The no-water drama

I thought I’d just put on a little story about the ‘fun’ you can run into in a new country on a not-so-typical (but really, kind of typical) day. The only Spanish speaker in our household happened to be on a business trip during all the fun.

6:30am – Go to brush teeth, nothing comes out of tap. No water in any tap in the house. To self : Panic. Who on earth do I call about this? Maybe it will just come back on. Please let it come back on.

7:30am – Still no water, decide to first google for answers before calling husband abroad and freaking out. Cant find anything. Turn to Facebook –  thank god for a group that has a post stating that we might be without water for 24 hours. Cant understand the article. Great. To self: Ok, no problem, I’ll just go buy some big bottles of water at the grocery store when it opens

9:30am – Off to the grocery store; no water anywhere to be found. Consult google translate on iPhone to ask stock-boy if there is any “agua sin gas” around. Wait 30 seconds for the translation to come through, and confidently ask the question. He responds, but I do not understand.  Smile and nod.  Red face, I ask “si or no?”. He says “no”.  To self:  You must learn Spanish, today.

10:00am – Check a convenience store. No water, decide to spare myself the embarrassment of asking.

10:15am – Whilst driving to the next store, note many people walking carrying large bottles of water.  To self:  Panic! What if I can’t I find any water? What if the water doesn’t turn back on in 24 hours? Emily will dehydrate!

10:30am – Next large grocery store. Drive in the out-ramp and get confused as to why the entry tickets are BEHIND the barrier. Figure it out and have to reverse out of the ramp, while others stare at the gringa. Ashamed.

10:45am – Made it into store. Bolt to water section to discover no water left. Contemplate checking the carts of other shoppers to steal theirs. In a last-ditch effort go to the “cold storage” section to find a the last few bottles of Evian (expensive as gold, imported to Chile from France) left.  Pile the last bottles left into the cart before others can get them. To self:  You are a star, you found water, you saved your family! 

11:00am – Feeling confident, parading around store doing some shopping  with three bottles of Evian in cart. Relieved. Panic starts to abate.

11:20am – Get to long checkout line and halfway through discover there is no wallet in purse. First contemplate grabbing the water and making  a run for it. Then contemplate crying. To self: Panic. What the…? You are a fool. Where is your wallet? Did you get pick pocketed? Did you forget it? How could you do this…now you have to forfeit your water to the hungry wolves.

11:30am – Reluctantly leave full grocery cart near door and run to car to search for wallet. Realise then that I cant pay for parking, nor explain why I can’t pay for parking to the parking attendant. To self: Panic. I have nobody to call for help.

11:45am – Find wallet on floor of car. Score!  Run back to store and cart still waits with water. Yay! Begin the awkward process of checking-out when you cant understand anything the lady says to you. Repeat several times “no hablo espanol” with a red face. Feel the eyes of everyone around on me.

11:50am – Nearly out of store. Go to pay for parking, cant find parking entry ticket in purse. Line starts to grow behind me. To self: Is this really happening to me? Am I losing my mind?

11:52am – Parking lady gives gringa a break and hands over a new ticket. Dig through purse to find right amount but dont understand bills that are in denominations of 1,000. Takes a few seconds. Annoyed, parking lady hands over exit ticket and waves me away. Others in line release an audible sigh of relief.

12:15pm – Home, exhausted. First drama of the day over. Sit in the car in the parking garage with eyes closed for a few minutes.  Decide not to leave the house ever again.evian

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China memories – Part 1: Welcome to China

This post is by Joachim.  So that we have our travel stories all in a single spot, we’ll be posting some stories from the old ‘newsletters’ that we used to write from China to our family and close friends. Some of these are a good laugh.

April 24th, 2007 – Welcome to China!

Being now in China means starting up a ‘normal’ life from almost scratch. Nothing is familiar. Here are a few experiences so far.

Shopping

Even if there are actually quite a lot of foreigners in Qingdao, you are still one of the attractions in the supermarket. Your trolley is very interesting for the Chinese with always the big question in their face: What is a foreigner buying ? I guess I disappointed all of them as half of my stuff in my trolley was Chinese food, a little bit of Western stuff as I still haven’t found anything easy as a replacement for a snack like a sandwich and boring stuff like ironing board, towels and plates. If you’re unlucky, sometimes someone will decide to touch what you have in your cart. Not sure why – maybe to see if they might want to take it also?

