Friday, December 28, 2007

Evening stroll along the river

There is a café next to the 99/140 bus stop barely two blocks from where I live on Viamonte. Every morning I am distracted by the various promo photos of deliciously looking foaming coffees and pastries shown in the window. Finally after admiring from afar for over a month I took a seat inside for merienda this afternoon. The interior turned out to be much more delightful than I had thought. The espresso-tinted tables and dark leather topped chairs are neatly arranged into four columns but in order to avoid looking too sterile the rectangular tables, alternated with smaller square ones, are placed both horizontal and vertically. It’s a quite thoughtful arrangement. The lighting created a slightly warm hue still good for reading and writing. The wood panels wrapped around all the walls just above waist level. One of the big walls was left bare with bricks while the other soft white wall is decorated with framed posters of Puccini’s operas. There are also few exposed beams on the high ceiling all painted with my favorite shade of crimson. I like this place. Now I must try to become a regular.

After the coffee break I took the red line subway to Federico Lacroze hoping for a nice late afternoon stroll in Cementerio de la Chacarita. Unfortunately it closed at 6 so I snatched few pictures from the outside. I wasn’t ready to go home yet so I got back on the subte to Puerto Madero. By the time I emerged from the underground, the sun had already gone below the horizon. I had a lovely walk along the river. The old port, with its historical custom houses hosting some of the best restaurants in town, is now a trendy gathering spot for high-class Portenos and well-to-do tourists.

Now I must hurry to Salon Canning to meet up with Rose, Catherine and Gabriela for another night of milonga.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Another day, another protest

The warm days are accompanied by unusually cool summer nights. As I left the milonga at Buenos Aires Club on Peru 571 at 2am, I had to put on my long sleeve shirt to stay warm at the bus stop. I also watched a young girl coming out of the disco throwing up whatever she had to drink. I was relieved that it wasn’t me. My allergy to anything alcoholic has been both a blessing and a curse, but most of the time I’m glad I don’t drink. I was extremely tired when I woke up this morning for my 8o’clock class at Lockwood Greene. It took me a good half hour to drag myself out of bed. I hurried to the bus stop without any breakfast as usual. I love my classes but on Tuesday and Thursday mornings I also look forward to the 25-minute bus ride towards the Boca Jr. Stadium. Unlike people with more pragmatic mind who opt the subway for efficiency, I try to take the bus whenever possible to look out from the window like dogs do in cars. Understandably, many of my classes have been canceled this week because of the holidays. I thought we had originally planned to have class this morning but Andres and Raul were nowhere to be found. I waited in the office for a half hour but no one showed up. Luckily nothing uplifts the spirit better than a cheerful Irish jig: The King of Bellyhooley. I left the handouts on the table and took the bus back to my apartment and went bad to bed. Actually I didn’t mind it at all other than the fact that I had to waste some hard-to-com-by coins on the bus rides, at least I enjoyed them. My noon class at Siemens was an hour and half long causal conversation with Daniel. He is always so enthusiastic and friendly. We spoke about different neighborhoods around the city and popular vacation spots in Argentina. Daniel also gave me a load down on the Argentina-Chile conflicts and the latest update on the paper plant controversy with Uruguay. This is how I get all my news, much better than reading it on the Buenos Aires Herald. My third class of the day at NRC was also cancelada sin aviso so I still get paid $27pesos by waiting for 30 minutes.

There were some protests around Casa Rosada in Plaza de Mayo this afternoon. Protests and rallies are common here and since I teach mostly in downtown I get to see it all the time. There were so many protests last week I heard at one point 30 intersections were closed down. By law protesters were not suppose to interfere with traffic but the newly elected present was afraid to do anything to escalate tension. As a result there was terrible traffic congestion in downtown. I heard some of them were about the numerous deaths and injuries relating to constructions and call for better safely measures. I tried to find out some other reasons for the rallies but most people pay no attention to them since they seem to have a different agenda everyday. Life is not easy here in Argentina. Any locals can spend days telling you all the problems the country is facing and hardships of living and working here. Of course it’s easy for me to romanticize everything knowing that I am not obligated to stay here for the rest of my life. I don’t have to deal with the whopping 17% official inflation rate but realistically it’s as high as 30% a year. This is not paradise but I love the mess and the chaos anyways. Because of all the political and economical unrests, people here have learned to live in the present. They’re adaptable to changes and always try to make the best of everything. I think that’s a good way to live regardless of the predictability of the future. Everything, whether short-lived or long-lasting, has a certain duration; it’s only wise to enjoy while it lasts. My days here are numbered so I have to make the best out of it.

Reference from Wikipedia:

"On the 20th of December 2001 Argentina was thrown into its worst institutional and economic crisis for several decades. There were violent street protests, which brought about clashes with the police and resulted in several fatalities. The increasingly chaotic climate, amidst bloody riots, finally resulted in the resignation of President de la Rúa. The economic crisis accentuated the people’s lack of trust in their politicians. During this time street protests were accompanied by the cry “they all should go.” The "they" referred to the politicians, especially those involved in many reported acts of corruption. They were also accused of dealing fraudulently with public goods and money, without any judicial sanctions in place to curb the corruption.

