Life in Chile

2014-Dec-27, Saturday 19:23
mindstalk: (Nanoha)
Just experienced a very short and sharp earthquake. I think. Quake sites haven't recorded it to validate my impression but I don't know what else it could be.

I just had my second hummingbird sighting in two days. Possibly the same hummingbird. Yesterday I was out sunning and saw it close up, visiting flowers. Just now I was attending to my cooking, and could see it through the kitchen window. Also, hear it, I think, or its wing changes, or something, like "chick, chick" every half second.

Back in Boston, I'd been eating canned black beans and salsa a lot. The only canned beans here are refried, which, meh. They do have dried black beans, though, so I explored cooking them. The Web told me that the traditional soaking advice is highly disputed, so I tried an experiment: one batch soaked overnight (but no water change), one batch boiled straight. The former ended up bland and overcooked, probably because I boiled them for the same amount as the latter. The latter seemed to come out fine. Soaking might reduce the cooking time, but 2-2.5 hours when I'm around the house anyway is no big deal, with the big batches I'm making and having eaten by the other adults.

Relatedly, they can go bad; I threw out the remains of the last batch after noting it smelled sour and there were possible white flecks developing. I'd added that batch to the remains of the previous batch, or two, so the oldest beans would have had some time to ferment. Don't do that, I guess.

The salsa here is meh, more like a hot watery slurry than the pico de gallo texture I like. Chilean pebre is like the latter, but I only see it in restaurants, not stores.

I saw real orange juice -- vs. added sugar "orange nectar" -- for the first time here last year. More of it this time.

I tried making hamburger. Problem: while I know that grass-fed beef is healthier and happier for the cow, and healthier for me, I find I do like the fatty cornfed beef, especially for that. I've made really good burgers with 20% fat beef. US beef is generally 20, 15, or 7% fat. Chilean beef, imported from Argentina, is 8%, 5%, or 3% beef; the fattiest grind here is like the fattest conventional grind back home. If there's a way to make a good burger out of 8% fat beef, I don't know it. I've switched to cooking lots of longaniza or chorizo (Chilean, not Mexican) sausages instead. G2 really appreciates it. You know, she's old enough to cook her own, though not to have the money to buy them.

(This is my problem with vegetarian fake meat. They made do a great job these days of replicating the protein side of things, but it's the animal fat that's at least half the experience for me.)

Speaking of kids, I thought to ask what Chilean parenting style is like. G and G2 tell me the upper middle class parents are at least as protective and helicopter-ing as modern US ones. Scared to let kids out of their sight, overbundling them in 10 C winter temperatures, etc.

I traditionally injure myself somehow every year here, giving me an excuse to be boring; this year it was pulling a back muscle. I don't know if it was from terrible posture at times, especially trying to curl up with my laptop in bed despite sufficient pillow or wall backing, or doing lots of push-ups.

I've played a few games of Compounded; it's a neat little chemistry themed game. I'm not sure you'd learn much chemistry from it, but it was fun.

Productivity... I should be working on job prep and hunt; in practice, redoing my Duolingo tree -- I need it, I basically stopped after this summer's travels -- and writing some fanfic have been my productive/creative things. Yes, I've gone from lots of ideas in my head to actually putting words out. And re-reading parts of Sunshine or other books to study the authorial crafts I want to emulate.

Ah, one of the sites updated; magnitude 4.6 [now 4.3] offshore Coquimbo, which is basically here. Also a 3.5 in the area an hour before that. Hope those aren't pre-shocks.
mindstalk: (escher)
Got absolutely no sleep en route to Chile, and had been sleep deprived already, so my start has started out with a great deal of pleasant boredom. Thursday went to sleep after lunch, for 3 hours until S2 woke me up ("It's time for dinner!" "Not for me!") Then four hours, a break around midnight ("NOW it's dinner time I'm starving") and another seven. After all that, I crashed early at 2040 Friday, just for an hour but so solidly I slept through the kids going to bed. Off and on after that, with weird dreams like surviving underwater nuclear explosions (manmade and natural) off of South Africa (first waking thought: "I've never been near South Africa. Oh right, and those nukes don't happen, either.") Then another 2.5 this afternoon in the quiet of the girls being off at some BBQ party, as the thought of being stuck away from home for 9 hours filled me with dread. BBQ is nice, sleep is nicer (and leftover chorizo came home to me anyway, haha!)

cool sun ray or
sunset at 9pm I told you the time zone is weird

Other notes:
Logan Airport security is getting nicer. Shoes stayed on this summer, and this time laptop stayed in as well. Chile security was stricter, I had to take my belt off.
The new Dreamliners look like futuristic white plastic and the windows have controllable polarization instead of shutters but being in economy for 10 hours still sucks (see: no sleep) and there's only USB power (LAN Airlines) (vs. American to NYC, which had a socket but no USB. I'm just grateful there was power, of course.)

Chile no longer charges Americans a reciprocity fee to get in, is worried about Ebola, and proclaims the use of anti-microbial copper keeping us safe somehow. G tells me Santiago is smoggy all the time, like LA in the 1980s. Certainly looked unpleasant from the airport, like Pasadena summer 1993, when even the streetlights would look grayed out from 100 feet away. Okay, maybe not that bad, but then I was only at the airport. Spending a couple days there before I return now seems like a bad plan.

