.

In the Rugby, the plan (as organised in part by the Embassy of NZ here in BA) was there was a rich Kiwi section ($150 pesos entry) that had a section reserved. The poor Kiwi section ($40 pesos entry) was to meet in the middle of the unnumbered seats an hour and a half before the game. I was there on time, but I didn't see any other NZ supporters in the poorer seats at all. When NZ scored their first penalty I stood up and whooped and waved my NZ scarf, and saw another guy waving about 30 rows behind me, but that was it. Unlike football crowds around the world, Rugby crowds aren't usually violent towards opposition supporters, and I was hoping that would be the case here. In any case, I wasn't being stupid and as such didn't boo Argentina nor celebrate too much when NZ scored.
Rugby - 01 - Anthem
Side by side for the national anthems

Despite all the hype and marketing that now surrounds it, there's still something overwhelming about the Haka. The Argentine supporters were great too, ssshing out booers and whistlers so we could all hear it. As well as making the hairs on the back of my neck stand, it actually bought a tear to my eye hearing it - I guess because I felt so proud of these 15 warriors in dressed in black surrounded by 20,000 or so Pumas supporters, so far from home. Although I sung both the Maori and English verses of the national anthem which came before the Haka, seeing the Haka bought out emotions I wasn't expecting.

Rugby - 02 - Haka
Laying down the challenge (click here to view video, 9Mb)

The crowd was great. The noise they made whenever NZ were kicking for goal, a shrilling cacophony of whistles, was intense (click here for video, 3.6Mb). Conversely, whenever Argentina was kicking for goal they'd shush everyone quiet and it was then the NZ supporters in the rich seats across the way could be heard whistling and blowing trumpets. In these moments, surrounded by Argentines in the poorer seats as I was, I kept quiet.
Rugby - 04 - Scrum
Midfield scrum. You can see the NZ supporters at the top

The game itself wasn't that spectacular. The drizzle didn't stop throughout, the Argentine forwards were strong, and the NZ backs had few chances. It got exciting in the last 5 minutes as Argentina went for the NZ line, but our defence just held out and NZ won 25-19.

Rugby - 05 - Final Score
Final score

This Friday Argentina play Germany in the quarter finals of the World Cup. While I'm hoping Argentina win, it'll be a tough game against an in form German team playing at home. The vocal (and numerous) Argentine supporters in Germany will probably be outnumbered, but certainly not drowned out.

Argentine futbol song #4:
Ole, ole ole, ole ole,ole, ola
Ole, ole ole, cada día te quiero mas
Ohhhh Argentina
Es un sentimiento
No puedo parar

Ole, ole ole, ole ole,ole, ola
Ole, ole ole, every day I love you more
Ohhhh Argentina
It's a feeling
I can't stop

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

71. Goooooooooooooool (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Argentine futbol song #2:
Vamos vamos Argentina
Vamos vamos a ganar
Que esta barra quilombera
No te deja no te deja de alentar

Go go Argentina
We're going to win
This damn group of fans
Won't quit supporting you
(OK, that's my crap translation)
Thanks to you all for the support I received in both comments and emails on my last post. As one reader put to me, I'll try to keep it real.

News wise here - Argentina have won their first two World Cup games and with that are through to the quarter finals, with one game to go against Holland (tomorrow) to determine who qualifies as first and second qualifier of their group. I'm secretely hoping Argentina loses that one and is second qualifier. The reason: if they're top qualifier their next game will be on June 25th, but as top qualifier their next game would be this Saturday, the 24th, which is the same day the All Blacks are playing a one off test match against Los Pumas here in BA, which I'll be going to. Nice work NZRFU (or ARU), for scheduling the one off Rugby test match to likely clash with Argentina's must-win game in the second round of the football World Cup! I've never actually seen the All Blacks play live, since back home the tickets are so expensive (and hard to get). Here, where Rugby games struggle to get a full house at the best of the times (and will really struggle now), the cheapest seats start at NZ$10. Incidentally, I've yet to see a single local news item mentioning the game. If I hadn't heard about it from friends back home months ago, I honestly would not know the ABs were coming.