In two weeks, several presidents followed in quick succession, culminating in Eduardo Duhalde’s being appointed interim President of Argentina by the Legislative Assembly on 2 January 2002. Argentina defaulted on its international debt obligations. The peso's near eleven year-old linkage to the United States dollar was abandoned, resulting in major depreciation of the peso (now worth one third of its original value) and a spike in inflation."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

It’s starting to look a lot like Christmas

As we drove back to downtown at 3am, the weather was cool enough to pretend it is actually winter. There were some Christmas lights on the light posts and holiday decorations in the store windows. I guess it’s starting to look a lot like Christmas. I was exhausted from the pervious week of teaching and very little sleep I got from the night before. Soft music was flowing from the cd player: “I get along without you very well. Of course I do, except when soft rains fall and drip from leaves…but I get along without you very well.” Tiredness is a good feeling, a blurry state between dream and reality worthy of savoring. I was happy and content.

It has been a lovely night. Carolina, a girl I met at Canning the week before, invited me to a birthday party. It was my first time going to a party at an Argentine family. As the wine filled and refilled the blue tinted glasses, conversations overlapped on top of each other with food, music and inevitably dancing. Everyone was so warm and people switched to English from time to time to fill me in on their conversations. Maria, the owner of the house, is a professional photographer. My eye wondered around the many displays of photos around the rooms as I phased in and out of conversations I didn’t quite understand. As one point Maria said to me, “language is a culture and the Argentine culture is very similar to that of Italians, everyone talking on top of each other.” She’s quite right; language is the quintessential representation of a culture. It was a wonderful sensation to be swimming in the unique sounds of Argentine Spanish. I especially loved watching and listening Carolina. Her expressions were dramatic and theatrical at times but Carolina always spoke honestly with a rather dry sense humor at times. I remember the first thing she said to me when we met was “I hate this place! I hate coming to milongas! I never come here. This is only for my friend who dragged me into this dark place with people staring at each other like piercing rays!” After seeing her at two other milongas in the course of the following week I gave her my phone number before I left Canning on Friday night. When she called to invite me to the birthday party she said, “hi, this is Carolina, the one who hates the milongas.” I like her. When I showed up at the party she told me she had read my blog and found it very intriguing. I felt flattered and embarrassed at the same time. While my writing is nothing to brag about, I do try to write with sincerity. I was shocked to find out how much she actually studied my blogs. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who has read these things with so much attention to details. Carolina mentioned that it was like reading a little story about Rose and “you girls ARE sick people”. It is true that I intentionally avoid mentioning much about anyone specific in my blog with exception of Rose, because I feel we share the same sickness so she understands me. The other reason is that I’m really a loner at times so I don’t have that many close friends to speak of. When I emphasized the fact that I like to travel alone to someone he said “maybe you will go through life alone.” I wasn’t sure what exactly the intention of that was, but it didn’t sound a bit scary to me. Perhaps the thought of being alone when I’m young and capable is not so much of a threat. Now I think maybe someday when I’m ready to settle down I’ll get few plants and a cat (and I’ll name her Iris, like Aires). I’ll make tea and read and write and listen to music just like I do now. What’s so bad about that? I’ve always loved the poem “Allein” by Hermann Hesse. I’ve read better version of translation but this is best I can find online:

Over the earth there lead
Many roads and paths,
But all have
The same goal.

You can ride and travel
By two and by three,
(But) the last step
You must go alone.

So there is no knowledge
Or skill so good,
But that everything difficult one must
Do alone.

Like all birthday parties, there was the inevitable lighting of the candles and choiring birthday song. After everyone sung the Spanish version people went on with other languages and I did my share in Chinese. It was a wonderful evening.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Proof of Address

Today I received my very first mail at my address here in Argentina. Despite the fact that I’ve told everyone not to send me anything, it was a real pleasant surprise to get a card from a good friend. It was an amazing feeling to know that I actually live here; I have a stamped envelope to prove it. What is more shocking is that the card arrived here in 8 days! In the past it took 3 weeks to send postcard from here to the US and half of them don’t ever make it.

'I know well the delectable thrill of moving into a new house somewhere altogether else, in somebody else's country, where the climate is different, the food is different, the light is different, where the mundane preoccupations of life at home don't seem to apply and it is even fun to go shopping. - Jan Morris


Rose invited me for an afternoon at Tigre today as a belated welcome back present. I’ve been so busy with teaching lately it was nice to get out of the city for a relaxing boat ride on the delta. The town of Tigre is just under an hour train ride away from Retiro station. According to my Lonely Planet guide book, the area “is a network of over 10,000 kilometers (6,500 miles) of canals, brooks, rivers and islands.” Sounds impressive, isn’t it. It’s enough for me just to feel the gentle rocking motion of the train and boat, not to mention the lovely weather and scenery. I couldn’t have asked for a more enjoyable afternoon. My fascination with this country only gets worse as the days go on. It’s safe to say that none of my other honeymoons have lasted this long. Perhaps we will never stop wanting what we can’t have. We love it so because we know we can’t stay (or can we?). It’s like marriage: the second you sign the paper it all becomes a contract and the magic is lost. So in order to make sure I enjoy the city as much as I can before I leave again I have decided to come up with a to-do list:
  • Spend at least an hour at a café twice a week for afternoon coffee (with desert).
  • Have at least one licuado a week
  • Have ice cream once a week
  • Go to Chinatown once a week for grocery
  • Have at least 2 alfajores with milk every week
  • Have morcilla, steaks, empanadas, pizza and Peruvian food once a week

