Thursday, January 31, 2008

Last Day at CH2M and the First Angry Blog

“Farewells”, as Borges mentioned in one of his stories is “a senseless celebration of misfortune.” Today I had my very last class with Raul at CH2M. Andres has been absent for the last two weeks because he is too preoccupied with work. I had known this for couple of weeks now but only mentioned it to Julia, a supervisor from the institute, last week. I didn’t feel like saying anything to Raul or Andres because I really don’t want to put much emphases on the last class.

My last ride on the 102 was a pleasant one I suppose. People have told me it’s not a common occurrence that bus drivers give discounted prices to passengers, yet nine out of ten times my morning ride only costs me 90 cents instead of 1 peso. This morning was no different. I even paid special attention to pronounce “un peso” as clearly as possible; nevertheless, the driver pressed the 90-cent button. I gave him a smile when he looked at me through the rare view mirror. Somehow half way through the ride everyone else had gotten off the bus except me. After peering back at the empty bus the driver started to talk to me. He inquired about my travels, where I’m from and the usual questions. Then like all Argentine men he proceeded to ask if I’m married or have a boyfriend. When I shook my head he asked for my phone number but luckily by then my stop was only one block away. He said “ciao Linda” a few times as I jumped off the bus.

On the ride back from la Boca I was at first a bit sad for leaving but then I was more annoyed. I’m a sensitive person. Ever since I was very young I knew I would never want to be a teacher since part of the job is to constantly say good bye to your students. However, that never stopped me from teaching and after doing it for 5 years I still haven’t improved on my farewell skills. At least this time there were no tears.

All of my students are great and so are the classes. One thing I’m starting to get very annoyed with is the institute. When I sent Julia my “resignation” email last week I used all sorts of words like “grateful” and “sincere” to express my feelings thinking she might appreciate it too. But the only response I got from her was “oh, I thought you were staying until June.” She repeated the same comments when I ran into her at NCR yesterday trying to make me feel guilty because she has to look for another teacher to replace me. The problem is not I want to leave, but the fact that it’s not at all realistic for me to stay based on my current earnings. Julia is nothing compare to Denis from Dublin. My god, I’m getting more and more pissed off just thinking about it. Dublin, being one of the bigger and more established institutes, also pays one of the lowest salaries for teachers, next to WallStreet Institute. I have worked very hard for them with no complaints of any sort. The amount of time and energy I have poured into this workshop far exceeds the paltry $10 per hour compensation I get. It’s true that I’m not here to make money but this is not slave labor. I know that I’m being exploited so Denis could make money. And I don’t even have a problem with that. What really pisses me off is the kind of pressure I get from Denis about staying here to teach more classes. She tries to manipulate the situation and to make me feel guilty even though I’m the one that’s being exploited. There’s something demented about her tactic. Does she expect me to volunteer here my whole life so she could go on her month-long vacation in Mexico? I can’t wait until the next time Denis says “It’s too bad that you’re leaving because you’re the perfect candidate for the workshop and we’re planning on having many more of them.” I’ll make sure to tell them that there will be no more workshops until they start paying me more money. Damn it, I’m a very nice person but I can only tolerate so much. This has got to be my first angry blog ever.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

He's Back

Lock up your daughters and keep a watchful eye on your girlfriend, Gary is back in town and he’s ready to party. We met last year on my first visit to Canning. Gary is the friend of my “twin sister” from Hawaii (as Gary like to refer to us). Although I have no objections to his character, I keep a distance from him because occasionally he sounds a bit like a typical used-car salesman. I’m often put-off by people who uses flattery to manipulate situation or overly opportunistic. I’m too nice of a person to be taken advantage of. I was a bit annoyed by the fact that he had pressured me to look for a different place so he could rent mine. But after I firmed the deal with the other apartment owner Gary came and said he wants to stay with me only for couple of days until he finds an apartment in Palermo. I try not to hold grudges against people, just another lesson learned.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Presentation Workshop Day 1

Today is the first gloomy day we’ve had in the city since I came here in November. The light rain went on and off for much of the day. After 12 hours of sleep I felt refreshed and ready to take on the workshop. I had originally planed to wear back since I have very few things to choose from for more formal occasions such as giving a workshop but I went with my red and white candy stripe shirt instead for a more cheerful presence. It’s not quite the boardroom wear but enough formality for this occasion. My two other morning classes at NCR and Siemens have been conveniently cancelled for today so all I had to do was the workshop from 4 to 7 in the afternoon. I stopped by Dublin to pick the teaching materials which I have meticulously labored over and took my time to walk down Lavallel to Maipu, where the learning center for Banco Frances is located. This 9-hour workshop is perhaps the hardest I’ve ever had to work for $90. In some professions that could be made in merely half-an-hour. But of course, I’m not here to make money necessarily. I would probably teach for free just for the fun of it all. But let’s not tell Denis about this. She’s the woman who owns Dublin and she would be more than happy to let me volunteer for the institute while she makes all the money.

Anyways, I started the workshop by presenting myself not so much as a teacher but their peer. I’ve been teaching ever since high school. I’m used to having students who are my parents or grandparents age. One thing I learn is to never sound condescending. I want to show my respect for people who have much more experiences than me. For music I might have more expertise but this time I’m giving a workshop on presentation to professionals from Banco Frances. Although I was only the second youngest person in the room I wanted to be humble. I want them to know that I’m not here to teach the art of presentation but to provide an environment where they can practice the skills they already know in English. I am there to organize the information, facilitate discussions and group works and to make corrections and suggestions when they are needed. Once in a while I could feel when someone older comes to the classroom with the thought that what could this 24-year-old possibly teach me? The only way I have found to resolve the issue is to be agreeable with them at first to create a comfortable learning environment. Once people put their barriers down it is then possible for me to prove them with my actions that I do have something to teach.

Overall the workshop went well. I kept the talking to a minimum with simple PowerPoint slides and encouraged a lot of group works and mini practice presentations. People paid attention to what I had to say and showed great willingness to participate. I was very pleased with the results especially when everyone took all the handouts with them at the end of the class. It shows that they cared and valued what we did in class. Many people also requested me to send them my PowerPoint slides. I talked with couple of the girls on my way out and everyone was so enthusiastic on helping me get a job here. I think people know when someone is sincere and it shows when you do everything with love.

I ended the day at my favorite Peruvian restaurant in my favorite city with my favorite friend Rose. What more could one ask for?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Pick me!