Right. Time to finish up my Argentinian steak ("bistec ganso V", I don't think even my friends have decoded all the meat cut names here) and get some more competitive napping in.
mindstalk: (Default)
I accidentally (reading Spanish or Chilean news) learned today that Chile had won their first World Cup match. Despite my not caring about sports in general, thinking that the World Cup is a corrupt menace to developing democracies, and that this World Cup has been a disaster for Brazil (and why are we playing soccer in a malaria zone?), I felt some joy for them, if not pride, due to my tenuous connections. Goooo monkeysphere! Oook ook woo!

I belatedly thought of the US. I doubt I would actually care either way -- the Chile thing is as much having close friends there who'd care, I think -- but they, I mean 'we', haven't played yet.

I think my friends get to root for the US, Chile, and Germany. Three chances at victory!
mindstalk: (Default)
Pleasant memories of Chile include watching the sun go down toward the Horizon at 8:30 or so. Yesterday I learned the oddness of that. We're at only 30 South here, after all; even in midsummer the day is just 14 hours long, which means sunset should be at 7. There's DST, but that just brings us to 8. What's going on?

Finally (lots of those this year) I learn Chile's been cheating on its time zone. Geographically it should be on US astern time, with Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Instead it's one ahead, with Bolivia, Paraguay, Western Brazil, Venezuela, and Newfoundland. G says Chile simply put itself there, so get more sunlight in the evening -- my thought was "trying to imitate a Madrid lifestyle without Madrid latitude." (Santiago is 33.45 south, Madrid is 40 north.) Solar zenith today was about 1:45pm.

Which means that my instinct for not going out much in the hour after lunch (which we have at 2) has been inadvertently sound.


I'm told Chile has very low property tax, feeding a boom in land, from both Chileans and Argentinians trying to escape Argentine currency controls. Tax is like 0.5% of value. It's lower before 130 m2 and 65? m2 too, creating a lot of lots or units at e.g. 129 m2. Conversely, there's some other tax based on floor area ratio, such that big empty lots pay more.

The supermarket I usually walk to has instituded paid parking in the past week. I'd never seen the lot full but I'm told that at the right times it's been overfull, partly from customers of businesses on Balmaceda. If you have a receipt for a grocery purchase of about $6-20 you get 40 minutes free, more for bigger purchases. If you're a member of the general public it's $1 per 30 minutes, no limit on duration. $14 if you lose your ticket.

So yes, it's a store lot that can be used, for pay, by the general public! How shockingly sensible.

I'm also told that at this point it's nearly impossible to get money conveniently out of the US. Not currency controls, but finance+DEA rules meaning you have to be physically present at a bank in order to wire money out of the US, something of a problem if you're an expat. Sort of anti-drugging out way into being like Argentina.


I've gone out to dinner a couple times on my own recently. Once to a Peruvian restaurant, where I had tacu-tacu con lomo salteado, which was pretty good and more stuffing than I expected, also a weird free appetizer of bread medallions and some dipping sauce. Last night to a Mexicanish place -- fajitas, burritos, tacos -- where I had tacos, kind of. I think in corn tortillas -- homemade? you can't buy corn tortillas here -- and fried, even, but also soaking in juice and overburdened, so it was really fork and knife time. Pretty good, though. So was the chocolate artesenal, with cinnamon and something else, and Colombian chocolate? About $18 for each dinner.

I still haven't found postcards. Okay, I haven't really looked again either. Christmas, rail games, arguing about the Culture and Blue Rose online, talking about politics here, playing chase with the kids.

I bought and cooked some sausages. I don't know what they are, but they were really tasty.

More observations

2013-Dec-19, Thursday 13:10
mindstalk: (Default)
I thought maybe I'd seen high inflation in action: I'd swear I used to be able to find cheap beef, like 2-3 mil/kilo (roughly the same number in US$/pound), but now it's 4.5 or higher, even for ground beef. S points out Argentina's economy is borked (currency controls, nutty leaders) and that's a major beef source, plus Chile's been having drought for the past couple years.

A bunch of sort of side streets have 30 km/hour speed limits; this is the same as Amsterdam streets that don't have physically segregated bike paths, and at 18 mph is a speed at which "only" 5% of struck pedestrians are killed, and a whopping 30% are unscathed. Vs. 30 mph, which is an LD50, or 40 mph, which is basically a death sentence.

I've seen 20 kph too, a speed I could almost sustain on my tank of a bike if it's not uphill. I think that was downtown.
mindstalk: (Default)
Three people have asked for postcards. Next obstacle: actually finding any postcards. Wandering around the busy Christmasy areas of centro (downtown) didn't turn anything up.

For the first time in five years I've gone to a museum in La Serena. (Not counting the zoo on my first and later visits, the Japanese garden last visit, or the museums and zoo in Santiago two years ago.) The Museo Arquelogico. Small -- a hallway and 5-6 rooms -- but hey, cheap (600 pesos, under $1.20). If you breeze through you could sneeze and miss it; if you stare at artwork the way I stared at rocks to learn to idenfity diorite and gabbro, it can take a lot longer. Even longer if you try to read the Spanish placards with an inadequate portable dictionary and a smattering of grammar, and type up the missing words to look up later.

Actual content: a handful of fossils (ammonites, oysters, things, extinct American horses, shark tooth, mastodon molar), some replica "escudillas" that looked bowls, tres veces something, I think meaning 3x original size; various stone, wood, and clay tools or art pieces; a mummy; indications of the many indigenous peoples of Chile; an actual Easter Island status and various other things about Easter Island, including a line that I think can be very freely translated as "dude, how did sweet potatoes get here?" And other stuff. The building also bleeds into some other building a hall of monochrome silver art photographs of celebrities -- mostly actors but also Charles De Gaulle -- two of the museum rooms, a few more cases of artifacts in its lobby, and much better bathrooms. I'll probably go back.