Basically other than getting fat, I would also like to:

  • Have coffee/dinner with Rose once a week
  • Go to the milonga/practica twice a week
  • Go to the park once a week (Palermo o San Martin)
  • Before I leave I should visit the Recoleta Cemetery, watch two movies.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Had a block of free time in between my classes this afternoon so I stopped by Bonifide, a local coffee chain, for a much needed pick-upper. For some reason I have been starving for a good book ever since I got here. Book stores are ubiquitous, especially around the theater district along the bustling Corrientes Av. You can find everything from Anne Rice and Daniel Steel to History of the Russian Revolution and the Secrets of Tantra. Unfortunately they’re all in Spanish. Finally I found just what I needed, a store not far from my apartment called “Books in English” at Marcelo T de Alvear 1369. The collection isn’t all that impressive but everything came with a big price tag. Now I know what to bring for the next trip: a load of books. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for expect maybe something neutral, nothing too complex or emotionally involved that would distract me from the city. As I browsed through authors from A to Z I immediately remembered Borges! Neutrality doesn’t come to mind when talking about Borges but I’m in Argentina, I must read Borges! So I emptied my wallet on “The Book of Sand and Shakespeare’s Memory”. It’s quite thin so I have to savor it like some kind of precious beverage. Although I rarely read short stories, it’s perfect for coffee breaks like this one.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


If you think time flies by when you’re having fun, try having fun and being busy at the same time! I came up with the theory that my level of happiness is directly correlated to the number of blogs posted in a particular month. May, for example, has 46 blogs. I was traveling through Spain, very happy. October, on the other hand, not so much so. Ever since coming here I have been posting almost on a daily basis that is until now. 15 hours of teaching a week might not sound like a lot but this is as close to a full time job as I’ve ever been. With time spent preparing and traveling to and from each class, I have a feeling that I’m working close to a 40-hour per week schedule.

The first couple on days on the job, all I heard from the supervisor was “Liren, do you have your planilla?”, “do you have your planilla for…?” I’ve never even heard of the word planilla until now. I assume it means schedule, but no one really explained it to me. The institute manages somewhere between 60-80 teachers at a time and god knows how many classes all without the aid of the modern computer! More impressively, the Buenos Aires International Airport operated for the longest time without a radar system all because of few drops of rain. When I finally left at the end of March planes were taking off at 10-15-minute intervals so they won’t run into each other. It’s amazing how everything works or sometimes does work in this country. But that’s a whole other topic. So being a somewhat compulsive person, I like certain things organized almost to a point of obsession. I have a folder for each of my 8 classes with planillas, handouts, lesson plans, as well as notes about the students. I also have made folders on my computer for all of my classes with the same information typed up meticulously in Microsoft Word all with unified format. I have written down everything I know about my students from their age and occupation to their likes and dislikes. Maybe that’ll help me to plan my lessons better, but in reality, I’m just fascinated by people.

Rose and I have always wondered about why we love here so much. What is it about Buenos Aires that just sucks everyone in?! Rose thinks the city is like a mistress, I myself prefer the word lover. I know we seem rather absurd to the locals and anyone who hasn’t been here. I love just about everything from the food to its people and even the congested traffic and the noisy buses. An Argentine friend said that’s all part of the enchantment which will last for two years. How he came up with that, I have no clue. When I told him that we love here so much we even like the uneven pavements on the sidewalks and how water splashes from the loose tiles after it rains when we step on them, he replied, “You guys are sick.” I guess that summons it up pretty well.

Friendly is too general of a word to describe the locals. It doesn’t do any justice to their big warm hearts. Although I am a foreigner here with not a lick of Spanish under my tongue I have never felt more accepted anywhere, even in China. Just today while sitting around for my morning coffee at a place called San Miguel near where I teach in La Boca, an older lady came to talk to me with the most enthusiasm. She spoke of her trip to China and many other things I didn’t understand. I listened with a smile and nodded when I thought it was appropriate. I told her that I’m visiting here form the US and currently teaching English. Most important of all, I made sure she knew I loved it here. Sometimes the feeling is so strong I could feel my eyes moisten when I tell people my fondness for the city. Argentines are often so critical of themselves they need to be reminded what an amazing country they live in. There is a certain level of humbleness and most welcoming curiosity. People here do their best to learn, understand and help with uncommon sincerity. I am enjoying the teaching experience but Rose has made me realize that it’s not so much the teaching that intrigues me but the fact that it provides me with an otherwise unlikely opportunity to have real conversations with the locals and to get a small glimpse into their lives. I have studied in a school with people who are passionate about music, now I live in a place where people are passionate about life. Perhaps that is the reason.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I'm a people person!