So maybe you have noticed that other than documenting my thoughts I have also become obsessed with taking pictures. I walk around all day with my camera just in case there's something worthy of a picture. Here as you can see I have become a stalker! Do you think she's a Colts fan? There are now over 1000 photos on my flickr account and two of them have just recently been added to a travel guide website called Schmap. You can see my pictures here and here.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The four-month long bachelorate party

Liren: “Where would you like to be?”

Nick: “I don’t know. If I knew I would have been there already.”

After a torturous week of preoccupation I was barely enjoying this city anymore. Rose is a terrible influence. After turning her three-month visit to a year-long stay she has once again extended her trip. This time instead of calling Delta to change the return date, she had to actually by a whole new one-way ticket because her old one had expired. $1200 is a small price to pay for happiness unless you only have $200 in your bank account. But I’m not easy influenced. I have to make up my mind all on my own. It’s a terrible habit. Other than few minor panic attacks I tried to stay calm and to process everything thoroughly. Last time when I left I was sad, I was unsettled but I was ok. I knew that I would come back again, soon. This time is different. While I still want to return here I really don’t know when that is going to be. In a way, this is like the last fling before I finally grow up and become a responsible human being like everyone else. This is the four-month long bachelorate party. I want to indulge while it’s still possible. Buenos Aires will always be here but I am constantly evolving. The people I know here now will eventually move on and the city won’t feel the same without them.

When I was on the subway the other day I saw a woman reading Henry Thoreau and it reminded me of the trip I took during my senior year in high school to Boston. That must have started this whole traveling along thing. I remember going to the Sleep Hollow Cemetery outside of the city to visit the resting place of Emerson and Thoreau on an unusually warm spring day. On my way back I joined a family from Utica, NY for lunch and some sightseeing before being dropped off at the train station. How different I was back then, yet how little I have changed over the years. Maybe I was more naïve or idealistic but I’m still free spirited and adventurous. I like the Liren back then. She was in the process of choosing whether to go to Eastman or USC. The Liren right now has to pick Buenos Aires or Las Vegas. I know that I’m in denial. As long as I’m here I feel it’s justified to not move on. The city is my mistress. She distracts me from everything else in my life. I don’t feel as guilty for not practicing my guitar. I don’t feel guilty for not having a real job. I don’t need an apartment or a car; I don’t even need men. I’m happy despite the fact that I have nothing.

I extended my plane tickets for March 18th. One more month is better than nothing. People are greedy and I’m no different. I’m happy here that’s all it matters. I have the rest of my life to work and be responsible. And with my genes that’s going to be a long time to come.

"I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan- like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion." - Walden Pond, Henry Thoreau

Friday, January 25, 2008

Federico y Ariadna Naveira

Here is a video for those people who think tango is all about lust and passion. There are two of the best dancers there are. Do you think there are lovers? Wrong and wrong again. They're siblings, sister and brother. Federico y Ariadna Naveira are from a family of great tango dancers. Imagine growing up in that household! “Dad, my sister is taking my cake!” “Go dance with her!”

I haven’t taken any classes since I came back this time but today I went to Tango Brujos to see these guys. Tango Brujos is a tango shop with studio in the upstairs for lessons and classes. It is featured in Samantha Browns Latin American: Buenos Aires. I love the way Ariadna dances. She has the most beautiful pivots and boleos. It’s always inspiring to watch them.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Emotional Breakdown

As my departure gets closer I’ve had many panic attacks in the last few days about leaving this beautiful city. Everyday I contemplate with the idea of staying here longer. But how long is enough? A month, a year, a life time? I’m so infatuated this place that sometimes it feels as if my heart is in my throat. Rose and I share this obsession and we talk about it often. It can’t be healthy for us two maniacs to be so close together. We love this place different for reasons but I known in some ways we have no reasons at all. “It’s like being in love” said one of my students, after I had a total emotional breakdown in class! I was literately in tears. When I told Rose the incident she thought it was the funniest thing ever. Maybe because she thought I was a bit out of character. It’s interesting how some people just makes you open up like they have this aura around them.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Third Time is the Charm

Last night I had the best milonga ever at Plaza Bohemia. It was my third consecutive Saturday night at Maipu 444 organized by Hector Pellozo y Norma Zugasti. Unlike touristy spots like Canning or La Viruta, I realized that a more traditional milonga is like a family. Some of the dancers have been coming here for decades sitting at the exactly same seat week after week. People greet each other with warmth and sometimes they squeeze in a joke here and there in between the tandas. Tango is not a beauty pageant but a pretty dress does open doors. A new guy in a suit is bound to have a better seat than one with t-shirt. Although my simple black cotton dress wouldn’t be considered as an attention getter, I did wear a more eye-catching Marilyn Monroe maroon halter dress the week before. I remember one man said “Everyone likes your dress.” “How do you know?” I asked facetiously. “Because everyone is looking at it.”

Maybe it was that, or the fact that it’s my third time here, people recognized me. The organizer welcomed me as if I am slowly becoming a part of the family. He took my hand and brought me to perhaps one of the best seats in the house, center first roll. Normally I would have changed my shoes there but for the first time I reserved that act in the lady’s room. I’m not certain if it is indeed against the traditional convention to change shoes at the milonga but I felt awkward doing it in front of all the great dancers. When I came back I sat down more calmly than usual and observed the dancers on the floor, making mental notes of people I want to dance with and which lady had the best comme il faut. Marisa Quiroga was there again sitting at her reserved seat against the long wall. I remember her as the dance partner of Eduardo Saucedo. They are both extraordinary dancers that teach together at many reputable places including the annual tango congress here in Buenos Aires. I took a class with them long time ago at Confideria Ideal. After observing her delicate foot works for three weeks I have also noticed that she must really like the color purple; it is always a part of her outfit. Marisa is very petite with waist-length dark hair and beautiful eyes outlined with darker makeup so they standout even more from her olive skin tone. She has the most elegant and precise steps with small articulate ornaments that matches perfectly with the music. She can always be seen in a form-fitting colorful knee-length dress that very well complements her figure and last night was no different than others. The second tanda I was invited by an older gentlemen with blue and white striped shirt. I was a little hesitant at first because didn’t recognize him but he turned out to be a great dancers. Half way into the milonga I found out his name was Ruben when he gave a beautiful performance of one tango and one milonga. I wish I had brought my camera with me. Amazingly, I danced with another professional milongero name Horacio, who is scheduled to perform the next week. He didn’t dance with me until much later during the milonga and was pleasantly surprised by the way I danced. He complemented me few times and I was flattered. Not trying to be modest but I am really nothing comparing to all the other experienced dancers at this milonga. I also danced with Giovanni, the tall Italian guy who sat in the back because he was wearing a very casual white shirt with yoga pants. I met him at Canning on New Years Eve when he first came here from Rome. Giovanni is a very good dancer with light lead and fun steps. I danced with “guy with the white shirt” again, even though this time he was wearing a suit. Catherine and I referred to him that way because neither one of us remembered his name. He is an excellent dancer with very clear lead. Both of us loved dancing with him. I was very happy when an older man accepted my invitation not once but twice last night. He didn’t dance much at the milonga and only danced when he hears a song he liked. I had danced a lovely set of vals with him the Saturday before when someone told me later that he is actually very picky on choosing who he dances with. This time we have become more accustomed to each other. He must have been more than 70 years old but his steps are strong and lively. You can tell to him tango is a way of life. We don’t talk much but when one song stopped he tested me by asking, “Do you know which orchestra played the last song?” I’m familiar with many tango tunes but I’m not completely sure of all the composers so I shook my head. “Troilo” he said, “muy lindo tango.” Interestingly enough there was another older gentleman name Pedro, who can’t seem to stop dancing with me. He’s good humored like a little kid and constantly flattered me with complements. Pedro was there with Alexjandro, an Argentine psychologist who lives in Seattle. We danced a set and he later walked me back to my apartment discussing about his research project on the healing aspect of tango. It was a beautiful night. I’ve ever danced with so many good dancers and now at last, I’m spoiled beyond belief.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

