Monday, July 27, 2009

---> Sand, snow and sun

Interesting weather we had here in the holidays. On Tuesday it rained tonnes - well tonnes for the Atacama desert, the driest desert in the world. But because it rained in Copiapó, and the further inland and the higher altitude one goes, the colder it gets, about 100kms inland from us it snowed!

Road, desert, snow

This wasn't just a light dusting of snow, this was brown desert that had been replaced by white - it stretched on for kilometres with the small mountains of the desert in the background. There were a lot of other people there who had come to see the snow.  It was something I never expected to see during my time in Chile - snow, and in the desert!

The huge amount of snow, everything was white and blue

Snow means snowmen, so I started to build a snowman on the bonnet of the jeep. When my family realised what I was doing, they helped by sticking some sticks in his neck to support his head better. We drove for about 40kms with Otto the Snowman on the bonnet, but due to some purposeful sharp breaking on my host dad's part (despite our protests) Otto unfortunately died at about 3pm on Tuesday afternoon.
Host sisters and I with Otto

Cousin, host grandma, host sibling, host dad and I in the snow with the other snowman

NZ represent! (AFS top, Icebreaker thermal and Canterbury pants!)

From Wednesday evening to Saturday evening I spent at the beach in Caldera, which is one hour away from Copiapó, where my host family has a little beach bach. It was only my host sister (the one who's 16) and I. We packed our bags on Wednesday, took a colectivo downtown to get to the bus/taxi  station. We got off and as we arrived at the station, the driver of the bus was calling out 'anyone else for Caldera?' So we ran to the bus. Because it was really full I ended up sitting next to an old man and my sister further at the back of the bus. But as people got out along the way, there was a seat next to her where I could sit. We arrived in Caldera and took another colectivo to the beach house, which is at another little beach about 15 mins walk away (it was cold and we had bags, and it was dark). There was a bit of cleaning to do - sweeping away the termite dust and cleaning the toilet, as the last people to stay there were my host dad, uncle, granddad and brother, and men do not think to put chlorox in the toilet bowl . . . - anyway, my host sister's boyfriend arrived while we were making pasta for supper. After supper we went to another beach house, where Rafa (host sis's boyfriend) was staying with a friend (Sebastian). There were a few of the friends of Rafa and Seba there - Ramón and Luis (Lucho/Tata), and Patricio (Pato). So we played cards for a few hours.

The next day was a lazy day - we all got together at Lucho's house to have lunch, which was prepared mainly by the guys, Rafa and Seba. An entrée of tomato, avocado and sardines, and a main of rice and a sausage. In Chile they prepare the rice differently too, first they chop up carrot into small pieces, and maybe a capsicum or peas, cook the carrot and other veges for a bit in oil, then add rice and water, then let it cook slowly in the pot on top of a toaster frier (which I have only seen in Chile). After lunch we watched a movie (well Seba, Lucho and I watched a movie while host sis and Rafa watched House). Then went to buy supplies for a barbecue later that night.
The real men cooking

The barbecue meant buying meat, sausages and an onion (to clean the grill thing), oh, and fanta and beer (as long as you look old enough, shops will sell alcohol to underage people). And just to stop anyone reading this from having a heart attack, it was one bottle of one litre between six people, with plenty of food. We are responsible teenagers. The barbecue was cleaned my rubbing the onion against the grill plate while the fire was going underneath (this is a proper artesional barbecue, with fire, not with gas.) Someone is in charge of the meat and it gets taken off the barbecue at various stages of rare-ness, cut into bite sized pieces. It's not like in NZ when once everything is cooked everyone starts to eat, here we get fed gradually. So we ate and played cards and had a good time.

I bought some NZ sweet 'Kiwi poo'/Choc raisins to have before the barbecue

Rafa, host sis, Seba, me and Lucho at the barbecue

The next day (Friday) we had lunch at Seba's beach house - rice and hamburger meat with a salad that I made. It was funny how my host sis had originally planned to come to the beach for one night (Wednesday) and we ended up leaving on Saturday! On Friday night we watched some of House, then we went back to our house because my host brother had arrived, I made a supper of rice and sausages for us while my host sis and boyfriend went for a walk.