I feel as if I have just graduated from being a tourist here. So what if I don’t know how to speak Spanish. I take the bus, shop at COTO and I never walk around with a gigantic map looking lost. I had two wonderful classes today. The first one was at a Denver-based company in la Boca called CH2M Hill. Andres and Raul are two managers there. They were both born in 47 and married for 35 years with 4 kids. One of Raul’s daughters, Mariana, a well-known professional tennis player, has recently retired from the game and gotten married. I had a lovely time getting to know Andres and Raul and I look forward to see them again next Tuesday. I took bus 12 back to the city with Julia. After lunch and a short nap I stopped by Dublin for a one-on-one class with Lorena, who works as an accountant for Banco Ciudad. We later learned from my list of business idioms that she is also known as a bean counter or a number cruncher. Before I started teaching guitar lessons 5 years ago I thought I would never want to be a teacher, now I know I really love what I do. Teaching is probably as close to a real job as I’ve ever gotten. I love it because I’m a people person!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Narrow Escape

The alarm went off at 6:30 and I struggled to get up at 7. Rose called and we chatted for few minutes before I ran out of the door to catch the 29. It was a beautiful morning here in Buenos Aires. The sun was out and temperature was still cool. I made a quick dash for a company called Accenture on Paseo Colon but once I found out that the two students weren’t around I immediately stopped feeling so bad for being 5 minutes late for the first class. Just to make sure there aren’t any misunderstandings I called Dublin to have the sectary speak to the security person. I waited for 45 minutes like I was instructed to in the small lobby. One of the students, Diego, showed up just as I was getting ready to leave. He felt very bad that he wasn’t aware of the class and I had to wait all morning. Since Diego had a meeting scheduled in 10 minutes, we briefly exchanged greetings, I handed him my card and left. I was in such a good mood that I was almost sprinting down the street. The new blue and white Argentine flag danced proudly in the light breeze just outside of the Casa Rosada. It was such a beautiful sight; I had to get my camera out try to snatch few pictures. Minutes later, I walked around the Casa Rosada to Plaza de Mayo, one of my favorite places in the city surrounded by magnificent buildings. I, of course, proceeded on taking more pictures. I took 25 de Mayo to Dublin Institute to browse through more teaching material and make copies for my classes. Time went by quickly as I worked feverishly through piles of books and papers. By 1pm I was crossing 9 de Julio again, supposedly the widest street in the world. I can’t help but to feel how proud one must be to be a resident of this amazing city. Rio might be the cidade maravilhosa with its beaches and mountains but Buenos Aires has breathtaking architecture everywhere you look and absolutely the sweetest people on the planet. I remember just few nights ago when the bus took Rose and I around Plaza de Mayo with lights shining perfectly on the newly renovated Casa Rosada we shook our heads in disbelief, what a beautiful place! Then Rose said, “I had such a good time in Rio but now I have come to my senses. This is the place I love and it almost felt as if I just cheated on her.” Well, this is the place we both love and I fall in love with her over and over again every day.

I had another interview today with a company called English Services not far from where I live. Mariana, who interviewed me, was a very nice lady. She told me about the company and its many impressive clients. I liked her and the company a lot but it’s only possible for me to work there if I am willing to commit to extend my staying until June or August of next year. God, I love this place so much I would move here in a New York minute if I could. I’m starting to freak out about leaving already and it’s only going to get harder as I get to know the students.

Sandwicheria, perfumeria, tapiceria, cerveseria, pescateria but my favorite one is always going to be the zapateria! While Rio was crowded with shoes stores everywhere you look, Comme il Faut, is the ultimate death trap for tango dancers. I escaped Brazil with only one pair of nice sandals and two pairs of havanianas, I have never manage to leave Comme il Faut empty handed…that is until this afternoon! I couldn’t believe it! I went, I saw, I tried and I left! I was so proud of myself I’ve never left that place in a better mood. But of course, I had to make an impulsive purchase only minutes later. You’ll never guess it…a wok! Don’t even ask. I only have two months left and I bought a wok. Now I feel like I should stay here longer just so I could make better use of it. Anyways, I have to enjoy it while I can. Last time was a narrow escape. I think only Rose knew how hard it was. Not sure how lucky I’ll be this time around…

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Let There be Coins!

Things are going well here. I’ve been doing interviews everyday since last Thursday. So far I have accepted works from two companies: English for Business and the Dublin Institute. I will start teaching my first class tomorrow morning at 8! I’m actually excited to get up early in the morning again. Pretty soon I will have to get up early for 4 morning classes every week. This will put a dent my milonga schedule, but since I rarely go dancing now it’s really not that big of a deal.

Today I spent most of the day looking through teaching materials at Dublin, making lesson plans and copying worksheets for classes. All the preparation reminded me of my guitar lessons. Having taught 4 years without ever sticking to a textbook, I’ve made countless copies of things for students and always managed to keep them organized. When looking for a job, employees take “organization” as a “soft skill” and no one really takes teaching all that seriously. It’s not an easy task to juggle a bunch of guitar students at various levels with different learning abilities. Now I have to manage 7 separate English classes each week. It’s only 13.5 hours on paper but it will take much longer to prepare for them. Since I work as a private contractor for the schools, I am mostly being sent out to companies to teach on-site; therefore, I also have to travel to and from all of the classes instead of being stationed at the institute. Commuting around the city takes time. The subway is fast but it is uncomfortable and doesn’t reach many places. The biggest problem here is the lack of coins. The ticket machine on the bus doesn’t take paper money and there is always a coin shortage. This is so prevalent that when I left last time I took all my coins with me. Today one of the corner stores refused to sell me mints because I didn’t have the exact change to spare them from giving me coins. One day soon I’m going to break down and demand $100 pesos in coins from the bank! For now I need to figure out how to make that demand in Spanish and have people take me seriously.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Sunday, December 9, 2007

