Daylight savings: whose decision is it anyway?

At the end of March, Chile was meant to end daylight savings time. That is, according to international notice we were all ‘supposed’ to be turning our clocks back an hour.  The lucky ones of us all have our clocks synced to the computer’s global time, which automatically updates with daylight savings. How tech-savy of us.

Relying far too much on Apple computers and phones in our household, when we woke up on March 31st, most of our clocks had automatically changed back an hour….except for our bedside table and our truck. We were confused the entire day about which clock was right, and no internet site seemed to say the same thing. Was it 6am or 7am?  Everything just felt wrong: Em was getting up too early, and wanting to go to bed too early, store opening hours were weird.  What gives?  We just couldn’t figure it out. And given we don’t watch local TV – my Spanish is certainly not good enough quite yet – we rely on the internet for our news. According to most websites, we had gone though the clock change.  And Apple’s clock couldn’t fail us could it?

Enter: the Chile government. This year they decided to defy the world; they pushed out daylight savings by a month. Apparently the rest of the world didn’t get the memo. For the day we were completely confused (as were many of us in Santiago), but sorted it out through a bit of social media discussion. According to the Chilean government, we will change our clocks officially on April 27th. Why not, right?

A full two weeks later, I write this post sitting on an airplane from Sydney to Santiago. According to their little in-seat tracking systems, the flight announcements, and even our flight itineraries, we are to be landing at 9:30am.   However, clever as I am (right?), I happen to be aware that we’re actually landing at 10:30am, and their systems are based on the ‘supposed-time-change-that-never-happened’. As a good global citizen, I’ve tried to explain this to two flight attendants who patiently told me their watches are synced to the global computer system, while shooting that ‘how many has she had’ look over my shoulder and offering me a biscuit.  I certainly hope I’m not proven wrong on arrival, it’s about my pride now.

Seated, enjoying my peace-offering-biscuit I can’t help but wonder: who decides what time it is anyway?

Driving fun in Santiago

As we’ve been here for nearly two months (unbelievable!), we’ve started to get used to getting around in a big and busy city.  Before we start to find it ‘normal’, here are a few observations we’ve made about driving around Santiago thus far.  Thoughts about bus and metro will come later,  Achim will be the tester for those. 🙂

Streets change directions at different times of the day

Do not take for granted that if you turn down a one-way street in the morning, it will still be going in the same direction in the afternoon. Despite what the street sign says, streets change directions.  First, I have turned down a busy 4 lane street in the wrong direction, and then, have been on the road going in one direction when the road was changing to the ‘other’ direction.  Nothing like driving down a 4-lane highway to notice cars in the distance, in all lanes, coming screaming toward you.  You’d think it would be really well highlighted, with flashing signs, but often you just get a faint sign on the opposite side of the crossing letting you know of the rules.  That leads me to number two…

Street signs are small. Very small.

In order to avoid the aforementioned drama, you have to pay very special attention to any sign on the road that might indicate that between certain hours, the streets run in opposite directions. Often the sign is on the far side of the junction, mixed in amongst all the other signs and lights. Very easy to miss. Not that I could read it in the first place (note to self: up your Spanish lesson hours).

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Apparently if you use your 4-way lights, you can stop anywhere

I cant tell you the amount of times I’ve been driving down a busy road when someone in front of me has stopped randomly and put on their 4-ways to either take a call, let someone out, decide to look at map, or wait to pick someone up.  Chileans don’t seem to like it either, with all the horn-blaring that ensues, but it doesn’t seem to stop people from doing it.

“Merging lanes” is really a game of Chicken

To be fair, it was like this in Melbourne as well. But, when two lanes ‘merge’ that really means whoever plays chicken the longest (or has the most screwed-up car) will get the spot. When it comes to ‘merge-chicken’ I always suss up how damaged the other car…someone with a duct-taped bumper and an indented door will have no problem playing bumper-cars. They can therefore go first.  At some point though, you have to pull-out the aggressive side of you.  I suggest a driving playlist that includes lots of gangsta’ rap.

Traffic busking must be profitable

In the city-centre, traffic isn’t exactly great, which has given rise to the past time (or profession?) of traffic-busking.   Given the pure number of them you see around during the day, they must make a decent living from performing in front of stopped cars. I’ve already posted about this here, but it’s worth another mention. Check out the act I saw this morning – awesome.

 Traffic busking

Do NOT leave your purse on the passenger seat

This hasn’t happened to me (knock on wood) but when driving in certain areas of the city it is very important to keep your purse hidden in the car.  The wife of one of Achim’s colleagues had her passenger window smashed and her purse stolen off the seat while she was in traffic. NOT a nice experience to go through, and it’s made me paranoid. While I’ve never felt ‘in danger’ when I’ve been driving, it is worth being mindful that it can happen so don’t be careless.