Right. I got to rediscover the eccentricity that can be Chilean public bathrooms, starting with the main ones of the museums. The ones with no artificial light or toilet paper or paper towels or I think soap. On exit I discovered a hot air dryer and toilet paper dispenser *outside* the bathroom; I'd forgotten the bizarre custom of having to rip off some toilet paper to take with you into the stall. I have no idea how this makes any practical sense unless dispensers are worth their weight in gold and then some. I would think it would lead to paper waste as people take enough for a worst case shit, or else some unfortunately smelly people. The Santiago zoo took the cake by having a person there dispensing toilet paper to you before you went into the bathroom. Chile has cheap labor compared to the US but not *that* cheap. It might seem like less labor to change one dispenser rather than 1 per stall but OTOH you have to change it more often since everyone's using it.

But that other building? Past the cases and down the stairs I totally randomly found the employee bathrooms or something. No complaint there, totally up to picky US standards.

Unlike a cafe later, where it was "go out the door and up the stairs" to some I don't know theatre or studio bathroom, with minimal lighting and again a toilet paper dispenser outside the stalls, and I think nothing for drying your hands. But Cafe Danes even later had a decent bathroom, along with better food.

I don't know if this should be tagged #firstworldproblems or not. I mean, we're not talking about some really poor country where you squat over a dirt trench because that's what they have (or are traditional Japan.) We're talking places with running water and electricity and solid buildings and hell, toilet paper dispensers. Just deployed in a terrible, "you're doing it wrong", way. But not even consistently so! There's fine Western bathrooms, and then there's bizarro mutant Western bathrooms, as if for a while they thought external dispensers were a good idea and then they got a clue but not everyone's been upgraded yet. (That 'other building' gave every sign of being much newer than the museum.)

I think I've almost figured out the relevant colectivo routes. Haven't taken one yet.

G&S&I went to sushi lunch today. Fairly good, especially the gyoza, some salmon/cheese balls (totally inauthentic, but good) and something both hot and spicy. I realized that with all the love for palta (avocado) California-ish rolls are a totally natural fit here. We had to ask for wasabi and ginger and they didn't even bring the ginger; most Chileans apparently won't touch the stuff. It's a bland food country, apart from pebre and that spicy mystery roll.

S said she graduated from a good LA high school without learning where the school library was. This croggles me. School libraries are among my major memories of both grade and high school; the latter was particularly impressive, almost as large in area as a city branch library, and including microfiche archives of newspapers. It was a major chunk of the most central floor of the school and adjacent to the gym bridge, impossible to miss. We could probably take study hall in there rather than in the cafeterias, though I don't remember.

Chile has public libraries but S usually takes the kids to a private one; better for kids' books at least. I was told there was some recent editorial? bemoaning "Chileans don't read". I certainly haven't run into vast numbers of bookstores or big ones, though today I did see one for kids' books and one for English books... pretty small though, larger than a stall but smaller than what "a hole in the wall" would make me think of for bookstores.

The Plaza de Armas is a cool place to hang out as usual. Even busier now perhaps with all the Christmas stuff. Beyond the benches and people hanging out, two sides are lined with covered stalls, some selling food, some selling jewelry or clothes and such. Mostly I just like the idea of a central public area that people use. Santiago was good at that too. Not necessarily all cities: I haven't seen it, but G tells me the one in Coquimbo is like 1/3 the size of La Serena's, despite being a bigger city, and more like the size of plaza I saw in a rural village last year (which wasn't being used much at the time, but hey, village.)

I popped into a couple of churches. There's the great art of medieval Catholicism... and then there's tacky modern stained glass and tacky plaster statues. I tend to find the latter around here. Nice architecture, though.


2013-Dec-14, Saturday 23:24
mindstalk: (Default)
Took Delta down to Chile. Plastic tableware for dinner, but free wine; I'd forgotten that.

I still haven't taken the public transit here -- no one seems to have put up websites for it and my friends haven't found central info and I found someone on the web saying *they* hadn't found central info -- but I've learned more, from observation and from going to a tour agency to find someone who spoke English. Though I'm not sure I trust one of the things he told me. I note there are tourist information centers on the maps, I should try those next. The options are short buses, more like big vans, and colectivos, that look like taxis but circulate on sort-of fixed routes. I could probably flag some to get downtown; I still don't know where to catch one coming back, or even if they come up past the house.

Friends went to a dinner tonight, so I got to babysit and put the kids to bed. Can't remember if it's happened before, certainly not often. Went pretty well, apart from the corner spider scare. Big, highly venomous, spiders, supposedly not common but we've seen two in the past week. I look at the curtains behind my bed nervously now. The ants haven't invaded in force yet, I'd happy trade. Tonight's challenge was killing the spider without smushing it into the carpet, but I met it.

I read KSR's _2312_. The space bits were interesting, and I particularly liked the future-history periods, with us currently in The Dithering. Yep. Earthside seemed kind of lazy, with development kind of stalled. You could defend it, what with all the climate damage, but still...

Currently reading Clash of Kings. Haven't seen any season 3 GoT yet. I suppose I could right now, the kids are alseep; OTOH I went to bed at 11:30 last night instead of 1 and that seems like a good pattern to form, and it's 11:30 right now. But the adults are still out.

I offered postcards on Facebook and got two responses. You can respond here too if you want, or via e-mail. Send me your address.