This is how life IS

After a wonderful night of sleep on the cloud-like fluffy bed, Rose and I left the hotel and were once again consumed by the unimaginably enchanting city. We laughed and shook our heads in disbelief as we walked back to Monica’s apartment in the refreshing breeze. What a life! I remember while we were having ice cream with Catherine in Palermo last weekend I said, “This is how life should be!” Catherine corrected me and said “No, this is how life IS!”

So I have become obsessed with documenting everything. I don’t want this to pass, but more importantly, I don’t want to ever forget how this feels. I am constantly in love with everything. It’s the kind of high I’ve never experienced before. I’m content. There are other desires but when I go to sleep at night I think life has been so good and if I never wake up again in the morning, it is ok. To me, that’s contentment.

Happy Birthday Mom

At 8am Beijing time I called mom to be the first one to wish her a Happy Birthday. She’s still visiting my grandparents in China and plans to stay there until after Chinese New Year in the middle of February. I was a bit rushed since I only had 3 minutes left on my calling card and it was getting too late here to venture out to look for a locutorio. As always, mom was very happy to hear from me. She told me that my grandparents are doing well and her health has improved a little since we last spoke. Mother also told me that this winter has been one of the coldest ones she could remember in Hunan. Sometimes I worry about her almost like the way she worries about me. I wonder if she is happy. I wonder if she is healthy. I am my mother’s daughter. I am just like her, only she’s infinitely better and stronger. From time to time I feel like I live my life too selfishly and wish that I could do more to contribute to her happiness. After all she has sacrificed so much for me. The only justification to live the way I do is the fact that I know ultimately she wants me to be happy; therefore, by fulfilling my life with joy I am also bringing happiness to hers. Although I didn’t go to Med school like she wanted me to and have a steady job with a steady boyfriend she knows that I am a responsible and sensible person. She used to worry about me but more and more she has learned to trust my judgments. Mom, I love you and I miss you.

Friday, January 18, 2008

A Night at the Four Seasons

Sometimes wastefulness is a good thing, such as John’s $20,000 one-week ong South America trip. To spend lavishly is to reserve room at a five-star hotel for one extra day just so you can spend few more hours comfortably until your evening flight at 6pm. On the bright side, I get to enjoy the rest of the evening at the ritzy Four Seasons Hotel por gratis. I snapped few pictures of the world’s widest street basking in the last rays of the day from the balcony and took a long bath listening to Chopin’s nocturnes. What a beautiful place to be. Now I’m waiting for Rose to join me with a bottle of wine and some empanadas.

Another One Bites the Dust

It’s a small world after all; my friend John from Rochester is in town today for the end of his South America wine tour. I had a great time showing him parts of the city I love and find out what is going on in each others lives. He had emailed me few days ago mentioning about some news he can’t wait to tell me. So when I met up with him at the Four Seasons today I asked, “Are you getting married or are you going to be a dad?” “The first one”, he replied with a smile. Having known John since the last presidential election, I’m happy he has finally found the right girl. Although I’ve never met Ana, I’m sure she’s very lovely, especially since we share the same birthday. It’s reassuring to know that unconventional romance is not only a frictional act in movies and television as John pulled off the perfect proposal. The opportunity came when John found out that Ana was going to El Salvatore to visit her family as part of a Christmas present from her mother. Ever since then he had been coordinating with Ana’s mother for a surprise trip to El Salvatore. When Ana and her family came to the airport to pick up her mother she was shocked to see John as well, of course. They spent the next day in a beautiful resort on the coast and after a romantic lunch there was the unforgettable proposal on a small peninsula surrounded by the waves. The newly engaged couple were then greeted and congratulated by her family having been waiting impatiently inside the resort. I get misty eyed just hearing about it.

Anyways, for the rest of the day we walked around Florida Street for small presents for Ana and made a quick visit to the Japanese Garden in Palermo. John seemed happy and anxious to go back home to spend sometime with his new fiancé. He had also emailed a close friend to arrange an engagement party at the Winfield Grill the day after he gets back to Rochester. The couple is planning to move to Boston in June after Ana finishes her nursing degree at U of R. I haven’t seen John since I went back to Rochester from BA last time in April and now I don’t know when I’m going to see him again. John has been a good friend, always so encouraging and understanding. It was a little sad to finally say goodbye. We mentioned to stay in touch but it felt more like a closure. We used to take his dog Simba out for walks when I went over to hangout. It didn’t take long before Simba started to associate me with outdoor fun, so whenever I visited, Simba would always greeted me at the door with most enthusiasm. Now I feel like Julia Roberts in My Best Friend's Wedding. I told John that I miss Simba and he said, “Simba misses you too, I’m sure.”