A small excursion on Soya sauce

You thought buying Soya sauce is a no-brainer as there is actually only one or two types? Come to China and you’ll see. Soya sauce here seems to be more like buying wine. There is thick soya sauce and thin soya sauce,  dark and light soya sauce, mushroom flavoured soya sauce and possibly soya sauce out of every single province in China. The shelf in the supermarket is not much smaller then the wine selection they have here – it’s massive. So I guess it’ll take me a lot of cooking and some time to find the best one!

Ah, and of course there is even a story about fake soya sauce: Apparently last year they caught a company that produced soya sauce out of human hair: Yaaaaak!!!

What not to do in the supermarket

Well, actually, I don’t think there are too many restrictions here. The highlight until now was clearly a mother holding her child with dropped down pants over the rubbish bin next to the fresh bread in order to get the required service done! Kids pants have slits in the bottom for this ‘convenience’. Nice.

Language problems

How to explain you have a problem with your internet connection and you want wireless.

You could imagine you are going to a computer market and they would speak English as a lot of the hardware will only have English manuals. That was at least my hope, but it turned out to be wrong. And as hand and feet do not really work in this situation either, and no customer nor staff member could be found speaking English we turned after a good laugh towards new technology and tried it with the good old babel-fish translation tool. It did not work completely, but we somehow got around and I left the shop with a new modem and a wireless router. Installation was not as easy as promised as the online manual was in Chinese (and my knowledge of signs is even less then my spoken Chinese), but thank god for Steve Jobs, my Apple could finally connect to the internet!

How to explain your ayi (cleaning woman), what to do

That works fortunately much better as you can just show her what you want her to do. The fun part starts when you actually try to have some conversation: First the dictionary, then demonstration with hands and feet, a good laugh always helps, and if you’re stuck you should always have a phone number of somebody who speaks English and Chinese that you can call anytime. So when I returned home, all my clothes were neatly put together in my wardrobe, the windows and all dirty dishes have been cleaned. What a difference to Switzerland! And this for 20 Euro per month: unbelievable!

How to order your food

There are four type of menu-maps:

  • The living one
  • The picture one
  • The Chinese one
  • The bilingual one

The easiest is definitely the living one. You just go in the restaurant and show them the food you want. This works excellent in Qingdao as most of the served seafood is really alive and you can then select the fish still swimming around in the basin. It is pretty scary though, to see turtles swimming around in the grocery store tanks. I think I will stay away from that section.

The picture menu is the one you always laugh at in Europe. But I will never laugh about it again! Without being able to read, it’s so much easier to order and you actually have a chance to know what you get (Not always though!)

The Chinese one is obviously always the one with the biggest surprises. I keep the general terms of food at hand help to get something sorted that you might want at least (e.g. chicken, or vegetables).

The bilingual ones doesn’t always makes your life easier: Who knows what you’re getting when you order a “Chicken softbone!?”

Food cartChinese Menu

Found: Coffee!

While I’m not originally from Melbourne, I’d say my coffee addiction definitely comes from living in Melbourne. I’ll be honest: I’m in currently in full withdrawal for a soy latte. We’re talking headaches, sweating, grouchy, don’t-offer-me-nescafe-or-you-will-get-a-slap, desperate for coffee. It’s not just about the coffee of course, there’s something about the atmosphere of a good cafe in Melbourne that I crave.  Could also be that I had friends to go to these cafes with at one point in my life. I now have a toddler to drag there. She’s definitely cute, but not such great conversation.

So we’ve been on a mission to find good cafes in Santiago since we’ve arrived.   In the past few weeks I’ve tried 6 cafes, but so far only these two make the cut to be recommended –  they whisk me back to Melbourne both in atmosphere and in taste. Of course, I haven’t found soy lattes, which is a big disappointment – but I’m trying to wean myself onto cow’s milk again. Yuck.