2013-Jan-12, Saturday 16:39
mindstalk: (Default)
I've been very unadventurous since the 2nd and 3rd. On the 2nd new sandals chafed very badly, scraping off a lot of skin near my big toe; it's still scabbed over. (I've had related problems before; this is why I often commit the fashion sin of socks with sandals. Sandals air out my feet, socks protect them.) On the third I stubbed another toe unprecedentedly badly, with bruising halfway down, and ongoing mild pain or discomfort. I finally saw a doctor yesterday; she thinks a fracture is unlikely, and anyway all they do is tape your toes together. But she did recommend keeping my foot high ("to keep toxins from pooling") and avoiding hiking. It's like I got a prescription to avoid pedestrian tourism and stay in a place where groceries come to me.


S's parents are here, and K brought Starbucks instant coffeee. I just tried some, and it was very dark, burnt, and bitter, just like everyone says of SB coffee in general. I've been trying some local instant coffee with Colombian beans and a price twice the alternatives; it's much better by comparison.


Last night I noticed my laptop tingling while plugged in; I asked G about it, and got a remedial education in basic electric wiring, current and neutral and ground. My adapter is only two prong, and my laptop's ground wire had been unaccomodated; he lent me one of his 3-prongs, and the tingling went away. The eee didn't have this problem, but he remembered it as being 2-prong, and it's a hard plastic clamshell, vs. the high-metal casing of the Dell.

I might as well share, in case any readers are as ignorant. The two usual prongs are channels for the current, which is like an artificial river. Electrons come in and flow out, pushed by the voltage, and a device can draw power by sapping the potential like a watermill taps a river. (We ignore AC and oscillating current.) But electrons can leak from the innards to the case, or else fields can draw in electrons from dry air, and so a third wire connects the case to ground, draining off such nuisance electrons before they zap you like a doorknob. The eee, being solidly plastic, is naturally insulated from such problems.

This also sheds light on a cheap metal lamp I'd bought in Boston ($4, with CF bulb) that had also been tingly. I'd figured that was just cheapness -- I doubt it has ground -- but he suggested flipping the plug if it's not width-polarized like many these days.

He also reminded me that grounding in Chile is hard, what with all the fractured dry soil; years ago he'd said the observatory dug down tends of meters and still couldn't find good grounding. He's found that neutral and ground are 20 volts apart, whereas they're usually equal in the US. Neutral is the power company's ground, ground is you, the power company is likely lots of dry soil away.

Socks often crackle or sizzle too; some of that is on insertion, due to crappy oxidized sockets; some of it was ongoing, probably due to the ungrounded plugs. Oh, voltage is 240 here, too.


Books: Hans Brinker (abridged), Night's Master (Tanith Lee), Death's Master (ditto), Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of Universe/Modern World, Years of Rice and Salt.


I still don't have my laptop Linux in an ideal state, but I don't feel like complaining about it too much. Well, a bit. konsole's colors suck compared to gnome-terminal, and kde-plasma picked up an ugly orange color on highlighted items that I couldn't change. kde/openbox is better, though I had to edit a file to get my keyboard shortcuts. konsole doesn't open urls as conveniently, but gnome-termnal keeps resizing itself under non-gnome.

OTOH, I did get firefox to stop doing so, by turning off its Ubuntu and Unity addons, to no obvious loss of functionality.


Cooperative game we've played down here: Flash Point, nicknamed Fire Rescue. More intuitive actions than Pandemic. Apologies if I'm repeating myself.


The house is sitting on an ant colony or something, and they keep trying to invade. Two days ago I woke to them crawling over the power outlet and computer. We spray a lot, which works briefly.


2012-Dec-29, Saturday 14:42
mindstalk: (CrashMouse)
My two reliable housecleaning habits are not leaving dirty dishes or clothes around, so it's hard for me here to not bother cleaning up dishes from my own meals. OTOH, doing dishes for six after weekend lunch choripan (and breakfast earlier) renews my appreciation for the usual "leave it for the maid Monday", damn the class consciousness.


For the first time this visit I was up early enough to go with S to the feria, or outdoor market. I've been there before, but before they didn't have a fish stand selling ceviche. After an unfortunate night following the seafood-heavy paella a few weeks ago, I went with the pure fish rather than general seafood ceviche, $2 for a good size bowl, and it was pretty good. Very lemony, naturally. I belatedly realized that the giant bags of lemons I saw beneath the fish in the supermarket years ago may not just be "lemon with seafood" complentary goods but people needing enough lemon juice to acid-cook their seafood in...

Fruit, like 70 cents a pound!


A few days ago I went for a long walk downtown. If I ever moved here on my own, I'd want to live there; dense stories, and typically a bit of shade even a couple hours after noon a week after the summer solstice. OTOH, there's a 2-3 story building limit there, and many buildings don't even push that, or have offices on top, so good lucky finding a home. After a fair bit of wandering, including finding a sort of skylighted internal alley shopping area that I last saw in Google Street View photos of old Jerusalem, I hit a western terrace, beneath which was the zoo I was taken to in 2008. It's a very small zoo, basically a dozen animals in a park. Free, though a lot was under construction this time. But I saw some foxes, and chickens, and Andean condors in their giant cage from a distance, and ostriches from up close. God they're big. As before, there's only a single layer of chain-link fence, nothing preventing you from feeding your fingers to the animals. The male came up to the fence as I approached, I kept my distance. Elsewhere there are llamas, last time not even caged just grazing around, but eh.