Goodbye parking meters, hello green men

One thing I’ve noticed is that there aren’t any parking meters to be found. Instead, when you park in a paid parking zone, a guy with a green shirt will scurry up to give you a ticket. Then when you leave, he scurries back to collect the fee. Simple!  Although due to my fear of communication in Spanish I’ve been parking far away and walking so I don’t have to figure it out in person. Will attempt next month 🙂

 

 

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

First thoughts about Santiago

Here is a little collection of my first thoughts and/or experiences in Santiago after 4 days. Big disclaimer:  these are not a good representation of Santiago as they are based only on a few days of jet-lagged dazed Santiago living – in the more modern part. Plus we’ve not done any touristy things yet, as it’s really tough to get out with Em in a perpetually under-slept cheery mood. But for fun, some things I’ve thought over the past days.

Santiago2

The “reciprocity” fee.  Annoying. When you get off the plane in Chile, as one of around 5 specially chosen nationalities (Canadians, Americans, Australians, and a few others), you get the opportunity to line up and pay a “reciprocity” fee of a $132. They even take cash or card – how helpful.  Of course, Achim doesn’t get this special treatment as a German.  Bah, Canadians must really screw the Chileans with their visas. Cant we all just be friends?

People like kids.  I know, I know, you cant help but think “Australians like kids! Canadians like kids!” But not like this – I swear. Every day (in my massive 4 days of experience) I am surprised by the child-friendliness of Chileans. It started right from the get-go. As soon as we walked off the plane, we encountered the customs line which was at least 1.5 hours long. Groaning, with an overtired and cranky child, we got into line. Promptly, we were plucked away to the family-fast-track line while all of the customs officers smiled at Em. When you walk into a store, you feel like people are more excited to see you because you have a child, rather than rolling eyes thinking “just spend your money and get that toddler out of here before they smear cheese on my walls.”  In the grocery store yesterday, I even caught the 20-something guy restocking the veggies making funny faces and waving to Emily. And not in a creepy pervy way, in a genuine “your little girl is adorable” way.

Grocery stores are great. This is relative of course. Compared to Coles in St Kilda, or maybe Valumart in Tweed, the grocery store options are really fantastic. Fresh produce, massive variety of foods, cheese, bread – you can buy fresh ceviche and have a little snack while you shop. I was expecting the opposite.  I have never ever seen a grocery cart contraption like the below, which was a blessing and a curse. Blessing in that Em LOVED shopping and didn’t fuss at all. Curse in that she must actually leave the car at the end of the shopping trip (insert massive, massive tantrum).

Awesome grocery cart

Awesome grocery cart

Malls.  In the ‘newer’ end of town, people love their shopping malls. Apparently there are many massive malls where generally people do all their shopping – and the malls are open until 10pm. We even discovered a “Home Depot” (called something else here) in a shopping mall – go figure. Compared to Melbourne there is very little ‘street shopping’ in the new part of town- but it does exist in a few suburbs.

Cheap fantastic wine. Ok I did expect to get decent wine, but great wine for $12 a bottle is a girl’s dream, no? An Argentinean Chandon brut is around $15 – a bargain, and delicious. And I’ve only tried a few random wines…thousands more to try! Worth delaying baby #2 for that, no?

Air Pollution. I think you get used to it after being here a while. But the mountains (gorgeous, snowcapped Andes mountains) are literally a few kilometres away….and since we’ve been here (again, 4 days, so what do I know, really), I’ve not seen much of them. They’re a dark outline behind the city – covered in haze. The pollution does clear in the evening so you get a real view…but it makes me sad. I wish the government would do something about the pollution – this could be such an amazing city but there is that constant “will this do harm to my child’s lungs?” feeling sitting in the back of my mind. And this is summer – apparently its way worse in winter. I think I’ll have a few posts on that in the future!

There are mountains back there...

There are mountains back there…

Service service service. For a small tip, people pack and carry your groceries or pump your gas, and it’s common in Santiago for people to have cleaners, and full time nannys or housekeepers, etc.  A full-time nanny/housekeeper costs about the same as a 2 days of childcare in Australia.  It’s not just the ‘rich’ that get this service……it’s going to be a little too easy to get used to, me thinks.

Initial ramblings, and lots more to come when we settle in a bit more and have the chance to explore.