It's been amazing to see how excited everyone here is about the World Cup, and how proud (but not arrogantly so) they've been in victory. My girlfriend, who I didn't even think followed football, confessed to me she had trouble sleeping the night before their second game, and that she'd been thinking about it all week! Although Argentina weren't convincing in their first game (2-1 victory against Ivory Coast) they absolutely thrashed Serbia & Montenegro 6-0 in their second game.
The streets were empty during both games, as everyone was to be found in front of a TV set - whether it be in their workplaces, homes, or cafés. After both games there was the usual celebration from people in the streets - cars honking bip-bip, bip-bip-bip, and a gathering of fans in front of Buenos Aires' Obelisco to chant Argentine football songs and jump up and down in circles. We headed down with the masses after the first game and my girlfriend got her face on TV. And of course, whenever there's a goal scored the commentators here do those famously long goooooooooooooooool calls.

While I've been happy for the team and the country for having won two games so far, a part of me wondered if they've been celebrating with singing and dancing in the street a little too early. It is just two victories after all, there's still 5 more to go if they're to win the thing. But then I realised that's just the pessimistic Kiwi in me, and that we wouldn't be celebrating so wholeheartedly until we'd won the Cup. So good on the Argentines.

I was going to write I've never seen a country so united behind their team. Until I remembered 1995, when Team New Zealand was challenging for the America's Cup. Remember how the whole country watched every race? Remember how we all went out and bought lucky red socks? And remember how we whipped the Americans 5-0 to win the nine race series outright, and steal the Auld Mug from the US for only the second time in history? And then the tickertape victory parade? Yep, it's pretty much like that again. I mention this to point out that this parochialism certainly isn't an exclusively Latin American trait. The only difference is that here the papellitos (tickertape) are already being thrown.

Reader's question:

I will arriving in September to learn spanish and live in B.A. roughly how long has it taken if at all to have a good standard of spanish. (sic)

It depends on how much you study Spanish and how much you hang out with locals. It took me six months to feel fluent enough to get by, to be able to have conversations etc. Having been here a year and a half now, I'm still learning. And still making mistakes. My girlfriend still hassles my pronunciation of olvidar. But I feel like I learnt most of what I know after six months.
I'd studied Spanish a bit before I came too. The hardest part is the listening, and the only way to improve that is to hang out with locals (who don't speak English!).
Here's a benchmark. I watched the movie Nueve Reinas three or four times before I came to Argentina (it's a really good movie!). Obviously I didn't understand a thing so had to use English subtitles.
After I'd been here seven months I watched it again. Since the movie's set in BA, I got a big kick out of recognising everything. Now, while in person I could understand conversations fairly well, I still struggled to understand the film's characters' quick delivery, so this time I had to use Spanish subtitles.
The other day I watched it again. I understood most of it, including its lunfardo insults - "la puta que te re-mil parió" (the slut that gave birth to you x1000) so I can get by without the subtitles. But I still missed bits. Hell, last night we watched Shrek in Spanish, and while I understood the dialogue I missed all the double-entendres which made the English version funny (assuming they were present). So I've still got some way to go!

Argentine futbol song #3:
Pan y vino pan y vino
Pan y vino pan y vino
El que no grita Argentina
Para que carajo vino

Bread and wine and bread and wine
Bread and wine and bread and wine
He that doesn't cheer Argentina
What the hell did he come for?
(NB. in Spanish it rhymes)

Saturday, June 10, 2006

70. To all the haters (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

It's funny this old blogging game. Over the past year and a half I've received many emails from readers out there, all of them in praise of the blog, and many have asked me a question or two about their upcoming trip to Buenos Aires. I've always responded courteously and have always taken the time to answer any questions as fully as I can, which often meant a long email reply, and usually a bit of a conversation would start.

However, ever since I've started writing more about the negative aspects of Argentina, the questions have stopped coming in and I've started to receive negative comments posted here in return. No one's actually written me any hatemail yet, but one or two readers have left a few nasty anonymous comments. The needlessly nasty ones I've deleted but the others I've left in. Sure, I could disable the anonymous comments feature to stop the haters posting, but that would be annoying for those who wish to leave a helpful comment without signing up for a blogger account.

One such nasty comment was left in response to my last post a couple of days ago. Apart from being a character attack from someone who does not know me and is too cowardly to sign the post with their name, it does raise a few points which some of you are probably wondering about, so I will address it.

Reader's comment:

For someone who hates the country and complains about the people so much and hates everything that is Argentine, I cannot for the life of me understand why the hell you would (1) want to go back (2) spend so much time writting about it or should I say bitching about it.

I have a theory though;
1) Your Argentine friends obviously dont know about this blog (for sure your girlfriends parents dont know about it),
2) You must be such a pain in the arse in person that you are not really welcome back in Kiwi land.