Across the parking lot is the Japanese garden I only heard about this visit, and which turned out to be maybe the second best reason for living here. $2 to get in, and a nice large garden, designed by a Japanese architect. A small Zen rock garden, various Shinto or Buddhist 'lanterns' with signs, an island with a strongly curved bridge, another island with the usual zig-zag anti-demon bridges, lots of birds. White ducks, a non-white swan, a couple of large collections of ducklings. Which is an odd thing to type and then recall the vultures, who were circling over the garden. Never got a really close view of them this time, but I did see impressively large shadows on the trees as they soared past.


S's sister gave Double Bananagrams for Christmas; it's nice having the game last a bit longer. I'm not great at it but I like Scrabble without the arbitrary Scrabble board.


Time sense at 3.75 years seems loose. "Is it Christmas?"


I am forced to concede that Disney eventually learned how to dub Miyazaki movies decently; we watched my gifts of Nausicaa and Spirited Away and I didn't want to punch my eardrums out. Nausicaa is an odd movie but that's not Disney's fault. I am less happy with the Princess Tutu dubs. Drosselmeyer is fine and maybe Neko-sensei (excuse me, Mr. Cat) but most of the others are gah. The kids are entranced anyway. I'm not sure what G&S think.

Chile: vultures!

2012-Dec-21, Friday 14:54
mindstalk: (Default)
Monday I went for a walk downtown, and on the near edge is a block that's entirely an abandoned prison. I'm told there's debate about maybe turning it into a museum of the Pinochet era. What I noticed perched on a tall building inside was a big black bird with a red bald head. In fact, many such birds with straight wings when they flew. My first thought was Andean Condor but they're not *that* big, and I didn't think you'd get them down here. Later I saw one being chased and mobbed by a seagull, if one gull can be a mob, and it seemed a big bigger than the gull. S said they're turkey vultures, like the ones in California. At any rate, it was neat to watch them flying around. I figured a block of pale concrete in a sunny late afternoon is Updraft Central, and you could see them circling over the corners of the prison, rising effortlessly as they came back over the prison.

Downtown I found an anime store, of sorts. Given claims of 13 episodes on a single disc, I suspect totally illegal fansubs, though I didn't look for a price. I say this with no great sense of condemnation. Later I even thought of getting one: practice my two nascent languages at once! Or get very confused.

There's a "Cafe Eros". I can't guess whether it's "strip club" or "nightclub" or what.

Downtown proper is a decent walk: tall enough buildings to provide shade, trees in the median of Francisco de Aguirre, and of course lots of shops. I need to remember to avoid Amunátegui: sunny, boring, car-smelly, and annoying crossings.

It'd be half an hour to a Japanese garden I've never been taking to. Need to get there. I might have today, intending a late morning walk, but S2 was very upset that the others had unfairly gone fun shopping without her (spoiler: they hadn't) and I took her to a park/playground she rarely gets to instead.

Down here, today's Google Doodle link says "Fin del 13th Baktún de los Mayas".

Las Campanas paseo

2012-Dec-15, Saturday 19:21
mindstalk: (CrashMouse)
Another end of year party, this time for G's observatory, attended mostly by workers, the astronomers being at graduations, on vacation, or stuck at the observatory. Located in an interesting little village in the Elqui Valley, about which more anon. Hung out with an accountant and his family, again doing the English-Spanish practice exchange, mostly with him; the wife didn't seem to speak it and the 15 yo daughter's isn't good or confident enough. She did have a ring with the largest zircon I've seen, which wasn't as brilliant as I expected. I don't know if zircon is the same as cubic zirconia; aren't those supposed to be more brilliant than diamond? But I think it was emerald cut, not diamond cut.

Food: good empanadas and salads, great cerdo (pork), meh lomo (beef). Then OMG, dinner, completos (hot dogs with palta (avocado) and mayo) and cake and bon-bon. If I were keeping a diet, it would be so broken. Drinks included mango sour and pisco sour; I belatedly realized that they actually use the word 'sour', not the Spanish agrio.

The variety of appearances was interesting, largely dark-skinned part-Indian, but one girl was rather Indian-yet-pale, like a smiling Wednesday Addams, and one very Indian family had an almost English little blonde girl. Who later amused me by looking tiny compared to the completo she was licking the garnish off of. 5 or 6 yo, I'd guess? Smaller than our 6yo.

I went for a walk at one point, through a fairly picturesque village, reminding me of movie Italian villages. Narrow cobblestone streets, looking 1.5 cars wide with tiny sidewalks if any, wall to wall buildings painted bright pastels. Surprisingly many little shops and restaurants, like every few doors. I was thinking "poor agricultural village, other side of the Gini curve" but G said "no, people's winter homes." A tiny Plaza de Armas in primary colors and broken benches, fronted by a little church with IMO tacky art. Kind of like the cathedral in Santiago's art.

I really wish I'd brought my camera or phone.

I also figured out why walking around down here often feels so oppressive: no shade! Or at least a very high sun/shade ratio. Very few trees, and short buildings so it's hard to get correct-side-of-street shade. G says this region doesn't *have* native tall trees, and Chile's cracked down on alien species. At any rate, you end up walking in the sun in dusty brown landscape and no me gusta. Downtown's probably better, with 2+ story buildings, but my memory says it takes like half an hour to walk there.

G says the winters have been very dry, and there's real worry the valley water will simply run out in March.

I haven't uploaded my airport photos yet, but I don't really need to:
That's pretty much all there is to it. Like I said, the building is two rooms deep. Lobby and security, then boarding and luggage rooms. Very bus station.