La Glorieta

I went to the outdoor milonga at Glorieta after the alfajores. It was wonderful to be dancing in a gazebo in the park. The breeze was refreshing and I could smell the trees. I almost feel like Liesl dancing in the gazebo the Sound of Music singing “I’m sixteen going on seventeen.” Well, except this gazebo is full of tango dancers.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Outdoor Milonga

Stopped by the open-air milonga on Av. de Mayo tonight. It took me a while to get the pronunciation right on my last trip so it’s not between the mustard and ketchup. It was some kind of special event but neither Rose nor I really figured out what it was for. The wide tree-lined street was completely closed down to make room for three separate big stages hosting orchestras and tango bands. People were dancing everywhere but majority of them just watched. It was almost surreal to dance outdoor on a night like this on one of the most beautiful streets in Buenos Aires. Where else can two complete strangers rest their glance on each other for 3 seconds, with a barely noticeable nod that is only apparent between tango dancers, they join in an embrace to move with the music without ever exchange a word. The ground was terrible for pivoting and with each ocho my heart ached for my comme il faut! I know the shoes will be ok, but I’m still suffering. I didn’t dance too much because my feet were a bit tired. Then I had a hotdog with an assortment of condiments.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Villa Malcoim

I had a very good interview with English for Business today. Because the inauguration of a new congressman few streets near Plaza de Mayo were closed in order to prevent large demonstrations. Julia, afraid that I might get stopped on the way to the institute, met me few blocks away from my apartment and accompanied me to the interview. She is a local here who lived in London for many years and has been teaching English in Buenos Aires for 23 years. She was very cordial and asked me about my travels. When we finally got to the office I met briefly with the director of the institute, Sergio. Needless to say, he was also very nice. I’m sure not everyone is so friendly south of the equator; I just haven’t had a chance to meet one that is not. I just love the people here. Instead of a formal interview, I was pretty much hired immediately. Julia informed me that they desperately need a teacher for an early morning class twice a week at a construction company little outside of downtown. Despite the somewhat inconvenient hours (8-9:30) I was more than happy to get started soon. She told me that she will talk to the students on Monday and come up with a schedule next week. I might also substitute few classes as some of the teachers have gone on vacation early.

Later in the afternoon I met up with Rose for a licuado in San Telmo on the corner of Defensa y Brazil. It’s an older neighborhood just south of downtown. It has become quite the tourist headquarter in recent years with lots of people passing through to admire the cobbled streets and somewhat ill-preserved antique buildings. Many locals think it’s a bit dirty, run-down and unsafe; nevertheless, it’s full of characters. Rose is staying here for few weeks housing setting for a friend. She seems to really like the neighborhood.

We went to the practica at Villa Malcoim around 10:30. This is the capital of tango; good dancers are a dime a dozen. Still, it gets me excited to see people who really move to the music. I could watch them all night. You can tell they know the music by heart from the way they plan each step and plays with the rhythm. The man, like a conductor, cues and executes each move at precisely the right time and the women in return responses and embellishes. It’s absolutely an art when everything is just right. They become one with the music as if neither of them ever existed without the other. The music compliments the dance and the dance compliments the music. I am convinced that it is possible to hear the music from the steps even without sound. Perhaps you could mute the music at any moment and the dancers will go on dancing unnoticed, hearing every beat in their heads; when you turn the sound back on, they are still in perfect sync.

For some reason there was a swing show at the milonga. The couple was quite good.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Heart Breaker

Another beautiful sunny day here in Buenos Aires. The temperature hovered around 80 degrees with a nice breeze. I left my apartment early this afternoon so I could drop of some laundry and still have plenty of time to get to my interview in Retiro. I was half hour early after I got out at the San Martin the subway stop. This is one of my favorite spots in the city with many big trees and shaded fields of grass. The focus of the park is the monumento al Libertador General San Martin, a marble and bronze statue created in 1863 honoring one of the city’s most important generals. I sat on the bench towards edge of the plaza for a while to watch busy pedestrians going by. Later I walked around the neighborhood admiring numerous impressive buildings with cute little balconies and few in art deco style. My interview at the 3rd floor of a nice building on Esmeralda and Libertador. The lovely French doors opened to the street below letting in the perfect amount of afternoon sunlight. I had a pleasant conversation with Caren mostly about how much I absolutely love this place. She seemed a little hesitant since I don’t have any previous teaching experiences other than music lessons; however, my economic degree made her think that I could be a good candidate for teaching business English with some training. She told me it’s the off season for teaching jobs right now because of the holidays. She will forward my information to the director and contact me if they need a substitute teacher.

After the interview I took 152 to centro and walked down Viamonte. I made a quick stop in the Galleria mall to snatch few pictures of the beautifully painted dome and Christmas decorations. It doesn’t feel like Christmas here because the weather is so perfect. I’m too used to the cold and grey winter days in Rochester. Dave has informed me that they have already gotten almost 2 feet of snow and it’s only getting started. Since the weather here is almost the same as it was when I left in March, often times I feel like I never left at all. Somehow I managed to pick up everything exactly where they left off. It’s a nice feeling. I’m so familiar with downtown and the areas around where I live I rarely needed to open a map. I know most of the subway stops and few bus lines by heart, which is enough to get me to everywhere I need to go. Buenos Aires is a very manageable city especially when you’re not in a hurry to get to places.