I don't hate Argentina. A couple of posts ago I wrote a list of things I love about Argentina, including Argentine people. My main hates which I've already written about are the corruption and the bureaucracy. My latest peeve is the dire customer service that is so widespread.

The simple reason I returned - for love. For my girlfriend. And I had unfinished business literally, i.e. I'd started a business here which is still in the startup phase, and I wanted to see that through.

As for why I spend time bitching about it. Well, why not? I write about what I think and what I see. If things are good, I'll write it. If things are bad I'll write that too. Lately there's been more bad that good, that's all. I've always been one to speak my mind, and if something needs to be said I'll say it. And if it doesn't need to be said I'll probably say it anyway. Even Argentines who read this blog have sent me feedback agreeing with the negative things I've written.

My Argentine friends do know about my blog, and the ones that understand English read it from time to time. I know they really enjoyed reading it when I was travelling around, as they could see what I was up to (hell, that's why I started it in the first place), but I haven't really heard any feedback from them about the negative things I've written. I'm not one to constantly bitch and moan about the state of things to them anyway, but if they ask me my opinion I'm not afraid to give it, unlike most foreigners here who are content to say it's a "linda pais" (pretty country) or "me gusta" (I like) and leave it at that. That's to my friends, though. To everyday Argentines that I encounter I always just say I like the place. No one likes to hear bad things about their country from someone they don't know. EVERY local I meet always asks why the hell I'm here, and many shake their heads in disbelief when I say I like it here. So then I mention my girlfriend and they understand.

I don't think I'm a pain in the arse in person. I know I used to bitch a lot to my friends, which was a negative trait of my personality that I've tried to address. In person I think I've cut that down a lot. Now the only ones who hear me bitching like I used to are my girlfriend and you blog readers out there. This blog allows me to vent a bit of frustration about the things that piss me off. I still write this blog as if I'm writing it for my friends back home, even if now a lot more people read it.

Reader's comment:

I am a foreigner and have spent a huge amount of time in Argentina the last 5 years so I will give you a bit of free advice ... Open your mind!!! You may see what is so wonderful about the country and the people, nobody is perfect, but at least the Argentines dont screw their pantuflas dreaming they are sheep.

Oh and one other thing ... If you think Aerolineas is so crap, get the couple of extra bucks out of your tight ass and fly LAN.

My mind's wide open man. I don't know why you think it's closed. Look, most foreigners who visit here leave loving the place. Those that come back might spend a couple of months living in an apartment with other foreigners in a nicer part of town like Palermo or Recoleta, sleeping until mid-afternoon, sipping coffee with medialunas by day and dancing Tango by night. They might even study Spanish part-time but what with all their foreign friends they'll get so few opportunities to speak the language that they'll have to resort to advertising to find a local to practice Spanish with. After a few months they'll go back home and tell everyone what a great time they had. All of which is fine by me, they can live how they like.
But I actually tried damn hard to immerse myself in the Argentine culture. I worked for a living, and earned a measly wage. Although I had money in the bank, I tried living off my wages only, to see how locals struggle to get by. I lived in a pension full of Argentines just getting by, with a shared kitchen but no fridge, and cooked for myself every night. I distanced myself from the foreign friends I'd made and made Argentine friends. I sought out a girlfriend who didn't speak English (we're still together).
And now I've spent the last six months struggling to start my own business in the transport/tourism industry, and have documented in this blog how tough that is too. Man, I only just skimmed the surface on that! I could have written a blog entry every couple of days on the hoops I've had to jump through for the last six months. As I said before, it wasn't any tougher for me to get started than a local because I'm a foreigner, as I did everything in my girlfriend's name. I haven't just read about how hard it is to live here, and how frustrating it can be to get ahead, I've lived it. So don't tell me my mind's closed!
It seems to be those who fit into the aformentioned stereotype of foreigners living here who are posting negative comments, yet they haven't seen a side of Argentina I have. The closest they'll come is they'll try to find an apartment here without a garantia, so they'll have to rent one at foreigner's rates but since they're only here for a few months before they go back to their real lives, that probably won't bother them anyway. This IS my real life.

Finally, the last time I looked, LAN was about the same price as Aerolineas. I flew Aerolineas because I didn't know better, and the dates and arrival times were more convenient with my schedule. I still haven't heard anyone saying LAN's better than Aerolineas yet.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

69. Back in the ol' BA (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Well, here I am back in Buenos f'n Aires. I really enjoyed my time back in NZ and was a little reluctant to return to Argentina to be honest. I'd gotten so accustomed to the difficulties and irregularities of life here, that I'd forgotten how easy life can be back home, especially when you have a decent salary. Stu and Sarah's wedding went great, good weather, great venue, food drink speeches emotions blah blah. I was relieved to get my best man speech done.