Thursday, January 17, 2008

We are how we're governed

There’s a saying that goes something like “we are what we eat”. I’m not sure how much truth there is to that I do think to a large extend we’re the product of our environment. Everyday I strive to learn a little more about this country and its people. It’s common to think that individuals have separate identities from the government and the fact that politics and economics are only rhetoric for those who are in the big offices. In reality all of those things are very closely associated with our lives. They are constantly shaping who we are and how we live. A lot of Americans have the thought that, well, our government is a bit fucked up but surely, people from other country view our citizens as a separate entity. The terrorists obviously didn’t think so. That statement is especially irresponsible considering in a democratic society it is the people who elected the guys in charge in the oval office. Politics is inevitably tied to economics. It’s easy to overlook the fact that communism and capitalism are purely economic terms that have defined nations and citizens. Their originality had very little do to with politics but it is impossible to administrate any kind of policies without a governing body of some sort, even in lazzie-faire, the most free from of capital market. My point is that it is essential to understand the people’s government and economic system along with their history, religion, art and tradition in order to understand them.

Everyday I discuss various current events with my students. Things like new governmental policies, protests and the economy. I find it to be very intriguing. I have been talking so much about macro economics stuff lately that I feel like I’m having a comprehensive review of my college class, but with more understanding this time around. For example, yesterday I reviewed 6 types of unemployment: classical, cyclical, voluntary, seasonal, structural and frictional. We tried to identify ones that are constantly presented as part of natural unemployment and other ones that changes according to the economy. The recent jump in the US unemployment (5%) attributes mostly to cyclical and structural causes because of signs of recession and job loses in certain fields such as construction, manufacturing and retail. It also points to classical unemployment because of signs of inflation and demand for higher wages. My students informed me that the official unemployment rate here is around 10%, but everything looks better when it’s told by the government like the 17% inflation rate.

This morning I spoke with Raul about his current project with Shell. As an engineering manager at CH2M, Raul is overseeing the 55-million-dollar project to customize a purification process for the Shell refiner just outside of La Boca to extract sulfur from gasoline in order to be compliant with environmental regulations. H2S hydrogen sulfide, which is contained in petroleum, is a very harmful chemical. Such requirements were common for the US refiners in the late 90s. Once the extraction process is completed, the remaining sulfide is sold to other chemical companies to be used to make fertilizers (similar to NH3 ammonia also used for fertilizer as in one of Raul’s other projects). But really, getting rid of sulfur is Argentina’s least worries regarding oil right now. As many people have told me there is a shortage of oil here but Raul has confirmed that without any new expedition there is only enough oil in Argentina for the next ten years. Well, the logical thing is of course to expedite. Nothing is that easy. The current government is primarily concerned with price control, especially when it comes to gas. With no national oil companies, large foreign corporations such as Shell and Exxon have been forced to sell gas internally under a price ceiling. Any company failing to agree with the policy is band from exporting oil. This has been the case for Shell, which is presently holding relatively higher prices than other stations around the city. There is also a similar regulation stating that companies are not allowed to hold reserves during a shortage. These kinds of policies obviously act as a deterrent for any kind of future business investments. As you see, people here are too preoccupied with problems at hands to be concerned with the future. Everything here is speculation in the short run. At least Lenin and Stalin had 3 and 5-year plans.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bach and everyday life

I think performing Bach in Kilbourn Hall in front of a live audience has prepared me for everything in life. Whenever there’s something challenging I think, well, I’ve played Bach, I could do everything. I can just picture myself screaming in the delivery room one of those days with my husband saying, honey, it’s not a big deal, you used to play Bach, and of course, I would shout back with whatever energy I might have left in me, fuck off you asshole, you’ve never had to neither one of them. As I mentioned before, I have been invited to teach a workshop at Banco Frances at the end of the month to a group of 15 to 20 students. When I told Cesar about it over our weekly informal Spanish class at La Continental, he asked, “Are you nervous?” Hmm, honestly that’s never came to mind. The only time I was nervous in my life was before my senior recital and that only lasted until I actually started to play. I really miss my days at Eastman, but I digress. In order to be better prepared I went to Banco Frances this afternoon to meet with one of the organizers, Giorgia, and to observe her class. She is a very lovely young woman from Portland, Oregon. She was dressed in a sheer black-and-white poke-dotted blouse with a white tank-top underneath. Her grey pencil skirt perfectly complemented her nice figure. I wasn’t too crazy with her off-white sandals but they seem comfortable, which is a must in this city. Her little red earrings that matched perfectly with her lipstick and the large strands of fashion necklace added a lively dash of color to the whole outfit. You can tell she really putted thoughts into dressing herself in the morning when she gets out of the bed with her boyfriend. Yes, she’s here with her boyfriend. It is just as odd for me to hear people traveling with their boyfriends as others who think it’s odd for me to travel alone. Before I fall completely into the anti-social category I would like to clarify the fact that I do enjoy interacting with people I meet in my travels. The reality is that when you’re traveling with a friend, regardless of what kind, you are unavoidably spending a lot of time and attention on each other, which in my option act as a distraction from the real lure of the city. I guess it all depends on the motivations for the journey. For me it is to explore the world, to experience the culture, to understand the people and to know myself. To me, those aims are very personal. While it’s nice to have a travel buddy once in a while, I enjoy exploring things on my own. It gives me a sense of accomplishment that otherwise wouldn’t be as satisfying.

So I digress again. Giorgia is teaching a class on negotiation, which I attended this afternoon to get a better idea on what I need to do for mine. We discussed about the seminar afterwards and she told me that she will send me some PowerPoint slides to use although I’m more interested in creating my own. My only concern is that the students will be in low intermediate level at best which greatly limits what I can do in class. In general I’m very excited about the seminars. I hope to do a good job and get positive feedbacks. Maybe that’ll eventually lead to something else.

When I came home I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that my apartment has been thoroughly cleaned. It was a surprise because the maid finally came at the time she was scheduled to unlike the previous 6 weeks I’ve been here!

I was also happy to see that the internet was working for a short while so I quickly dealt with my emails. A friend from Rochester is coming tomorrow for two days as the end point for his free South America wine tour. It’s just a perk for being the CEO of your own company. More good news about teaching, my salary has gone up 10% for classes from English for Business as part of a new year present.
My god, was Carla getting teary when she spoke about my upcoming departure or did she have something in her eyes??? She kept telling me how much the students love me and how difficult it will be for her to break the news to them. She doesn’t understand how badly I want to stay here. No me quiero ir! Estoy enamorada con la ciudad! Damn student loan and car payment. Getting that car was probably the worst decision I’ve ever made! Either that or coming here. Hello, my name is Liren Chen and I’m addicted to Buenos Aires.