1. Sabores de Buenos Aires ( Republica de Cuba, Providencia)

Cute little cafe tucked away off the main drag. The coffee isn’t as strong as you’d get in Melbourne (I like that, Achim doesn’t), but they offer lots of options: cappuccino, latte, and several others I wont understand until I learn Spanish.  You sit on the terrace under the trees, listening to chilled-out South American lounge music. They have lots of little sweet things to eat, sandwiches, etc.  It seems pretty un-touristy – mostly locals, as it’s not so easy to find and not close to any major shopping area. Also it is very child friendly – every time we go there are a few kids, and nobody minds at all having a few little-ones running around. They also welcome dogs and put out a little drinking bowl for them. Love it. Furthermore, the staff are always friendly, and they have no hesitation to make a “baby-chino” for Em (who starts calling out for it when she sees a cafe, poor thing knows the drill). Seem to be the only cafe who can do just milk-foam, not a cup of hot milk for her. We go back often.

Prices:  1 croissant, 1 latte, 1 baby-chino = around $5

Sabor de Buenos AiresCoffee timeBaby Chino

2. Cafe Wonderful (Lastarria, and also in El Golf) 

This cafe is decorated just like a more modern Melbourne cafe – slate chalkboards, high ceilings, exposed walls, glass showcase displaying tasty desserts and sandwiches. The cafe on Lastarria is even home to an old arty theatre. It’s in the more touristy region of Santiago, but felt like the clientele was a mix of both locals and tourists with their guidebooks (yup, I fit into the tourist classification).  The latte below was tasty – very smooth. A little higher milk to coffee ratio than I’m used to, so again it didn’t taste too strong (which I liked!). Poor Em; they didn’t really get the concept of the baby-chino (just milk-foam), but they did attempt and brought her some warm milk which was nice. Friendly smiley staff.

Coffee price:  1 latte = around $3

WonderfulCafe wonderfulCafe Wonderful

There are definitely more to come over the next few weeks as I drive around randomly hunting for my next shot of caffeine!  Yes, in case you wondered,  I do have time on my hands these days.

Spoon, meet your new best friend

Some of you know that the spoon is my favourite utensil. The spoon is a critical aid for a seasoned comfort-eater.  Without the spoon, you’d not be able to enjoy things like a nice warm bowl of homemade soup or chili on a cold day.  You’d also not be able to enjoy a tub of ice cream, or a jar of peanut butter or nutella on a bad day.

Well, my spoon has found a new best friend: Dulce de Leche (in Chile it’s called Manjar). This, my friends, is a dangerous discovery. South Americans certainly stumbled across something fantastic with this invention.  It’s a bit like a thick, spreadable caramel sauce – sweet and rich. Wikipedia tells me that this fine substance “is a confection prepared by slowly heating sweetened milk to create a product that derives its taste from caramelised sugar”.  Oh yes, caramelised sugar. No brand seems to taste the same, so one must take-one-for-the-team and work through the various options.

It’s intended to be spread on bread, muffins or croissants, used as a sauce, etc.  Only the most reckless sugar addicts would attack this with a spoon. But indeed, it hits the spot when you’re having one of ‘those’ days. I’m (ahem, my waistline is) glad I didn’t discover this years ago. If you’re looking for a good reason to workout, this is IT!

ManjarDulce de leche

Santiago traffic busking

You know when you’re at a traffic light and a guy comes up offering to wash your window for a few coins? Well Santiago takes this to a whole new level.

It’s common in South America to be offered many things when stopped at traffic lights – from drinks and snacks, to mobile phones, toys, lottery tickets (from what I can decipher), fruit and farmers goods, etc.  However, the entertainment options have caught me off guard and I love it.  While walking/driving around Santiago, it’s not uncommon to see really creative ‘traffic busking’.  So far we’ve seen: jugglers – with balls, bowling pins and even fire sticks, dancers, a gymnast doing backflips and cartwheels, and today I saw a guy doing magic tricks! They do their little show and then run around to collect some coins from the cars.

Image

Seriously creative. I wonder what the local tip should be for such entertainment? Certainly makes the traffic more bearable. I gave 50 cents today – that could be great, or really, really cheap. I guess in a few months I’ll know, but for now I’m still a newcomer who gets pretty excited by things like this.

Busker2

 

House hunting in Santiago: Part 1 – Locations

House hunting is both fun and frustrating at the same time. Great fun in that you get to check out houses all over, but frustrating in that you actually have to make a decision on one. And drive around a lot…toddlers dont like carseats, especially getting Into them several times a day. Yay tantrums 🙂 Food bribes have worked well, whoops – bad parents.