Outside the beach house:

Saturday was a lazy day, we didn't really have any food for breakfast until someone bought bread. This time we all had lunch at my host family's beach house - oysters, pasta and sausages. It was a great lunch. Since we had stayed so late, Seba's dad drove us all back home, as we was coming anyway to pick up Seba and Rafa.

On Sunday, the last day of the holidays, I spent the morning cleaning and tidying my part of the room, not to say it was untidy but I wanted to have a good sort through my stuff. We went to a chinese restaurant for lunch, then afterwards I walked the dogs, and started to sort through all the emails I had missed while I was away! And now the holidays are over . . . These have definitely been great holidays!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

---> Month numero 5

And so suddenly, it seems, I have been in this country as an exchange student for five months! It is amazing to be an exchange student and live the life that people live in another country. There are the hard times obviously. But just being here is amazing and I don't regret for one second choosing to do an exchange.

So for those of you who ask, what could possibly be hard about doing an exchange? Here are the answers. 
1. Isolation. Remember nobody speaks your language. You are from another culture. You are weird but interesting. Friends might include you or might not. If you have friends . . . maybe you don't have friends. 
-What you learn from isolation: it goes away. There are times when you feel more isolated than others. And as the exchange students, it's up to YOU to break the barriers, even if you can harldy speak the language. Photos of home country help.

2. Communication: Not only do they speak a different language, but also have a different way of saying things. The first mission is to get your message across, the second stage of that mission is to convey it with the sense that you would convey it with in your native language, which means understanding a lot more of the culture than it appears at first. 
-What you learn from that: Although it's nice to be able to know fully that you are getting your point across, it's generally not going to matter if you can't. If you can't explain something, will it matter next week? It's like survival class, do what is necessary to survive and the extra bits are like treats.

3. Being different: Kind of like isolation. Being around people from a different culture, who you are generally taller than can get a bit hard sometimes. You want to joke around and be yourself but sarcasm and your style of humor isn't as well understood yet. Which means you long for your friends back home who get you.
-What you learn from it: It can be fun too. Just get over it, and saying that to yourself does help, because it's no use being miserable when you could be having fun!

What I tell myself whenever times are hard is that it's not going to be hard forever. Because that's true. It's part of life to go through the tough times and nobody said life was going to be easier, it just makes it that much harder when you are in a foreign country.

The good stuff by far outweighs the hard stuff. 
1. Being an exchange student. You always have something to talk about - your home country. A good way to break the ice with someone. And you get special attention because you're foreign. Like being called by your full name instead of just your first name. 
2. The food. Empanadas, cakes and tortes. All is good. Bread too, because it's like little buns instead of loafs.
3. Markets. Jewellery really cheap and cool. Scarves cheap and cool. Markets are cool. 
4. Spanish. Speaking in a different language and thinking in a different language!
5. Friends. From around the world. It's just plain neat!

There's so much more, but one of the things I don't like is being tired so I'ma going to have to go to bed now!

Monday, July 20, 2009

---> Holidays! (At last!)

I am in the second week of the school holidays in Chile and I already don't want to go back to school! Well I do, but these holidays are going so well too, and unlike in NZ, we only get one two week holiday during the year, not three. So everyone is really getting into the spirit of things.

On Wednesday (I updated on Tuesday) I went out with a friend. This day turned out to be one of my best and worst days here - I got what I
 had been waiting for then is was suddenly gone - it's the feeling you get when all the possibility you have is gone, a horrible let down feeling. It came for a multitude of reasons I won't get into here, but I can say I am very lucky to have my friends back in NZ and one of my good friends here to be here for me when I needed them. 

Thursday passed as a quiet day, but at night I went to 
a party for the birthday of one of my host sister's friends, who has become a friend of mine too. A lot of here friends have nicknames, like El Gato (the cat), El embarazado (the pregnant one, and it's a guy too), El Negro (negro is Spanish for black, it's not meant as anything offensive here), and this party was for El Tata (the Grandpa). It's interesting how these people get their names too. Luis (El Tata) is called that because at times he resembles and old man. So for his gift we gave him a blanket with Tata sewed on it. The party went well, although it is very, very cold at night - about 5ºC or below normally! 