2012-Dec-12, Wednesday 14:40
mindstalk: (Default)
Sunday we went to S2's paseo, or class end-of-year party, which was also an asado, or BBQ. I had more fun than I feared, barely having time to look at the book I'd taken, instead chatting with my friends, or with a couple who came over and talked to us, me in Spanish as far as I could, them in rather better though far from perfect English. Stereotypes: he's a copper miner.

Chilean food: choripan, or little chorizos in a little hot dog bun. Slathered in pebre, probably the best food of the event, followed by steaks.

Lots of unpaved roads out in the valley.

Monday I played with the kids a lot, especially reading to M. "Fox in Socks" is something, alright. Yesterday I got a sore throat and I've just been taking it easy and trying to stay warm. Not as easy as you'd think; the Pacific and I'd guess the Humboldt Current from down south keep things cool: the usual wunderground range is 13-21 C. The patio is very sunny but also windy, I'm better off in a glassy alcove of my bedroom, where I've previously dried towels and made sun tea.

Over the weekend we played Flash Point, another cooperative game, and more intuitive in its actions than Pandemic and the weird conversion of city cards into cures. I keep thinking I need to get Ghost Stories for them. We also watched the Nausicaa I'd brought. It really is about Nausicaa as a personality, isn't it? The plot is kind of lacking. I dimly recall the original manga as being much more solid on that front.

I read _The City and the City_; pretty good.


2012-Dec-07, Friday 22:01
mindstalk: (Default)
The flight down was as good as any 24 hour door-to-door without lots of money can be. Or better, I got an early flight out of La Serena so saved 1.5 hours. I think it was my first time on LAN (the national airline) since my first flight down: back was operated by American, then Air Canada in 2010, and maybe Delta last year? It makes a difference: I think the seats are slightly bigger (, and you get metal utensils, and free wine with dinner. Good white wine too, at least by my standards. OTOH, seatguru's promise of seat power was a lie, as was the claim that seat F had less legroom due to the enterainment unit under the seat; in fact, that was D, aka my seat. I turned out to have DEF to myself, though.

The entertainment options are ridiculously extensive; I ended up watching some 21st season Simpsons episodes. I've heard Simpsons had gone downhill, but I found them funny.

Surprising bit was advertising for a certain printer/toner company in the middle of the "where in the world" plane map cycle. Also how the route seemed to curve to the west of South America, not a straight line route.

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Taste of Waltham

2012-Jun-23, Saturday 00:09
mindstalk: (CrashMouse)
For over a year now I've been going to monthly song circles at someone's home in Waltham. Usually I took the 70 bus to nearby and walked up. Recently I've taken the commuter rail, which is less frequent and further away on that end and more expensive, but I can get near my home without going to Central Square. Typically I'd be like an hour late, 8 when things start at 7.

Today I was in Boston, then went to North Station before 4. Line at the ticket machine so I went straight to the train, but I wasn't charged the dollar for buying a ticket on the train. Don't know if that's related to the train pulling out then stopping for 13 minutes due to "mechanical issues". I asked when I got off, and think I heard "airbag had gone off". I dunno. I was in no hurry and being stuck on an A/C train with a book is no burden in the recent heat wave, so whatever, but we did make it to Waltham, with plenty of time for me to explore, which was the plan.

I have walked around what I thought was central Waltham -- there's a train station and bus loop and park/square and all -- and frankly it's not that exciting, with a few scattered restaurants and no great density, but those walks have mostly been train-to-circle, and I figured I'd check, and if there wasn't much I knew there was *some* A/C restaurant I could hide in.

So, there I was. North and east I've done. North and west? South? South feels further away. What does Google Maps say? Not much on the N900, it's very spotty in business coverage compared to the online version (and has no 50 foot scale.) But the spots were slightly denser south of the river -- oh hey, a river! crossing a bridge is always fun. So I headed south, and immediately saw a woman throwing bread to mixed waterfowl. Almost a power law or something: 1 swan, half a dozen geese, lots and lots of ducks. I thought it was weird that the birds don't fight more, but wait their turn, especially when one of the birds is a GIANT SWAN. The one squabble I did see was between two geese.

Anyway, turned out that approximately everything interesting in Waltham is south of the river. On Moody street, in particular. Also, Waltham turned out to be a lot less whitebread than I thought, with Hispanics and blacks and outright Africans. (Why did I think the latter? Combination of really dark skin and head shape, I think. At first.)

And what specifically is interesting? Oh, there's Korean and Japanese and Indian restaurants -- one of which has chicken pakora, and from the menu the non-breaded variety[1]. And a couple of bookstores, and businesses packed wall to wall. But that just tells me there's life in Waltham, nothing particularly exotic. Latin American restaurants that aren't Mexican, OTOH, are kind of exotic, and there's a handful. A couple advertising some mixture of Guatemalan, Salvadoran, and Ecuadoran cuisine (one of those is not that near the others), and another offering empanadas. Also a tapas bar, which is Spanish but not Latin American, and not unique to the region, but still interesting. Also an Asian tapas bar, which also isn't unique, but still weird.

And then a Latin market, which I popped into, and found exotic Latin stuff, like cans of various tropical drinks. Coconut juice or water, tamarind juice, mango/passionfruit, horchata... exotic doesn't always mean good; the coconut juice I tried was okay, and I tossed half away, figuring the pleasure wasn't high enough for another half-can of sugar water in my diet. It did have chunks of coconut in it, justifying the claim of fiber. The store also had a sausage name I saw in Chile, longaniza, and a rack of Mexican 'spices' like ground shrimp, avocado leaves, whole tamarind, and giant chile peppers.