Stuck in a hamster cage: flying with a toddler

My first post on this new blog is dedicated to our journey to Santiago – the wonderful experience of flying a million hours with a toddler. We started in Australia, and then flew through Germany for Christmas and then on to Santiago.  Before you fly, many people will tell you “it is not that bad, really“. I’m here to say, plain and simple… dont listen to them, it’s torture. Maybe it’s just me; maybe I’m just too impatient, uncreative and envious of all those other sleeping or movie-watching-wine-drinking passengers, but I counted down those minutes one by one. All 2400 of them.

Trip with a toddler

I figure I needed to get my tips to remember out of the way before I forget – particularly if we ever plan on leaving this country again.

1. Drugs:  I know this is a controversial one, but we gave it a go. We tried the Australian toddler sleep remedy of choice: Phenurgan.  On the bottle it says “5-15 mls” for short term sedation and we figured with a 18 more hours ahead of us in the air that night, it would be worth all of us getting some decent sleep. So about 4 hours into the flight in the middle of the night, with an overtired, hyperactive child, we decided to go for it.  Feeling uber-guilty, debating it for what seemed like hours, and feeling like terrible parents, we gave Em a small dose.  And the climax: it did nothing. Go figure, big baby and minimum dose…Em slept a few hours and was up. Next flight we tried a bit more and same thing – nothing. Maybe that was karma getting us in some evil way for trying to take the easy route.

2. Airlines.  This one is simple. Singapore Airlines’ flight attendants were awesome, even in Economy Class. They obviously loved kids – almost all of them stopped by and asked Em her name, offered toys, etc. They did simple things that made life a lot easier, like offering to bring the parents meals AFTER the kids had eaten so you can actually manage mealtime.  Air France’s flight attendants, on the other hand, were far too snobby to be nice to children – even in Premium Economy. We could barely get our kids meal let alone eating at different times. Asking a flight attendant to take the tray after Em had eaten (before it was officially collection time) was like personally affronting her. It goes without saying that not one stopped by to say hello to Em, and in fact, I got the feeling they hated us from the moment we walked on board.

3. Things to do during take-off and landing. The biggest drama is take-off and landing. At these times, your toddler is expected to stay in their seat, with the seatbelt done up. Right. I can barely get Em to stay in her highchair for a 10 minute meal. We had one massive meltdown which resulted in me apologizing profusely to all around while pinning a writhing Emily down as we took off. The things that helped:  homeopathic sugar-free lolly-pops (she just liked eating it and it took forever), the iPad (a miracle distraction tool), snacks (anything that takes a while to eat is best!), a magnetic drawing board (this was surprisingly hours of fun), 3 books (books with flaps seem to be more interesting), ask for a second baby seatbelt to play with…Emily LOVED opening and closing the seatbelt, stickers to take off one paper and put on another (sounds dumb but works!).

4. Things to do during the flight.  Ok, so you make it past take-off and landing and then have about a million hours of wake-time in your little rat-cage. A few more things we did to take up the time:  the iPad (wait, I’ve mentioned that), walking up and down the aisle, DVDs and headphones, the in-seat entertainment, playing with cups and utensils from the meals, warming up and then drinking milk, tea parties on the seat or on the floor (if you have bulkhead), and all of the above from #3, an iPod with their favourite music with earphones.

5. Packing. What worked for us was bringing 1 carry-on with all of the essentials (nappies, change of clothes, etc) and one bag with toys.  We brought a lot – most of it we didn’t use but was good to have ‘just in case’. I’ll summarize:  10 nappies (went through 7), tons of wipes, 2 onesies (didn’t use), a full change of clothes with an extra pair of pants (only changed her before exiting to arrivals out of shame), sleeping bag (didn’t use), pyjamas (didn’t use), disposable bibs (didn’t use), toothbrush etc (didn’t use), panadol (used), blanket (used), muslin wrap (used to block light), anti-bacterial gel (didn’t use, but should have), snacks, milk bottle. Think that sums it up, sorry for the detail 🙂

6. Things to avoid bringing:   Markers or crayons – for obvious reasons, big stuffed toys – they’re only interesting for a few minutes and take up too much space, messy foods, clothes that are complicated or expensive, small toys that can roll under seats.  Some of these we learned the hard way.

7. Where to sit (if you get a choice).  We found that bulkhead was the wrong choice for an overnight flight with a toddler. In these seats you cant raise the armrests to have the kid sleep across the seats. During the day it is great for the space and lack of seat in front of you, but for sleeping it’s really a pain. Achim (read: engineer) built some contraption so that  she could be raised up high enough to sleep across the seat over the armrests. But definitely not ideal.

That’s it for now. Now that I have this out, I can get on to better posts about actually arriving in Santiago!

Flying toddlerFinally a tired toddler