On Friday my host uncle and host Grandad came for lunch, so everyone has to help out preparing things and cleaning up the dishes (as per usual, but there are more). Saturday was the 18th birthday of my friend Carolina. It was at her house with her friends and classmates from school. Her family had made a slideshow with baby photos and members of her family and friends giving her their wellwishes. The food was sopaipillas, which are like circles of friend dough made with pumpkin, cheese empanadas, pizza and birthday cake. It's a Chilean tradition to stuff your head in the birthday cake, but Caro didn't want to so only put her chin in. We talked, danced and played cards. Somehow the hours that you spend at a party seem to go by quite fast. Somthing that I don't understand is that, as long as I give my host parents plenty of notice about a party, they don't seem to mind too much picking me up and dropping me off. I always thank them for doing this too, but I don't like to ask too often. They prefer to do this so they can see where the party is, and although I could go home, like many do, in a colectivo, this is Chile, and it is dangerous, so like for all my siblings they prefer to come by and pick me up rather than me go in a colectivo.  

Francyn, Marcelo, Caro, Ferry, me and Mauricio at the party

On Sunday, my host grandmother (La Lela) and a host cousin arrived from Quillota, a city near Santiago. With them arrived a huge carton of little cakes, like sponge cakes with manjar in between, and also a huge heavy torta, made from layers of home made pastry with manjar between each layer. 

Today is Monday and I went to see Ice Age 3 with my host sibs, Lela and cousin. I also played Ping Pong with my host brother and lost horribly - when my host sister's boyfriend was playing with the Lela, the ball landed in my mug of coffee. 

My five month point is coming up so soon. Thinking about leaving is something that I find simply weird. I don't want to think about it too much, making the most of my time here is what I am doing. Some of my good exchange friends here will finish their semester exchange shortly. I am glad I'm here for a year - at this point I have a fairly good grasp of the language, I have friends, I fit in well with my family - but if I was leaving I would feel like I was losing something. And the advice I will give to all students considering exchange, is unless your school really really won't let you go for a year, unless you have a serious relationship or a really strong reason to go for a semester. A lot of the semester students I have talked to don't want to return and wish they were here for a year. Although it seems like a long time at first, time goes by a different clock during exchange - you're always learning something, doing something, achieving something - so it seems to zoom by. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

---> Survival in the desert

I think living here has definitely taught me a few things about life, or more like, life in the desert. One month and a few days before I came here, I got my host family information, and discovered I would be living in Copiapó, a city in the middle of the driest desert on earth, the Atacama. I imagined days filled with scorching heat; the Kiwi turning into a tomato from the strong, bright sun; having siestas every day because the heat rendered anyone incapable of working between 12pm and 4pm; pavements so hot you could barely walk on them between those hours - and I could go on and on. Obviously I was a little bit off on my predictions - today, it rained. And for anyone coming to the same city as me for their exchange, it gets very cold at night.

I'm nearing the halfway point of my exchange, and like I have been told by many people, this is the point when everything starts to come together, the soft concrete foundations of friendships start to harden and strengthen, the mastery of the language happens and you feel like you're really part of the family. So far all of this has been true. I honestly would be regretting making the choice to do a semester if I had chosen that, I am fully glad with my choice to do a year.

A couple of weeks ago, well actually the weekend after I got back from the North Trip, my host dad took us on a trip to see the mine where he works. Two other families came, and it drove through the desert for one and a half hours until we arrived at the mine.


When we arrived it was straight to the office to put on safety gear - a vest, goggles and a helmet, all very model-eske and well fitting. As you can see...

Afterwards we boarded a bus to get a good view of the mine, which is an open pit mine. Lots of big, grunty trucks. The copper that is mined is first treated to be pure copper and put in bricks of 45 kilograms, then is sent by truck a few hours north to the city (or outside the city) of Antofagasta to be shipped.
It was a rather brief time at the mine, enough to get a view of the mine, see my host dad's office and where he stays during the four days he works during the week - it might be four days, but that's four 12-hour days! 