On a separate note, I had a great time hangout with Catherine while she was here. I was just looking at her blog site with lots of great photos from the milongas. I also love how eloquently she spoke about her relationship with tango. She mentioned that tango is a dance of the soul. Does that mean your dance partner is also your soul mate? It does feel that way for the eternal 3 and half minutes as you glide through the wooden floor to the heartbreaking music, knowing that when the last note strikes there will perhaps never be another. It’s the shortest and sweetest love affair.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Boca Jr. Stadium and Pilate

This morning I managed to squeeze in a short sightseeing tour of the Boca Jr. Stadium between my classes since it is only few blocks from CH2M Hill. Unfortunately there won’t be any games until mid Feb. so I did the next best thing: visiting the empty stadium. It’s not in a very good neighborhood and I’ve heard a lot of stories about people getting robbed around there. Although I’m not the kind of traveler who is afraid of much, I stayed alert and hung on to my bag the whole time. It wouldn’t be fun to loose my camera and ipod all in one day.

After my noon class I headed to the pilate studio recommended by Catherine and had my very first lesson. WOW! It was great! No wonder why it’s so hip nowadays. It works on strength, flexibility, posture, breathing and relaxation. Best of all it really targets the core muscles which you use for just about everything. I even got a mini massage at the end. I felt completely refreshed at the end of the session not sweaty and tired like a traditional workout. Of course, I went on to sign up for 12 lessons before I leave.

Now I’m utilizing my couple hours of internet access to update my blog and load new pictures onto Flickr. Later I will go to my weekly coffee break with Cesar to work on my Spanish. Then I might go to Practica X for some dancing to close up the night.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Slow Monday

The week got a slow start as the weather turns warm again. When I came back from my class this morning most of the store fronts here still closed. Even COTO seemed empty with only a few shoppers and nothing fresh from the bakery. I had to check my calendar twice to make sure that it is indeed Monday. I barely slept at all last night waking up at 4am with 5 mosquito bites and never fell asleep again. Today was kind of dragging. I feel like I’m having a mild case of heat stroke with terrible headache.

I had to break to Dublin the news that I’ll be stop teaching at the end of the month. They didn’t take that very well. Claudia kept saying how much the students liked my classes and that they’ll be terribly disappointed when I leave. Well, they won’t be the only ones that’s for sure. I enjoy teaching tremendously but there are other things I want to do before my trip is over. Maybe I’ll take sometime off and finally go to Colonia. I also want to go to few more milongas and shop for tango shoes. Now I barely have time to have good meals because I get so tired from the classes. It’s not so much physically taxing as it is mentally demanding. All the traveling in downtown is no easy task with the unrelenting traffic and of course the heat. For the first time I was rather annoyed that my Monday afternoon class is once again canceled at the last minute. I made the effort to take the bus to school with all my teaching material only to receive a phone call at 5 to be informed of the cancellation. Had the call came 20 minutes earlier I could have avoided all the unnecessary travel. This is the Argentine way, everything to the last minute. Students never cancel ahead of time and they don’t even feel bad because they think the teacher gets paid anyways. Whatever happened to common courtesy people? Everyone is always so polite in the elevators and buses.

I took a nap this afternoon and felt slightly better after dinner. It’s Catherine’s last night here before she returns to Las Vegas. Instead of another late night at the milonga I decided that I really need to get some rest for my morning class.

*The picture is what I see when I leave my apartment in the morning on Viamonte.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Another Quiet Sunday

Time is going by so quickly. I can’t believe that half of my trip is almost over and I’m just getting started. Last week we had some power outages in short due to the changes in the environment as it was announced by the new president. Luckily I wasn’t affected other than having to eat my dinner in Chinatown in very dim lighting. Catherine, who rented a place on Av. De Mayo and Uruguay not far from me, did loose power for a short period one evening. The energy crisis continues in reality due to the insufficient supply for the growing demand of the city and the fact that the high government subsidies give very little incentive for people to consume conservatively. Last winter the government authorized to cut powers to factories to ensure power supply to private homes in order to secure public support for the upcoming election. Obviously it wasn’t good for the companies or the economy. This country has lots more problems and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Another serious disaster that stroke closer to home this time is the internet outage. Ever since coming here I’ve had the luck of reaching two open access wireless networks with good signal strength; however, I haven’t been able connect to neither one of them since Friday because one is now password protected and the other one is no longer visible. It’s scary to know how much I’ve gotten use to depend on it. I feel completely lost without internet connection. The good thing is that it forced me to actually do something more productive, like learning Spanish, finally! I sat around for two occasions this weekend and worked on the gigantic Spanish grammar book I brought with me for the trip.

I spent the afternoon/evening with Rose and Catherine. We had a nice little visit to the Evita museum in Palermo followed by a trip to Un Altra Volta, a popular ice cream shop. I’ve been terrible with ice cream lately. Just two days ago I had almost quarter of a pound all by myself. For sure, two things I won’t be short of on this trip are sugar and cholesterol because after the milonga at Glorieta we went to Chinatown and had the super fatty pork dish again.

While most meals out have been very pleasant here I was completely appalled by their version of the “ma-po tofu” tonight. It was especially shocking considering the fact that I just had it last week and it looked nothing like from what I’ve had before. I explained to Catherine that it was like getting a fish sandwich when you’ve ordered a cheeseburger. The two dishes had nothing in common other than the fact that they both had tofu in them. But that wasn’t the worst, instead of apologizing immediately for the wrong dish, the waitress and the manager both insisted that it was indeed “ma-po tofu”. I’ve had ma-po tofu in many places, authentic ones and a wide range of imitations but never anything like this. They had me confirm with the young waitress I ordered from last time suspecting I ordered a different dish but she eventually sided with me and told me that the “good cook” isn’t working today. So I told them “let me know when the good cook is working and I’ll come back again.” This is absurd. I can’t believe they tried to fool someone who just ordered all the stuff in Chinese off the Chinese menu. No offense, but hello, not a gringo here. If there’s anything I do know it’s my food, damn it.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Maipu Maipu One More Time

