Holidays Below the Equator

I’ve never spent a susbstantial holiday away from home, despite my extensive travels. This trip was the first time I’d ever spend all the major ones away from home – Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and then who knows what else in the future – and away from family.

I was slightly apprehensive about how I might feel during these days. Obviously Thanksgiving came and went successfully, complete with Bursting Gut Syndrome yet thankfully free of Black Friday Madness. Christmas was quiet here and save a little unexpected Tearful Joy after talking with all of my family on Christmas Eve, I felt very calm and happy. Even away from family, I can have a successful and fulfilling Christmas.

Me on Christmas Eve! Note I’m not wearing a heavy jacket.
Because there’s no snow here, Ohioans. No snow. 

It helped to have the girl’s here. We opted to spend our Christmas Eve helping out with a dinner at the guesthouse where Leslie works, which allowed us to spend the time together, eat really well, and be surrounded by Americana-type comfort. The guesthouse is really gorgeous and it’s decorated impeccably, so being surrounded by such cozy Christmas touches helped the holiday spirit.

Vicky readying the gourmet salads for the Christmas Eve dinner.

We made the decision to not purchase presents. None of us are really in a position to spend mass amounts of money on gifts, much less ship them around the world. So without the pressure of gift purchases, and the weather indicator (first Christmas without snow and cold – WEIRD!), it was really hard for me to remember that Christmas was even approaching.

Our awkward family portrait on Christmas Eve.

New Year’s Eve festivities commenced with a fireworks display downtown at the beach. Around 11:50pm everyone started shooting off silly string and screaming and cheering and popping champagne bottles on the street. Then right at midnight, a huge fire sign lit up that said “Puerto Varas 2013”; it was really impressive. Then the fireworks started, and they went on for quite some time (far longer than the July 4th Cedar Point fireworks, for the record).

The rest of the Eve was celebrated in typical fashion (partying) but what was different about this New Year’s Eve partying was that I was working. And working really, really stinking hard. We were slammed to the gills with people from 12:30am until the (not so) early morning, and I’ve never run so much at that place as this night. I think the first time I was able to look past the wall of people waiting at that bar was around 5am or so. Two girls were supposed to come in and help us serve drinks that night but something didn’t work out right, because they definitely showed up behind the bar. Amanda, Keko and I served hundreds of people that night. Phew!

Plus I got a sunburn on the beach later that day, and took a dip in the Lago Llanquihue. Invigorating!!

Me and a friend braving the cold waters…
Not a bad backdrop, eh?

Merry Christmas (a little late) and Happy New Year to all my loved ones and dutiful readers! 2012 was a ridiculously fun, magical, eventful, rewarding and inspiring year…here’s to 2013 being all that and more!!

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All in a night’s work…

Pouring a Schop (draft); it’s Kunstmann.
I am a sub-par bartender because I don’t drink beer 
and don’t understand beer terminology…
nor do I care to learn. The most you’ll get out of me is, “It’s an amber beer,
and no, we don’t carry any cerveza negra. Get a Heineken and shut up.”

Guitarist for the tango group.
The Tango is very Argentine; you could tell the Argentine 
members of the audience based on who was reacting
the loudest/most fervently in favor of every tango song. 

Lovely performance by these two;
I can’t wait to visit the ‘tanquerias’ in Argentina!

Our team! Leo (the French DJ), me, Amanda, 
and Keko, our boss (and the bar owner).
We have a lot of fun together…
which includes the implementation of unnecessary dress codes, 
as seen above. 

Navigating the Cosmos (in Puerto Varas)

There is a conference of astronomers visiting Puerto Varas right now, and they have been visiting the Garage each night they’ve been in town. I never imagined scientists and astrophysicists could consume so many mojitos and draft beers. Furthermore, I never imagined they would be at a bar at all, much less MY bar. But alas, these scientists were rocking out, dancing, having fun, involved in conversations of most likely epic proportions (I imagine their jokes must be infinitely more intelligent than mine).

One of them was a Chilean man, a Santiago native, who lived in Edinburgh, Scotland for seven years before coming back to Chile to continue working with the telescope in the Atacama Desert. He spoke English very well, and we chatted for awhile about the work they’re doing up there, what type of telescopes they use, the dimensions of the antennae, nerdy things like that. I showed him my space shuttle necklace as proof of my dedication to all things outer space.

We had a live tango band last night. At one point, this Chilean astronomer came up to me and asked why there was no one on the dance floor, dancing the Tango. I felt a particular lightning bolt of wit come scorching through the cosmos and land somewhere in my chest cavity, so I thought I’d follow this inclination. I told him, “What do you mean? There are tons of people out there dancing; you just can’t see them.”

He looked at the dance floor, then back at me, confused.

“They’re in a different dimension,” I clarified. “You just can’t see them, but they’re there.”

He watched me a moment, still somewhere between amused, confused and horrified.