Stu and Sarah

T and me trying our first ever oysters. Neither of us are shellfish fans.

But I missed my girlfriend too much and she missed me even more, so coming back was great as we were both so happy to see each other after a couple of months separation. I didn't have to wait long to be reminded of the below average customer service experience one receives almost everywhere over here either, getting my first Argentine indifference fix on the flight over. Could Aerolineas Argentinas be one of the worst serviced airlines in the sky? Perhaps. Our in flight entertainment on the 12 hour flight consisted a 14 inch screen with a pink tinge 5 rows away, playing first the movie (on cutting-edge VHS tape no less) The Polar Express which I was not interested in watching, followed by the Fantastic Four which I'd already seen on DVD, followed by The Polar Express again followed by Fantastic Four again. What, did they think we missed them the first time? The next morning they played Fever Pitch with Drew Barrymore and just as it was coming to the predictable boy-gets-girl/team-wins-championship climax, the crew announced and then proceeded to collect the in-flight headphones off the passengers so we'd miss the last 5 mins of the movie. I asked if I could watch the rest of the movie first and with that they stopped collecting our headphones, so we got to see Drew get her man.

Still, that experience beat that of the flight over, where we only got one shit movie for the entire 12 hour flight. I mean, it's the year 2006 dammit. I want my personal inflight entertainment unit with a movie library at my fingertips. I want music videos. I want games. I want the internet! We have the technology! (don't we?)

And as for drinks service, forget about it. If you want anything you can press the steward call button if you like, but don't expect them to pay any attention to it. The stewardesses will sit at the end of the plane reading women's mags/gossiping, and if you want a drink you'll have to get up and collect your tiny plastic cup of water yourself. One lady passenger actually threw a 5 minute tantrum at the bad service she was getting after a stewardess brushed her and her baby aside with the meal trolley. And finally, for a country that thinks it has the best looking women in South America, man they could do with getting rid of the tired old maids they have for stewardesses.

Yes, I'm back, and this time I'm gonna rant.

A fellow Kiwi passenger I'd met in the check-in queue was amazed with the whole thing. Welcome to Argentina I said. Interestingly he, along with about two thirds of the plane, weren't stopping in Argentina but catching a connecting flight straight to Rio in Brazil. A little advice - on long haul Aerolineas flights try get a seat at the back. If you get seated at the front of cattle class you'll be there with all the newborn babies and kids - as I found out on the way over, and my check-in friend found out on this flight. I usually like to be seated up the front so as to be first off the plane and first in line in the customs queue, but not on long haul Aerolineas flights.

Anyone out there flown LAN Chile from BA/Santiago to Auckland? How'd that compare?

If you're a planespotter, AR1182 BA to Auckland flew from BA south passing over Usuhaia, and took about 14 hours. The flight back, AR1183 Auckland to BA took a more southeasterly route and passed over near Bariloche, and took about 12 hours. Must be something to do with the prevailing wind direction. Now go find a more meaningful hobby, flyboy.

Moving on. It's June 2006 which is a good month to be in Argentina, as it's World Cup Month. While it's something both NZers and North Americans don't really pay attention to, the rest of the world does, big time. In football-mad nations you can forget the Olympics, this is THE 4 yearly sporting event. So much so that EVERY cafe and bar that didn't already have a TV installed has now installed one, and will probably remove it by mid-July. I'm told that once it starts, all 4 free to air channels on TV will be screening Argentina's games live. All 4! Which at least means we don't need to get cable installed. Obviously screening any other program while the football is on is out of the question - who would possibly watch anything else? Offices are getting TVs installed otherwise their workers just simply wouldn't turn up on the days Argentina plays. The same goes for schools - otherwise kids would just skip class the days Argentina plays, with their parent's blessing. Just about everyone watches all of Argentina's games, and a lot of guys will manage to watch every single game played - including say South Korea vs. Togo. While I'm no football nut, I'm pretty excited about it too and am looking forward to having a team to cheer on. I already know one football song. It goes (form a circle and jump up and down in sync) AR-GEN-TINA, AR-GEN-TINA, AR-GEN-TINA etc. Good eh? So, Vamos Argentina!
Argentine covergirl Pamela David