I had another wonderful night of dancing at Maipu 444. I have decided that it is THE coolest club in town, literately. While it is a struggle to stay comfortable in most other places, Maipu 444 has all of their ceiling fans and big air conditioners on full blast. I’m not sure if they are compliant with the new regulation from the president Cristina Kirchiner to conserve energy but I’m not complaining. It even gets a bit chilly sometimes if I set around for too long waiting for a dance. Most people who have not been here have the misconception that you go to the milonga and dance, but in reality, there is a lot of waiting around. This is especially true for women because they usually out number the men, besides, it’s not proper for them to invite anyone other than accepting invitations. Good dancers are very observant and picky about whom they dance with, so it’s hard to get asked if you’re mediocre. The levels are comparatively higher for places like Maipu 444, where dancers are predominantly Portenos, unlike La Viruta and Canning where I get to dance mostly with other tourists. Because of this, Maipu also has more traditional sitting with men and women seated at opposite ends of the room completely separated from each other. The man must look at a woman in the eyes to invite her to dance. If she accepts by nodding her head slightly he will walk to her table to take her to the dance floor. The whole thing happens during the blink of an eye without any verbal exchange. So if you blink and look at the wrong direction in between two tandas you loose your chance to dance the next four songs. Sometimes going to the milonga is a test of patience. There have been times when I sat around for hours and only dance once or twice. It has gotten much better now that I’m more used to the whole staring process to look for a potential partner. It also makes a difference on where you sit. It’s almost impossible to see anything when you’re behind 3 walls of women. In that case you have to be extra patient to wait until later during the night when some of them leave. I was very lucky tonight since some of the dancers recognized me from last week and invited me to dance. It’s inspiring to watch good dancers. They make me want to take classes and practice, but I don’t have time or a partner.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Cantina Pierino

I met up with Rose at my favorite Italian restaurant, Cantina Pierino, last night for the ravioli dinner we’ve been talking about for weeks. The place is very cozy with exposed brick walls and various cooking pots dating from last century hanging from the ceiling. This is the old hangout spot for legendary tango composers like Piazzolla and Troilo. Dinner was delicious as usual. It’s amazing how fast time escapes us. The last time Rose and I sat in that restaurant was a year ago! Now we’re even more Porteno than before with our 4-hour long dinner! Yes, we got there just past 9 and stayed until 1am! We were the last ones to leave with so much to talk about. I was laughing with tears when I told her about my grammar class in the morning and I was tearful at times when I mentioned my reunion with my father in China last January. Rose and I get along great. It hasn’t occurred to me yet but I know I’ll miss her when she leaves at end of the month. But for now I’m more worried about leaving here myself! Somehow I just know that I’ll see Rose again. I don’t know why. Maybe we’re the kind people who do things and make them happen. I didn’t go to sleep until 3am so naturally I was very tired for my class this morning with Juliana from Deloitte. I always enjoy our classes together because of our discussions about various economic related topics. I feel much more comfortable with them than grammar points.

The day was so beautiful I forced myself to enjoy some of it rather than hurrying home for a nap. After a lovely coffee break at the Havana on Cordoba y Pena reading my favorite book “Freaknomics” I took the bus to the Fine Art Museum so I can finally cross it off from my to-do list.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Grammar Lesson

As usual, I struggled to get out of bed this morning for my class at Lockwood Greene in La Boca. The weather had improved a bit after a night of rather violent storm. For a short while during the night I was actually startled by all the thunder and lightening. I arrived at my class a bit late but it wasn’t a huge deal. As we waited for Raul I jumped on the chance to work with Andres on his “much” problem. You see, in Spanish it’s customary to use the word “mas” for just about everything but in English things are described by different quantifiers. Some students use literal translation to go from Spanish to English and as a result they say things like: I drink much wine with much friends. The sentence, although not correct, is still perfectly understandable. However, since it happens so frequently that I find myself beginning to catch onto a bad case of English grammar as well so I had to make some corrections before I get contaminated with Spanglish. I started to explain to Andres that we use the word “much” more for uncountable things such as emotions and feelings. We say “thank you very much” and “I love you very much”. It’s also used when there is an unknown amount in the cases of inquiries: “how much …?” For more quantified amounts we use words such as “some” (which doesn’t exist in Spanish), “a little” and “a lot”. Furthermore, in cases when there is a definable unit we use words like “couple”, “few” and “many”. We say “I would like to have a little wine” and “I would like to have few bottles of wine”. We use “a couple” and “a few” for 2 or more things. We use “couple of” and “few of” for 2 or more things from a larger group/amount. Ok, so we made a little chart to classify those words which I thought was pretty good without using any reference guide or lesson plans. Andres seems to be getting a much better grasp on the subject so I was satisfied. We examined the differences between “I like a lot of wine” and “I like wine very much”. Everything seems to be in good order until I started to think about the stuff myself. If we used specific quantifiers for different items then why is it incorrect to say “I drank much wine” but ok to say “I drank too much wine.”??? Thankfully, nobody asked that question. By the way, we used wine as an example because that’s Andres’s favorite.

When Raul joined us we moved on to articles. Ok, not a big deal. I’ve never had any specific training on using articles myself but it’s all pretty intuitive from conventional uses. So we started the following dialog:

A: Would you like AN apple?

B: Yes, I love apples!

A: I have A big one and A small one. Which one would you like?

B: I will have THE small one please.

A: Are you sure you don’t want THE big one?

B: No, the small one is fine. What A delicious apple!

A: Well, I’ll have THE big one then.

The students got through it pretty well without much help. So now the next suggested activity was to talk about a different fruit using the same format. “Ok, let’s talk about bananas!” I said. It didn’t take long before a seemingly harmless subject turned into a cause for uncontrollable laughter. Here I am with two older engineer managers asking each other: “Would you like a banana?” “I love bananas!” “I have a big one and a small one. Which one do you prefer?” “I’ll have the small one please.” “Then I’ll have the big one.” I was in tears by the end of that dialog. It’s probably one of those you-had-to-be-there moments.

The class got me thinking about more grammar issues. Although I’ve been teaching for a couple of weeks now I rarely cover grammar points since most of my students from Dublin are advanced enough to use them properly. Sometimes they are even better informed about the different verb tenses then I am. I have taught a few classes on how to use passive sentences in formal writing but it was very easy because they were pre-exposed to the topic already. In reality, I’m really unsuitable for teaching English since I barely learned it myself. You think my blog is hard to understand but you would have even less of a clue if I didn’t use spelling and grammar check every time. Most English I know I acquired from day to day conversations, television and books I read outside of the classroom. The only grammar lessons I had were from three years of Latin classes in high school. Now that’s a language with perhaps the mostly logical and complex grammar rules. I could explain perfectly well all the parts of speech and verb tenses but that doesn’t mean I always use them correctly. I spent half of my life speaking a language with no gender, articles, tenses or plural forms. However, Chinese does have a crazy number of different quantifiers, almost one for every item. I once heard that they even have special grammar class in high school and colleges just on quantifiers. For example in English we say “a loaf of bread” or “a cut of tea” but not everything has a unit like that, well, not unless you’re speaking Chinese! They have words like “loaf” and “cup” for just about everything. There’s a different one you must use when you say “a cow”, “a horse”, “a big”, “a cat” and “a fish”. And that’s just the beginning for animals. There is even a different one you use for “a person” in formal and informal situations. Andres joked about learning Chinese instead of English. Well, although the grammar is pretty easy at first I have to agree with Carolina that learning Chinese is really “an intellectual kamikaze experience”.