When I came home I got email from the Dublin school asking me to call them to setup an interview. The lady told me she couldn’t get to me by phone so I double checked my resume and realized that I had sent out the wrong landline to all the schools. Luckily few of them still got back to me via email. Now I have one interview for tomorrow afternoon and one for Monday morning, for which I must prepare a 20-minute one-on-one lesson for an intermediate English leaner. I’m very excited at these opportunities and hope I’ll start teaching soon!

Now I must tell you about my dinner…

Ever since I had those grilled chicken hearts at the Samba party I’ve been craving them like crazy. The stores here don’t sell chicken hearts but I did find a huge cow heart (I think). So now my kitchen looks like an anatomy lab. I’ve never seen a heart this big not to mention cooking one! Isn't it great when your food is also educational? I think this is going to take the term heart breaker to a whole other level. So first I removed the excess valves, fats and the thin outer membrane. Then I cut the heart into small pieces and threw them into a blender for a delicious milkshake. Just kidding. I cooked them up with onions and green pepper. It wasn't as good as the chicken hearts partially because I over cooked them a little. I might have to give it another try sometime.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Job Hunting

Today marks the official start of my job hunting mission in Buenos Aires. After getting some helpful tips from Rose, who has been teaching here for almost a year, I got down and dirty with creating and sending out resumes. I sorted through a huge list of language schools in BA by looking at their websites and considering practicality in commuting to and from my apartment. I spent all day applying to almost 30 different institutions via email. So far I have gotten two responses and sat up one interview at the Lew Institute with Caren tomorrow afternoon. Although I have taught countless private guitar lessons all through college, I’m a bit nervous about teaching in a classroom setting. Still, I’m mostly excited about the prospect of meeting new students and structuring good conversations in class.

My TESOL Resume

Liren Chen

Viamonte 1676, Capital Federal, BsAs, Argentina

Phone: 4375-0454 * Cell Phone: 15-3228-7971 *

To teach English in Buenos Aires. I enjoy working with young children, adults who are interested in learning English for personal reasons as well as adults who are motivated to learn English to enhance their business skills.


I am a highly energetic and enthusiastic individual. I am dedicated to providing the best learning experience to students of various ages and academic backgrounds. I am experienced in using Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Photoshop and other online applications to facilitate teaching.


TESOL/TESL Certificate, Buffalo, NY July-August 2007

Oxford Seminars: 60-hour, in-class course, exposure to a variety of concepts include: classroom management techniques; lesson planning; how to teach oral communication skills; listening and comprehension strategies; teaching across age and proficiency levels; and making effective use of ESL teaching materials and resources.


University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 2002 – 2006

  • Bachelor of Arts in Economics

William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration,

  • Management Studies Certificate, Accounting/Finance

Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY 2002 – 2006

  • Bachelor of Music in Classical Guitar Performance

Pittsford Community Center, Rochester, NY 2002 – 2006

Guitar Instructor

  • Served as a teacher for one-on-one guitar lessons for students of all ages and levels on a semester based contract.

  • Prepared individual lesson plans and assignments to fit each student’s ability.

  • Organized concerts trips to cultivate students’ musical appreciation.


  • I worked as a financial analyst in 2005 for Syntax Research Inc. in Rochester, NY. I gained a broad understanding of the investment banking business by working on a variety of assignments on biotechnology and other industries. I engaged in projects such as company valuation, recommendation report and strategic advisory.

  • I have enjoyed traveling to many places this year including: China, UK, Spain, Morocco, Brazil and Argentina. I love meeting people from all around the world.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

We did it!

Rose and I have successfully completed our one-week trip to Brazil without a single taxi ride. I consider that a major accomplishment for foreign tourists. A lot of people we’ve talked to think local buses south of the border are unsafe. Well, it’s actually a fun experience as long as you make sure your seat is glued to the frame and hang on for dear life. Rose named us the “bus bitches”.

Our flight was on time and instead of feeling the trip has ended too early, I was looking forward to come home to BA. After all, this is the city we both love and can’t seem to get enough of.

I did some unpacking and grocery shopping after getting in around 4 this afternoon. When I was finally getting ready to cook up some dinner, I found out from the apartment owners that the water has stopped in all of downtown. I love this place so much even though nothing works.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Last Steak

As many of you know already, there is no one crazier about food than I am. I’m starting to feel like the Anthony Bourdain’s version of Samantha Brown. The food here is good enough to die for! Tonight I’m having my last dinner in Rio at a popular churrascaria in Copacabana. This is the neighborhood perhaps best known outside of Rio but Ipanema and Leblon are by far more pleasant for staying. The ambiance and food is not as nice as Barra Brasa, but for 17 Reals ($10US) you just can’t go wrong with the meats in Brazil. There are many appetizers and side dishes including a tasty stroganoff. You’ve never had roast beef until you’ve had it here. I never though lean cuts such as filet mignon and top sirloin can be so soft and juicy. Most of places make them so tough and dry I usually resort to ordering strip steak at restaurants for more taste from the excess fat. The churrascaria also has a good chunk of pork loin, which turns out to be surprising flavorful. I’ve been having lots of pork ever since I was little in China since it’s very popular there. I just never realized how much flavor is actually in pork, just like it is in beef and lamb. There are also perfectly roasted sirloin covered in mashed garlic and some with cheese. So if you’re in Rio, you’ve got to go to Barra Brasa. It’s a nice place and the meats are just out of the ordinary. Even if you don’t think you’re a meat person, the food there is good enough to covert a vegetarian.