“Like in the tenth dimension, you know? String Theory and all that.”

Another pause, and then he says slowly, “What are you talking about?”

I felt my joke shrivel and crumble and return to the interstellar dust bits from whence it came. I was a little surprised; I mean, I dropped the term ‘String Theory’. Isn’t it obvious that I’m being witty in front of an astronomer?

“I was trying to make a scientific joke,” I said. “I thought it would be funny…People dancing in the tenth dimension.”

“Oh, you mean the eleventh dimension?”

This time, I paused. Sure, maybe I’d gotten the specifics of String Theory wrong. But was my joke so unintelligible with that slight, barely noticeable, quark-of-a-gaffe? Come on, Astrophysicist; cut me some slack!

He threw me a pity laugh and we went on our separate interstellar paths. I thanked the astronomers later for sharing their presence with me and the bar and Puero Varas in general. I was strangely honored and thrilled to be in the same breathing space as the people responsible for some of the most cutting edge scientific research in today’s world.

Oh, and by the way, these guys found water in distant galaxies!! Look for the articles coming out soon…

Snapshots in December

A little friend I like to call ‘caracol’ (snail).
These lil’ guys are everywhere.
Be careful not to smoosh them on the sidewalk!

Us girls with Francisca, a friend who was giving 
Amanda and Leslie Spanish lessons.
It was always a treat to sit in on the classes…
(more for entertainment purposes!)

Robert and I posing in downtown Puerto Varas.
I look inexcusably 90’s and I’m not sure how it happened.
But there it is. 

This is the Garage, where Amanda and I work
as two overly-enthusiastic and color-coordinated bartenders.
We frequently dance in sync and are rarely seen not having a good ass time. 

A Grateful Check-In

Here are some of the things that I am grateful for on a daily basis. We Americans love to count our blessings on Thanksgiving, but I am guilty just as much as anyone of not reflecting frequently enough upon the delightful and lovely and delicious aspects of my life. Let me begin:

1. I am grateful for the fact that Leslie convinced me to bring my winter jacket to Chile. Back in mid-October, I was stressing over the amount of luggage I’d amassed prior to our departure. I knew I had to leave something, but what? I begged her to agree with my rationalization for leaving the enormous green parka. “It’s going to be summer,” I reasoned, “I mean, one or two cold nights is fine, but then it’ll be SUMMER.” I don’t remember what the persuasive argument was that changed my mind, but I brought it along (I ended up leaving a fair amount of beads and bead containers behind – good choice) and I thank the heavens above for this everyday, because I literally wear that jacket EVERY DAY. Yeah, it’s spring here, but it’s certainly not like Spring in Ohio. The nights are still cold (though not as cold as when we first arrived), and the daytime temp swings from annoyingly sweltering in the sunlight to annoyingly cold in the shade. There was a hot spell only once, and it lasted three days. I was able to wear my shorts in the daytime on those days, but I’m not sure what happened because that weather has not returned (maybe the hole in the o-zone layer? Seems like a good excuse for any strange behavior in these parts).

2. I am grateful for Chilean Spanish. I never thought I’d say this, but I am indeed very grateful for the fact that Chileans speak too fast, use too many incomprehensible slang words, and barely enunciate anything. Why? My Spanish is getting better at an unprecedented rate, and I can only thank the mumbling locals for this. Once I can understand Chilean Spanish, I can understand anything. But I’m still working on understanding the Chilean stuff…it is by no means at a “mission accomplished” status yet!

3. I am grateful for the basic goodwill of people everywhere.Without all the kindness and generosity of countless strangers, acquaintances and more, I would not be where I am today in this country. People are always willing to help, whether it be with directions to a city, how to find a taxi,  assistance in looking for jobs/office space/apartments, and more. Once you put the word out here, it starts to circulate, and fast. This is exactly how the three of us have come to find our various employment and office space opportunities. There’s always a hand to be lent, no matter how long you’ve known someone. And that’s another aspect of it too – once you greet someone for the first time, there is a familiarity and a general sense of loyalty that extends far beyond the concept of “acquaintances” in the US. That’s not to say that every person you meet is your instant best friend, but acquaintances here tend to be more personal and more giving right off the bat, no matter who you are or where you come from.

4. I am grateful for the lax standards of business. I have never held a job in which so little was expected of me. My job duties at the Garage, the bar I started working at a couple days ago, include the following: show up at 10pm, serve drinks when asked, occasionally empty an ash tray or wash a glass, and have fun. In fact, our boss Keko tends to prefer doing most of the work; he has stopped us on countless occasions from washing dishes or tending to customers. We might just be eye candy there, but that’s okay. There’s good music and I get paid essentially to bump to the music and pour beer.

Amanda and me with Leo, the French DJ.