So instead of teaching grammar and spelling, I focus more on tailored English lessons involving Finance. After all, I have to utilize my four year of over-priced economics degree somewhere! It’s very convenient for me that most of my students have backgrounds in finance and work for banks and consulting firms. As a result, I’m constantly on the outlook for the latest economics headlines regarding the weakening US economy. We have discussions on the housing bubble, mortgage crisis, interest rates, unemployment rate, inflation and reversal in investment trends. My ipod has become an indispensable tool for teaching. It allows me to download and play the latest installments of NPR podcasts to work on listening skills in class. We listen to a variety of things from interview with Allen Greenspan to comedy clips from Jon Stewart and Chris Rock. Also after four years of “melodic dictations” from one of the toughest music institutes I now play songs for students to write down lyrics. Old standards such as Nat King Cole work extremely well because of the clear diction. I’ve also used the song “If I had a Million Dollars”. It’s another fun way to improve listening skills and start the class on a good note.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Promotion and Chinatown

Av. De Mayo was closed down again this afternoon due to protests against the new mayor. As a result I was late to my English class at Siemens. I did manage to snatch a few photos but the police were not happy about it. One came over and told me to put my camera away.

The good news is that I am doing very well with my English classes. Although it's hard to get up in the morning from time to time I actually look forward to see all my students. You can hardly call this working. Two of my students have requested additional classes from me so I’ll be seeing them twice a week instead of one. They also said some nice things about me to the supervisor so now I am being promoted to teach a workshop at a bank for 30 pesos an hour at the end of the month! That's 30% more than my current rate! :) Of course, money is not so much of an issue. I would be happy to teach here even if I didn't get paid at all, just don't tell Dublin about it.

After a nap I took the 29 to Chinatown for a much needed grocery trip and some delicious dinner at a place near the railroad track called the Great Wall. As usual, I loaded up on tofu from a store where they make fresh ones everyday in a good variety. A lot people in the US mistake tofu for vegetarian food. I hate that. People also don’t know that tofu comes in all shapes, colors and textures from plain white ones to dark dried marinated ones. There are also my favorite deep fried ones like little bread sponges and some fried on the outside but white on the inside. Anyways, for dinner I ordered my favorite dish “ma-po tofu” and Chairman Mao’s favorite “Mei-cai pork”. Coming from the same province, Chairman Mao and I share similar taste in food: hot and salty! It’s good for the warm weather. I’ve been sweating so much lately that a little more salt in the diet will keep me from being dehydrated like someone else I know. While tofu is generally thought as good for you, the pork dish is surely an artery clogger. It’s made from “five colored pork” which means pork with three layers of fat and two layers of meat. When it’s sliced it looks as if it has five layers/colors. It’s cooked with a salty dried green leafy vegetable. It’s usually regarded as the poor people’s food maybe because of the low quality cut of meat. I rarely see it in restaurants and certainly not on the “foreign” menu. It’s one of those dishes that I crave but once I get it I swear to never order it again only to hunger after it few days later. Alas, just as I started to dig into the mouth watering food the electricity went out in the whole neighborhood. I was warned about the power shortage just this afternoon and didn’t think twice about it. The heat soon took over the dinning room but I was just thankful that I still got my dinner. There were few small backup lights for me aim my chopsticks at the right direction. Somehow the food, the heat, old chopsticks and dim lights brought me right back to grandma’s house in Hunan when I was just a little girl. I miss that.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

It's getting hot in here!

Yet another scorching hot day in Buenos Aires with temperature surpassing 100 degrees and 60% humidity. It’s especially unbearable to walk to and from classes during middle of the day in downtown. I could feel the heat radiating from the concrete and smoky exhausts from vehicles passing by. And all this for a minimum paid teaching job in the best city in the world. I guess it’s worthwhile. Got my first pay check today and cashed immediately at the HSBC across the street. The amount was just enough for a pair of Comme il Faut, a nice dinner and a milonga but still, it was more than satisfying. I had planned to go to Colonia, a small historical town in Uruguay on Friday but after checking out the schedule at the ferry terminal I decided to wait until next month when I stop teaching.

I met up with Catherine from Las Vegas at Salon Canning last night. The place was so crowded couples were literately playing bumper cars on the dance floor. The highlight for me was a performance given by two older milongueros, not for their steps but for the kind of energy they brought into the room. As one point the older man opened his arms and ran around the room like Maria when she was singing “the hills are alive with the sound of music.” It’s not much of a trick to dance tango without hands, especially for experienced dancers and couples who are familiar with each other, but the kind of unbound joy and love he expressed was something I have never seen before. Everyone acts like tango is the dance of pain and suffering yet he kissed her purely out of happiness, none of the Hollywood sentimental drama crap. It was truly refreshing and amazing to watch.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Hugh Hefner of Tango

This is Dani Garcia dancing at Maipu 444. There might be better dancers but no one does it like Dani. The word suave and Hugh Hefner comes to mind when I think about Dani. The video is slightly out of sync with the music but you get an idea how good he is. Milonga has a faster rhythm than tango. Dancers step on every beat instead of every other one. Now I see Dani at Salon Canning all the time but he rarely dances. One of the first times I went to Canning after I returned here in Nov. he recognized me as I walked in and came over to give me a kiss. That was the highlight of my night.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Maipu 444