In the spirit of Jane Jacobs

But what really caught my eye about the store was something before I walked in: a Moneygram sign, printed and all, prominently advertising "Send Your Money to Africa Fast!" This one little detail tells you a fair bit about a place, i.e. that there are a lot of people wanting to send money to Africa. And it wasn't surrounded by signs advertising other places, like Latin America or India; just Africa. It *was* accompanied by a whiteboard with Moneygram exchange rates written on it, for Guatemala, Uganda, India, and Mexico, in that order. Naturally I felt vindicated in my feeling that I'd been seeing actual African immigrants around.

(Why do I mention Jane Jacobs? Because of what she said about what you could learn from walking around a neighborhood, and also infer from things like when all the businesses close.)

Finally, it was time to eat, and the obvious choices for me came down to either the Central American restaurants for exoticness or the Chilean for nostalgia and to compare with actual experience of Chile. Tara Restaurant wasn't even that much of a Chilean restaurant, or even restaurant, just one of those ubiquitous "sub sandwich and pizza" places, but with an extra choice of Chilean sandwiches and empanadas. OTOH, those can be really good! And I'd just talked with the kids in Chile because of G's birthday, so hey.

Result: it was really good! The beef empanada was pretty small compared to what I'm used to, and $1.65 for the thing, but in flavor superior to anything I'd purchased in Chile. Granted, I think I only ever purchased cheap 1-dollarish empanadas; then again, this was similar, adjusting for relative costs. But those tended to be dull and dry, while this was tasty and somewhat juicy. Not as good as the ones the maid makes at the house I stay at, but not being as good as fresh homemade is okay.

And the pork churrasco sandwich -- grilled pork with avocado, tomato, and mayonnaise -- was tasty too, even with the lean pork I belatedly remembered is dominant these days. And, unlike any churrasco or lomito I had in Santiago, it came with an oily spicy salsa-like condiment which I think is pebre, and which in Chile I'd only ever seen with bread at a few restaurants. Maybe this is how like you're offered hot sauce with gyros and falafel in the US. Still, it did make the sandwich even better.

So yay! OTOH, boo, Waltham, not easy to get to. Now I need to see if I can find such places close to me, probably in Somerville or Boston. I'm suddenly feeling rather disappointed in Cambridge, which has many restaurants but not that many that excite me.

[1] Oh yeah, footnote. So, I first discovered chicken pakoras in a restaurant somewhere west of me in San Francisco. They were awesome, like little chunks of tandoori chicken. Little nuggets of meat, red with baking or spices, seasoned, and batterless. I called them Indian chicken McNuggets but all they had in common was size, really, and not even that. Heck, they might have been more like tater tot in size.

Anyway, other restaurants had chicken pakora too -- but there versions were always heavily battered. To be fare, that's more like the more common vegetable pakora. But while I like veggie pakora, applied to chicken it was always a disappointment compared to the first kind. So if this place, which talked about marinade and spices, is more like my first experience, then whoo!

So, Santiago

2012-Jan-10, Tuesday 14:47
mindstalk: (Default)
I flew back into Santiago Chile yesterday. I'm avoiding taking lots of notes on a visibly expensive smartphone, so you'll get what I remember in my room instead. 'room' is actually a small downtown apartment off Airbnb; it's good, though I've got some minor complaints, but I'm paying less for more than I'd get out of a hotel, so whatever.

($62/day for over a week, $75/day if shorter; other Airbnb places kind of bracketed that, from 40-90. Hotels seemed more like 90-150.)

Walk signals: they count down in red, telling you how long you have until you can cross, as well as in green. This was confusing at first, fortunately I hadn't taken the (red) numbers as a cue to step into traffic. Today I noticed that the cartoon figures are actually animations; instead of a green guy snapshot, you have a green guy actually walking. And walking faster and faster as the numbers approach zero. Seriously.

Like downtown La Serena, some of the downtown area has the walkway level with the streets, sans curb, and both in some sort of tile or hard plastic rather than the usual substance. I still have no idea why, though I wondered if the material might be more pothole resistant -- not that this climate seems good for them -- or just harder in general, and thus worth the investment for busy streets you don't want to disrupt.

CentroPuerto bus from the airport to Los Heroes station was 30 minutes, I think. Bought a BIP card from staff in the station, had a quick ride to Santa Lucia. So far I've just walked around downtown a lot. Small block, and mall arcades in the middle of blocks too, so there's quite a lot to keep one going in circles. Lots of Chinese restaurants, seems harder to find 'native' ones. I had an Ecuardorian dinner last night -- steak, rice, beans, plantain slices? The Ecuadorian bits were probably the spices and sauce of the beans, the presumed plantain, and the tangy avocado sauce for spreading on the appetizer bread. Also the table came with the world's lightest olive oil, if it was olive, and what seemed to be lemon juice.

I've seen the big central square, Plaza de Armas, and entered the Basilica de la Merced, which looks very impressive on the inside to someone who's never been in many churches. (Partly because I haven't done that much tourism qua tourism, partly because while I heard of people going to see churches, my parents never told me what the etiquette was so it still feels a bit foreboding. Foreign territory and all.) Mass was going on, a bit after noon; there weren't all that many people.

There was what sounded like some big loud parade around noon, but I didn't find it when I finally got out to look for it.

Found a couple of comic stores and poked my head in. Both have all their material wrapped in plastic; no browsing! Wasn't sure about one, the other was clearly all native or translated material, not straight foreign import. Los Legion de Superheroes.