No outing with other people would be complete without an 'asado' (barbeque). So we drove about one hour south to Caldera, where one of the families had rented out a unit, and were getting ready the barbeque and food. After a few hours we returned to Copiapó, in the wee hours of the morning.

This last week at school before winter holidays (or recess, according to my philosophy teacher) has been a bit strange. Being winter, bugs and viruses are quite common but now I understand why in Chile they say so many things can make you sick - walking around barefoot, not blow drying hair, - while we pass around drink bottles freely, give bites of food to each other, kiss on the cheek (ironic really but anyway), because in Chile when it's winter nearly everyone gets sick! So obvioulsy taking preventative measures like wearing shoes and socks at all times would come in handy. Everybody means, in the case of my host mother's school for example, that out of a class of 30 students, only two were well enough to come to class. Touch wood, I havn't been sick yet.

As a matter of fact, the last day of the semester was suspended because 30% of the students at my school were away sick. Thursday was quite a flop of a day, because it was nearly the holidays, and so many students were sick or just didn't turn up, that we had half a class for the first class of the day, then after that about half of that half left. I think some people came because they just wanted to drug snails. (We tested the reactions of snails after being put in water, alcohol and nicotine). The snail we put in alcohol was the only one that sank to the bottom of the beaker.

On Saturday we drove the five hours south to Coquimbo, for the 80th birthday of my host-grandfather. It was a quiet family get together, and I must say his birthday cake was absolutely delicious - it was layers of thin crepe with manjar and lúcuma cream. Lúcuma is a type of fruit that has a fruity-caramely taste and is orange on the inside and dry and powdery but very good in a cake.

We drove back on Sunday, then on Monday I was the only one in my house that wasn't sick! Touch wood I won't get sick! Nobody was seriously ill but colds can get you down. In the afternoon I went out with an exchange student from Finland that was visiting Copiapó with her family and Ananda. We saw Ice Age 3 (in Spanish), and I understood all of it! After that we went for coffee in a cafe - had to leave in a bit of a rush to get back before my curfew, but I think being able to stay in town until 8pm is pretty sweet anyway. 

Today my host sisters and I cleaned out a room where my host grandma and a cousin are going to stay when they come to visit, which involved putty-ing all the marks on the wall, apparently tomorrow we are going to paint it! 

That's all for now. Sorry I hadn't updated in a while, at this point in my exchange the last thing I'm thinking about is my blog, I'm living life here and making the most of my time in Chile!

Friday, July 3, 2009

---> Those little Chile things

Like in New Zealand, Chile has its own distinct 'groups' of people. There are the normal people, but then there are the groups that the 'normal' people turn their noses up at, and those are the Pokemonas and the Flaites. My host mum doesn't like us saying certain words because they are 'flaite' or 'pokemona'.

Flaite is basically the Chilean version of a gangster - baggy clothes, 'bling', that kind of thing. Normally if they wear caps though, they are with peaks. Not so much 'bling' as a typical gangster, and another thing they do is wear rosaries (like you can buy in any old market), but instead of being Christian rosaries, they have the names of the two enemy Chilean soccer teams on them, Colo-Colo or Universidad de Chile. Adidas is a huge flaite brand, and they might wear Adidas sneakers instead of skate type shoes, and Adidas caps too. Girls wear street clothes, like skinny jeans and small tops, but you can tell they're flaite from the colours they use and the exact style of their clothes, ad just by seeing them. It's hard to define a female flaite. Haircuts are normally mullets for the guys.

Now on speaking flaite - I'm going to get technical here so if you don't understand Spanish it might be a bit hard to follow. 
Speaking flaite means adding the reflexive part of the verb twice in a sentence. For example, to say 'I'm going to go' normally, you would say 'me voy a ir'. The 'me' part is the reflexive parte of the verb 'ir', to show that you are doing the action to yourself. But to make it flaite, you say 'me voy a irme'. The 'me' part has been added twice, and therefore is flaite, because that's how flaites speak. Also, apparently this is flaite but it's more of a slang that all young kids use, is to say 'reeee' (pronounced like 'red' but without the 'd') instead of 'muy' (very). For example 'es reeeee simple' instead of 'es muy simple' (It's very simple). 