I love Sundays here in BA. Everything is calmer without the daily commuters and frequent noisy buses. Most of the stores and restaurants are closed. It’s a nice day to reorganize things and thoughts. I slept until 5 this afternoon, exhausted from the milonga at Maipu 444 last night. It was slow for me at first with lots of waiting around but by the second half of the night I was dancing with some very good dancers. The night ended on a high note when I finally caught the glance of the young guy with curly long hair. We danced the last five songs together with endless circles of molinetes until I was dizzy. It had the thrill of a roller coaster ride. I walked home with Rose after the milonga closed down at 3am only to stand around the corner from her apartment to talk for 2 more hours. I finally went to sleep at 7 wondering if there is ever going to be some sort of validation, a sign that I’m not dreaming, that everything I feel is real.
I realized last night while standing on the same corner I spoke with Rose when I left last time that nothing has changed; no setbacks and no progress. I know nothing more than I did last March. If I get on the plane now I would feel exactly the same way and es no bueno. I should know that everything IS real. The flowers are real, so are the morning bus rides on the 37. I have tickets to prove it. The cool evening breezes are real and my feelings are real. This is life; not a dream or a break. This is how I live. Everything else I do is just so I could be here. Isn’t this enough? Why must I insist on searching for a confirmation? Like all creatures, we’re innately greedy and selfish. Anything worth having is worth having more of. More money, bigger house, faster car, longer vacation and the ever ending love affair. When will it be enough or will it ever be enough? Often I wonder what life would be like if I didn’t have to leave. Would I still feel the same way? Is the sole reason for so much gratitude the imminent goodbye? We know very well that nothing is eternal but to act accordingly is an entirely different thing. Every now and then I actually do live as if it’s my last day. It’s an incredible sensation.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Cementorio de la Chacarita

I have wanted to visit the Cemetery in Chacarita for two weeks now. When the temperature finally cooled down below 30*C today I took the red line subte directly to Federico Lacroze after my morning class. While the exclusive Cementerio de la Recoleta was built for the remains of the rich and famous, the expansive cementerio de la Charcarita is more for the common folks. According to my guidebook it was “conceived as a home for the staggering numbers of dead from the yellow fever outbreak of 1871. A funeral train was set up that year, with an Englishman, Mr. Allen, piloting the steam engine until he too caught the plague and died.” However, that didn’t mean it was short of impressive granite, marble and bronze mausoleums and well recognized individuals. I thought it was appropriate to pay a visit to the big names of tango composers: Pugliese, Troilo, Di Sarli and Gardel. What a lively bunch! If the spirits are alive they must have awesome milongas!

In the contrary to most people, for who cemetery is usually not high on the list for places to visit, I’ve enjoy a walk among the tomb stones. I’m no ghost hunter and certainly wouldn’t do well in the dark but for me the cemetery is a peaceful and quiet place to relax and reflect. It’s also a great place to pay tribute to the people I’ve never had the chance to meet in person. Pugliese is still playing the piano on the burial while Magaldi holds the guitar above his. Gardel stands proudly in tuxedo with his usual suave complexion. I also like to read people’s birthdays, tombs with couples buried together and plates with dedications from family. I imagine shopping for a burial plot with a significant other would be a rather romantic thing to do. You must really like someone to not only want to send your life with them but also in death. Here comes my sentimental silliness. Maybe everyone should take a walk in the cemetery once in a while, it makes you appreciate life.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

One of those days.

2pm: Today hasn’t been very productive. I think I’m having a typical Argentine day. First of all, it's 96 degrees with 60% humidity. None of the computers and copy machines were working at school this morning. My class at Siemens was canceled. The maid didn’t show up when she was supposed to. I called the apartment owner and later found out that the maid decided to come on Friday afternoon instead. The water stopped for the second time this afternoon so I called the apartment owner again. She told me it must be the water company’s fault. So far I haven’t gotten anything done and it’s very frustrating. I’m going to Havana’s this afternoon and they better have a pile of alfajores waiting for me.

8pm: Just went to the grocery store and it started pouring just as I was on my way home. Now there is a big storm outside while I have not a drop of water inside. I feel like I need to get a bucket to collect some rain like you see people do on TV from some third world country. Not having water is very unpleasant but at least I can always cook up some tasty steak for dinner; I just can’t brush my teeth afterwards.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Hottest New Year Ever!

My first New Year in the southern hemisphere had a rather slow start. I was given the responsibility to bring potatoes to Regina’s house in Palermo for the asado last night. I dreaded going outside all day because of the unbearable heat and humidity. When I finally was ready to go to the bus stop to take the 39 my dress was soaked just standing around. I only remember sweating this much on one particular summer afternoon in Hunan 13 years ago when we burnt fake money for my grandmother’s ash. I thought I was used to heat growing up in southern China but in reality I’m too spoiled by the mild summers in Rochester now. Luckily, my tolerance for spicy food has only gotten more invincible over the years. It’s probably my strongest Hunan trait now but back to my New Years Eve. The 15 minute driving distance turned into a 2-hour long ordeal. I waited for over an hour trying to fight off the mosquitoes while staying next to an older couple who can’t seem to stop sucking the tongue out of each other’s mouth. I then got off the bus a stop too early and had to walk more than I wanted to with all the potatoes. By midnight I was covered by a mixture of sweat and the heavy smoke from the asado. It was so hot I barely wanted to eat anything. When the clock struck midnight fireworks went off from all directions around the city. We climbed on top of the roof top to get a better view. There wasn’t any centralized display of spectacular fireworks but the smaller ones firing at different times created an amazing stereo effect I’ve never experience before. It was an incredible sensation even without the visual aspects. People lingered around the house after much food and wine while I tried to look for a cooler spot to stay dry! Finally by 2am we slowly made our way to Salon Canning. I had a wonderful night of dancing and left with Rose just before the sun came up. We caught the 140 on our way out of the club leaving all my bad bus karma behind. Now the bus fare has officially increased to 1peso. We were happy.

I slept for a while and managed to wake up in time to call my parents in China to wish them a Happy New Year. I love to travel but there are times with I wish I had spent more time with my family. Even though I don’t get to see my parents often I do love them very much. I have been concerned ever since mom went to China in September because of her severe allergic reaction to the heavy air pollution. She sounded in good spirit when I spoke with her this morning. I asked her about my grandparents in Hunan. When I mentioned that grandma is going to be 84 this year my mother corrected me and said that she is actually going to be 85. We talked for a while about some other things but I was still hung up on my grandmother’s age. From what I remembered grandma was born on the year of the mouse which is 2008, so whatever her birthday was it had to be divisible by 12 and 85 wasn’t. I had to ask my mother again and she said, well, here’s the funny story: grandma was born on the year of the pig but she never told anyone her real age until now. It turned out that back when grandmother was a child, families rarely sent girls to school. However, nothing stopped my young grandma from education. When her family finally agreed to allow her to go to school she turned out to be one year older than the accepted school age. Grandmother was screaming in tears at the school’s office but thanks to my great-grandmother’s quick wit, she said, “Why are you so upset, my daughter? Don’t you remember you’re still one year younger than the requirement?” Ever since then, grandmother was born in the year of the mouse. When she finally told my grandfather recently after over 55 years of marriage he said, “I figured as much since there was barely one year difference between you and your brother.” Sometimes I wish I had half as much courage and will as my mom and grandmother.