Of course, I never judge a restaurant by its cover. Some of the worst meals I’ve never had are in those fancy fusion places with tall ceilings and waterfalls. All I really care about is food. I don’t even need tables and chairs. You can’t eat them, so what’s the use. The best finds here in Rio are foods on the street corners: grilled meats and salgados, which includes a variety of savory pastries filled with cheese or meats. The tiny store just around the corner from our hostel has absolutely the best pot-roasted beef with carrots and potatoes. The beef is softer than marshmallow and the most magical thing is that the meat still holds its form. Beef stews are cooked slowly on low heat over a long period of time so the moisture can break down tough connective tissue and collagens in meat making the meat soft and tender. However, most of the time the slow cooking process also destroys the physical appearance of the meat by separating the tissues from each other. That’s why a lot of times you see meat fall into pieces, even dissolve into the broth. The beef from our favor lunch stand some how has the looks of tough meat but when you bit down it’s unimaginably soft! I have no idea how they managed to do that. It must have something to do with the meat. I bit the collagens is what’s holding the meat together. The store is a popular lunch spot for local workers. There are no tables so people mostly stand and eat on the counter. Just as my plate was getting filled up with beef and rice for the third day in a roll, I noticed a tray of purple looking thing that was difficult to identify because of the steams on the display glass. I asked to try some and it was braised pork knuckles with beans! My god, I haven’t had the stuff since I was in China as a child, and even then it was a rarity because they’re a hassle to clean and cook. I ended up eating my big plate of beef and splitting the pork and beans with Rose. It was so delicious; I couldn’t help it.

So if your bikinis are not thin enough for flossing bring your dental floss to Rio and have a chunk of meat. You won’t regret it. And if you pass by a corner store with warm food, stop, drop all your plans and ambitions and have a plate. Everything else just looks the same as travel channel. You can’t get food like this, fly through the air and experience the local people by sitting in front of the television.

Villa-Lobos and the Maracana

“Yes, I’m a Brazilian, a real Brazilian. In my music I let the singing seas and rivers of tis huge country be heard. I put no brakes, no bridles, nor any restraint to the tropical exuberance of our forests and our skies, which I instinctively convey to everything I write.” – Villa Lobos

It would be a terrible crime for me to come to Rio de Janeiro for a week and not visit the Villa-Lobos museum. I guess it’s a responsibility for every guitar player. I took the bus to Botofogo beach and walked the rest of the way. The house is in a more residential neighborhood with quite streets. There were no crowds or ticket booth. I believe I was the only visitor in the rather empty house hosting few of Villa-Lobos’ instruments, letters and scores. I wondered slowly through the rooms with tall ceilings looking at photographs of the composer with Segoiva and recording sessions in New York while humming one of my favorite tunes, Brasilerias No. 5.

The other must-see place before leaving Rio is of course the Maracana football stadium. I guess missing it would be like going to Paris and not see the Eiffel tower. The stadium wasn’t all that impressive but I was surprised to find out that all the employees in the gift shop spoke fluent Chinese (they were all Brazilians). Now imagine the site filled with 20,000 screaming fans.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Free like a Bird

“Come here Rose. Could you slap me couple times so I know I’m not dreaming?”

Today is by far one of the most amazing days ever.

This morning I ran off a cliff and caught the wind. I flew like a bird through the forest covered mountains towards the vast ocean. This is a dream come true and we almost passed it up because of money. Rose and I are budgeted travelers. We haven’t taken one taxi after coming here and we refuse to pay for our water in restaurants. We don’t take expensive tours or eat at pretentious restaurants. Still, we manage to have the best experiences one could only dream of. I’ve been wanting to hang glide in Rio ever since I saw it on Amazing Race awhile back. I just never thought I get to actually do it so soon. I can’t believe I hesitated because it turned out to be more expensive than I originally thought. Then I said, wake the f*** up Liren, how many times do you get the chance to fly in Rio? I don’t care what the excuse is; as long as I can run down that 8 meter ramp I’m doing it. I don’t care if that means I have to eat free bananas from the guesthouse for the rest of the trip, I’m going to fly, damn it.