Furthermore, the other night I responded to a call for help from a friend here, Robert, whose sister owns a local eatery. They were hosting a late-night party for a group of businessmen from Santiago and needed help, stat. Robert and I ended up being the servers for this event, which consisted of Kareoke and an open bar. The owner was very impressed by me, but all I was doing was being a server according to American standards. American standards are intense and over-attentive; think about any time in a restaurant when you’ve had to call the server over to you and the irritation that results from not being well looked-after. Well, that lax standard of service is the norm here. I was going about my business like a typical American server and the Chilean guys seemed confused, even a bit put off. I was being pushy, in their eyes. I had to reel it back, big time. Which means more standing around, enjoying the environment, and being sung to by tipsy salesmen (one of which actually came over and sang to me, causing me to turn 200 shades of red as the spotlight focused in on just us in front of the room of raucous and hooting businessmen). Very good times, indeed! I have found that my American breeding in the job market leads to anxiety about my job performance (Am I doing a good job? Will  I get fired? Does the boss think I’m being lazy?) and a sense of obligation to consistently “prove” my worth in the workplace. These things are useless here, and just don’t exist. It was interesting to realize this difference in work standards. In adapting to the Chilean norm, I am probably unraveling any chance for success in an American workplace in the future. Oops.

5. I am grateful for the internet. Without Al Gore’s classic invention (that’s for you, Dad), I would feel inconsolably disconnected and lost down here. I am able to keep in touch with so many people in almost every hemisphere of the world, and it is this connection that keeps me invigorated and refreshed and in-touch with my home and roots. Being with Leslie and Amanda down here has been a blessing, as the first thing to bother me while being abroad tends to be the lack of someone who “gets me”; but furthermore, having such constant contact with my family and friends back home has proven to be a necessary fountain of rejuvenation for me.

6. I am grateful for Now. Enough said!!

More Jobs and Reflections

Once upon a time, Kelli and I were spending Spring Break 2007 in Guanajuato, Mexico exploring the little nooks and callejones of that delightful colonial city.

We went to a bar (we were freshly 21) and had a couple drinks. As time wore on in the bar that night, I became ever-more intrigued by the bartender who’d served us. Bartenders don’t normally intrigue me unless they’re male, tall and handsome, but this one was different: she was very blonde, very short, very American, and very clearly living in Mexico.

Before we left, I made the decision to approach the very-blonde and very-American bartender to pester her with questions about how, exactly, she’d managed to find herself living and breathing in Guanajuato on a daily basis. It boggled me then; the whole notion of ex-patriot lives in foreign countries was so foreign and strange and alluring. Sure, I had lived in Mexico once, but as a student. There was a start date and an end date and a legitimate visa to go along with it. This girl was clearly making a living there, renting an apartment, slangin’ with a group of Mexican friends, just existing in her own Mexican life. I wondered, How does someone just pack up and move to a foreign country and become a part-time bartender and English teacher?

The notion isn’t so strange to me anymore. In my trips and journeys since that Spring Break trip, it has become apparent to me just how easily, and oftentimes unexpectedly, one can find themselves rooted in a city or country different than the familiar hometown. It’s oftentimes unplanned – you go somewhere, fall in love, make a decision to go back, and then see what you find. Look at us for examples: none of us knew any of the people or opportunities that would find before we got here. There’s no craiglist ads or facebook groups to join for this type of thing. It comes from daily life in a place.

In fact, perhaps as an homage to the Great Irony of the Universe, it seems that I as well will become a very-blonde and very-American bartender here. The bar where Amanda works, the Garage, wants me to join the staff. I agreed to one or two nights per week (making it my fifth job), but it excites me for a number of reasons: the money, the side-stepping of full-time commitment, the access to playing MY music with LARGE speakers, a great boss, working with a friend, and, of course, the delightful nod to that moment in my life where I so desperately wanted to be that girl living abroad, picking up opportunities like change on the street, making it work even though so far from home and my culture.

I think it is a healthy and essential practice to think back on our pasts and find those memories from youth when we were looking ahead with dreamy eyes and hopeful sighs, and remember those small things we hoped for, grasped at, and find the ways in which we have manifested them or accomplished them throughout our lives. This of course doesn’t apply to some of the more grandiose dreams – obviously I’m not an astronaut OR a mermaid now, even though I always wished to be both of those things.

But when I think back to the things that I most wished for or aspired towards, here is what I see: I see a young Shannon hearing Spanish on some early-afternoon court TV show and becoming totally captivated, wishing so badly to be able to speak the language like the woman on the TV. I see a young Shannon enchanted by history from a young age and wanting so desperately to see pyramids and mummies in real life. I see a coming-of-age Shannon being affected by an experience abroad and vowing to move back abroad someday, somehow.

Those are just some of the things that I remember from my childhood/young adult life that I can trace like lines on map from my formative experiences to where I am today. These things are easy to forget, but realizing that maybe we are exactly where we always wished to be makes for a much more meaning-full and profound journey on this planet.