Now for the music part of being flaite. Reggaeton is a Chilean style of music that is played at every party. It's distinct because it has a beat that is very good to dance to - like BOOM shicka shicka shick shick - and the lyrics are incredibly dirty, some are cleaner, depending on the artist. So there's the Reggaeton and then the more tropical sounding music that has . . . trumpets, but it's still flaite. Basically the lyrics are what make it flaite, the dirtier the better and more flaite. Not just flaites listen to the flaite music, because reggaeton is played at every big party.

Pokemonas are not those Japanese 'gotta catch them all' characters. They're the chilean version of Emos. But because chileans are pretty much really happy and nice, they don't fit with the typical NZ stereotype of emo, which is a wrist-slitting corner-sitting 'I'm so sad and everyone needs to know I'm so sad and I like getting attention because I'm so emo'. Pokemonas wear black and colour - generally red or yellow. They wear skinny jeans (both genders) which are normally not only black, like tartan red and black or striped. Lots of piercings, and perhaps wrist bands with black and another colour checkered. Pokemona music is not so easily defined, but maybe music from the United States like My Chemical Romance and 'emo' bands. 

A typical stereotype of a Pokemona, like if you wanted to pose Pokemona-style in a photo, the camera would be above your head, you would be looking at the camera and have your hand over your mouth and a shocked expression on your face.

They speak pretty much normal Spanish, but add the suffix 'iwi' at the end of words, like 'Hola' would be 'Holiwi'.

What Pokemonas are pretty well-known for is a thing called Poncia. So there are clubs in Chile for people more than 18 years old (because alcohol is sold there), and then because it's not fair for the younger ones to miss out, there's the Pokemona clubs for the people who aren't old enough, and for the Pokemonas. Why are these clubs different? There's like a competition called Poncia. The Poncia or Poncio is the person who kisses the most people - not just cheek kissing. So everyone shouts 'Poncia! Poncia!' and in the club everyone is kissing each other and trying to kiss as many people as possible. So it's quite dirty, but that's like a distinct group of people and one normal people like exchange students and their friends aren't part of.

Pelo laise and Cuica Rubia mean respectively 'Straight Hair' and 'Snobby blonde'. These are the groups of the upper class, or just names to give people who act snobby. The Cuica Rubias dye their hair blonde to appear more European, and the Pelo Laise have straight hair. They are upper class so dress upper class and that kind of thing. They talk fairly normal Spanish, but don't roll the 'r's'. 

Chileans have these distinct groups, but one thing I have noticed is there's not like the 'nerdy' people and there's really no such thing as a nerd in Chile. Same with the 'weird' group. Everyone is fairly indiscriminate about this type of thing. There are groups of friends who might be more 'nerdy' but really everyone is generally friends with anyone.

Now for some Chilean words:
bakan = cool
fome = lame
filo = forget it
buena onda = means literally 'good wave' but is used to describe a person, like to say they have a good vibe
next = yes, it's an English word, but in Chilean context people say it when something is lame and they want to move on to the next thing (they don't say it to people though!), although it came from a dating show when the lady would say 'next' if she didn't like a guy.
po = is added to the end of words like 'Sí (po)' just because it is . . . 
mish = cool
carrete = is literally the word for a reel of thread, but also means a party
cachai = understand? It come from Englsish too (did you catch that?)
pololo/a = boyfriend/girlfriend
pololeando = dating, but more just being a boyfriend and girlfriend (comes from the word for a type of bug, I believe, and is how those bugs behave around each other)
guagua = baby (but pronounced 'wah wah'

That's all I can think of for now. Until next time.

By the way, I was thinking of whipping out my camera at a correct time to snap a photo of a Pokemona or a Flaite when I saw one on the street, but decided Google Images might be a bit more couth.