Rose was undecided about the whole thing as well but after I made my arrangement for the pick up at 11:30 she can’t help herself but to join me for the thrilling adventure. Everything happened so fast I didn’t even have time to think about it. The taxi driver showed up within minutes of our decision. Next thing we know we were signing our lives away and preparing for take off from top of Pedra Bonita, located in the Tijuca Forest National Park. Marco was my partner for the flight. He’s a handsome energetic young man with dark cruelly hair. Marco seemed very friendly and relaxed. The only instruction he gave me was “when I say 1, 2, 3 you start running. Keep running and don’t jump.” We practiced it twice on the ground and it was time to fly. I imagine normal human beings would be wary of running off a 1700ft (520 meters) cliff but not me. I didn’t even feel my heart speeding up. I was excited but not a tiny bit nervous. It is surprising how easily I trust my life to total strangers! I ran with Marco until suddenly all my weight was lifted up by the wind. Gravity no longer existed as I laid flat suspending in mid air. It was the most amazing feeling ever. This must be what it feels like to be a bird. If you’re not a bird or have done hang glide, you need to experience it for yourself. I’m not that good of a writer to even begin to describe the incredible sensation. When we finally landed on the São Conrado "Pepino" Beach my eyes were moist. This is a-dream-come-true experience. I have paid good money for the whole experience to be documented on a DVD with video and photos. Unfortunately I can’t share them with you at the moment since my CD player on this laptop was toasted over the summer.

By the time we got dropped off at our hostel I had cleared out my wallet once again on the unexpected photo CD purchase. I was still so ecstatic about the flight I had no idea I was hungry. Rose had to remind me that I need to get some food. I guess I was starting to act a little strange. We split a plate of slow cooked beef stew with rice from the corner store. It was so tasty I ate the fork, literately swallowed a piece of it without even noticing it.

We took bus 583 to the Cosme Velho this afternoon to aboard the cog train to the Cristo Redentor. The view is impressive from the top, but really, nothing tops flying this morning. I’ve done few things so far and hang gliding in Rio is always going to be one of the top 3 ever! I’m saving the first two for maybe being a mom someday. I imagine that’d pretty cool too.

We met a guy from Berlin on top of the Corcovado. Martin was very nice to us. He patiently answered all my questions about living in Berlin. Both Rose and I are considering teaching in Germany next spring. I’ve been hearing about Berlin ever since I was three years old. My aunt went there first and then my cousin. The summer before I turned six my father moved to West Berlin. I still remember seeing pictures of him next to a German police on a tall horse next to the Berlin Wall. He was there when it came down in 1989. How many people here really know what year the Berlin Wall came down or the fact that it even existed. I was 6 years old and I remember because of my father. Of course, I also watched the ever so famous Bernstein’s Beethoven Symphony concert on tape many years later as a music student at Eastman. The thing is that I’ve always wanted to go to Berlin and to live there would just be another dream-come-true experience. If you have been reading my blog you know I’m all about making dreams a reality, hence “Fragment of a Dream”. Think whatever you will, that’s just how I want to live my life. So far, no regrets.

Martin parted us at the subway stop in Flamenco. We continued our wake with stops at the food stands and juice shops. There are countless varieties of tropical fruit juices here. Most of them we haven’t even heard of. I can’t stop thinking, what am I going to do? I’m getting so spoiled! We took our time walking along Flamenco Beach looking over Pao de Acucar in the dark and Christ lit up in the distance. What more could I ask for?

We lingered for a while around Flamenco beach and eventually waved down bus 433 to take us back to our hood, Ipanema. We have covered so much of the neighborhoods on foot and buses now I have a pretty good feeling for the layout of the enormous city and start to recognize many of the streets as we pass them on the bus. As soon as the Bus turned towards Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas we start seeing masses of people walking all over the streets and crowded around the lake. I suddenly remembered that Martin had told me there was a concert going on tonight and the “Christmas Tree” is going to be lit. That’s right, it’s Dec. 1st. We got off the bus right in front of the gigantic Christmas-tree-shaped structure in the lake and joined the crowd. Either one of us really have much of a clue what is going on There must have been tens of thousands of people waiting around with anticipation. In fact, all of Rio is here. We walked around looking for a spot with good view. As soon as we stood still the fire works started at the base of the structure, brighter than fire, the whole thing looked like it was burning in flames. After a minute the lights on the “tree” started to come on in different formations and the fireworks subsided only to start a water show. When the fireworks resumed again it lit up the whole sky as if it was broad day light. The structure then is fully lit with water shutting from the base in different directions almost like the Bellagio fountain. The sound of the fireworks resonated around the surrounding mountains. I’m from the land where firework was invented. It’s hard to impress me with such things. I can’t believe that this really is one of the best shows I have ever seen! The crowds dissipated soon after the show was over, taking up the streets. The traffic stood still. We walked away in disbelief. How’s that for timing! We couldn’t have planned it better. Now we walk back to our hostel, which is only few blocks away, avoiding all traffic.

Everyday Rose and I ask ourselves: what we did to deserve all this unbelievable travel karma. Maybe it’s because of my bad luck for the last two months in the desert. Everyday we’re thankful for what we have. Sometimes it’s easy for people to be judgmental and say, “How nice it is for you to have fun. When do you plan to grow up?” The truth is that this is not easy. I work hard for everything to happen. Still, it would have been impossible without the support of few close friends and encouragement from many like minded travelers on the road. None of this came without sacrifices. I don’t have a job, health insurance or a place I can call home. I do have student loans, credit card bills, car payments and insurances to pay for. I know this is exactly what I want to do at this time of my life. For everyday I’m on the road I am filled with the urge to seek and to find. Every night when I go to sleep I’m content and satisfied. I feel alive, I mean really alive. I’ve always like the question Jennifer Aniston asked in the movie “The Good Girl”: “Do you have unlived lives in your veins?”