We’ve chosen to live on the North/east side of the city which heads up into the Mountains – and therefore is a bit out of/above the air pollution (not that you really escape it, but you can try!) It’s also where most of the expats live. I know I know, not the ‘real’ Santiago…but close enough.

Where we're looking for houses

Where we’re looking for houses

The trouble is that there are lots of different communities and suburbs out there to pick from, all having their own pros and cons. If you actually live in a place it feels different, but here is our overview of the areas, and a little summary of our feeling of what it’s like for us (from driving around and checking out some houses for rent, and of course hunting for good coffee).

House hunting areas

House hunting areas

  • Vitacura: A fun, posh little area with nice shops, cafes and restaurants. Older-style houses, mostly un-renovated (when renting). We’d love to live there, but so far it is really tough to find a big house – particularly one with a yard. They do come up every so often but go quickly. You can definitely find cool apartments though, and you can walk to shopping, parks and cafés. Vibrant area.
  • Santa Maria de Manquehue: The residential part of Vitacura. No shops at all in this area, but nice houses (some renovated, some not) with yards, at least one park and school in the middle, and if you go up the mountain a bit you get some awesome city views. Downside is that it doesn’t get much sun in winter as the mountains block it out (=high heating bills and lots of complaining!). Need to drive everywhere as there is minimal public transport, but city and cool Vitacura is very close (5 mins drive) – short commute for Achim. Quiet area.
  • Los Trapenses: A newer area, with big new gorgeous houses. You’re sure to get a massive house with yard up here, and great views. It seems pretty far from the city and a lot longer commute (probably minimum 20 minutes more than Vitacura). Your shopping is centered around a shopping-mall that sits in the middle. Quiet area.
  • La Dehesa: There is an older part and a newer part. La Dehesa (Lo Barnechea) is a big town of its own really. There is a great shopping mall – no real “street shopping” that we can find yet, dozens of schools and daycare centres, and things to do. Great city views from gorgeous houses on the hill. For us it just feels pretty removed from the city and mall-centred, despite the fact that it doesn’t take long to get there on the highway.
  • Las Condes: Loads of expats with school-aged kids live in Las Condes and in La Dehesa for the massive variety of school options. Las Condes is huge – there is an upper and a lower part. Lower part is apartment-living, with access to loads of parks and shopping, and it’s the central business district for international companies (Achim’s company is there). Upper part is big houses with yards and views. It feels pretty modern and new. For us, the upper part (where the houses are) is again, bit too far from the vibrant part of Santiago.

So, while we’d love a house in Vitacura it seems too tough to actually get one (with a big yard, which we really want for Em), so we are now aiming at the next suburb out – Santa Maria de Manquehue. Quiet and residential, but pretty close to it all with a car. Stay tuned for house details…

Providencia: a temporary home

Providencia

Still living from our few suitcases, the boat only arrives with our things at the end of Feb(!). So, we’re currently staying in a furnished apartment in the area of Santiago called Providencia.  Providencia is a really happening area – its nice to walk around, and there is lots to see and do.   It used to be home to Santiago’s ‘elite’ so there are some amazing massive old houses – most are now used for businesses.  Generally people here now live in apartment buildings.

Houses in Providencia

Houses in Providencia

More old houses in Providencia

More old houses in Providencia

The residential area streets are tree-lined streets so there’s lots of greenery to keep it shady on hot days. Little cafes, and playgrounds sprinkled around; there is a playground we visit daily that is about a 10 minute walk from where we’re staying. I’m still hunting for decent coffee though, and soy milk is yet to be found (only at Starbucks, and that doesn’t count as great coffee).

Walking around Providencia

Walking around Providencia

Providencia has a great little street-shopping area, and It is also home to the newest (still under construction) fancy shopping mall in Santiago. The Costanera centre will be comprised of four massive skyscrapers. There are at least 6 floors of shopping and from what I can see has all of the ‘Western brands’ that one could want. Too bad none of them stock pants in my length or shoes in my size!

The Costanera Centre

The Costanera Centre

All in all, Providencia is a great place to kick off life in Santiago.