Farewell to Chile

2010-Dec-30, Thursday 08:21
mindstalk: (Default)
Wow, haven't used my phone to blog in a while. On the plane in La Serena, by 18:22 for a 18:40 flight. Didn't leave the house until 17:50. They're close to the airport, which is small and casual. Didn't have to take my laptop out or empty my water bottle. Probably will in Santiago, as well as getting my checked luggage so I can check in again; LAN and Air Canada don't seem to talk to each other.

The attentive to detail will note that this post is not in the "Escape from" series.

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Baby crack

2010-Dec-26, Sunday 22:17
mindstalk: (riboku)
M, 20 months, has come to toddling into my room in the evening or late afternoon. Because I'll be on my netbook, and she's learned from S's iPad that that means entertainment. Of course, I don't have a touchscreen, which she had trouble with -- though I tried running xneko and secretly moving the cat to her finger. But I've played songs with Totem's visualization on -- she clapped to Cam Ye O'er Frae France which I may have said already, and liked Monster's Lullaby -- but I've also started showing AMVs. The weird sounds and weirder graphics hypnotize her, and I'm entertained too. She's too young probably to realize she can't understand the Japanese. Even so, I've wondered what impression some of the wacky visuals make on her brain. Tutu, Macross Frontier, Mahou Shoujoutai, Sora no Woto AMV.

Tonight the older girls wanted to watch, and despite everyone being able to see the baby got angry and pushy and wandered off. mlc23 has written privately about how her 4 year old gets stroppy with TV exposure, and after a TV-less day the kids really wanted more of even my bizarre offerings. So I get to try to infect them with anime. Added Tutu Hold Me Now, a 12K English cover, and Mushishi One-Eyed Fish to the list. They might be fertile soil... though I don't know about reading subtitles, even for the 7 year old. Though she's (still) reading Fellowship.

"They're talking German" (no)
"The mountain is so tall."
"The princess is the beautifulest."
"Does Japan look like that?" (satellite view of the 12 Kingdoms. So, uh, no.)

More update

2010-Dec-23, Thursday 00:07
mindstalk: (escher)
18 days since the last one. Not that I've heard much from people stateside!

That dinner party I mentioned was okay. Was an English Speakers Association event. Lots of strangers, and loud. Partly a tasting of Chilean wines, with small portions of food with each wine. And Saturday we went to a day party for the workers at the observatory, again of mild interest to me, though I had a nice walk outside the play area, and saw a couple of horses.

I didn't get chicken pox. The older kids recovered, but now the 20 month old has it.

We've played a bunch of Rail games. I just won Australian Rails! Nice minimalist track along the south, and the cards to make use of it, especially taking nickel to Cook for a 246 total, and then drawing fish to Cook for 10 when I was already built to Port Lincoln. Two more turns, and victory! G wasn't far behind, unlike the previous games of Lunar and Martian Rails, which were S > me >> G, as he got bad luck or made poor choices. I guess we're actually mixing up the victory orders pretty well.

I finally finished the Baroque Trilogy... a week ago, in fact! It even had a decent ending, at least by Stephenson standards. A bit rushed (after 1800 pages!) but some actual closure. Was it fun? Yes. Do I want to re-read any time soon? Hell no.

I've re-read Order of the Stick books, noting some art details I hadn't, like some of the jokes when Roy is interviewing in Origin of PCs, and how the army moves in the battle for Azure City.

I started Henry James' _The Bostonians_, since I'm going to Boston. The edition introduction made me think I wouldn't enjoy finishing it -- unpleasant people being unpleasant to each other -- but the first part is supposed to be a nice social portrait.

I'd started re-reading Sunshine, specifically to take notes about it, but haven't gotten far yet. Distracted by RPG reading, politics news, RPG thoughts, games.

I introduced G' to the joys of black pepper, which she now applies as well as salt to her pepinos, cucumber slices.
S' no longer microwaves her pasta, because G' doesn't, because G' is too impatient or something. I've tried to encourage S' to be her own girl, not just imitate her older sister, but no success.

I made more sets out of my Flickr photos, so there's some more order. Still a lot to do with the 1400 or something photos.

Have made my first sun tea. 3 or 4 green or white tea bags in a mason jar, on the ledge in my bedroom that's both north and west facing -- recall north is solar down here -- and backed by curtains, so it's basically a little greenhouse. It's come out decently, usually a bit more bitter than ideal but it's hard to get my ideal.

I found a metal bar outside that's find for trying pull-ups on. I used to be able to do some, but that was like 40 pounds ago. I've been exercising a bit more regularly, patio jogs, slow squats, push-ups, and some sit-ups, plus single-leg balance, leaving my calves persistently sore, probably from the barefoot patio jogs.


2010-Dec-04, Saturday 19:29
mindstalk: (CrashMouse)
We had Thanksgiving dinner last Saturday, with a few of G's co-workers from the observatory. Good, standard stuff. Played Fish Eat Fish with the kids, and I was the first one out. Then a couple of Catan games with one of the 'workers, so we had 4 people for once. I was introduced as the Catan shark, and gave evidence by almost winning the first and outright winning the second. I think the trend is for me to win Catan, S to win various little Cheapass or bean games, and G to win rail games. I did win Martian Rails in the past week, though it was quite close. I mostly played among the Alpine cities in the center west, such that when the big card to Ares U came up, it was free and fast money for me. We'd played Lunar Rails before; both planets have more interesting boards. Played Russian Rails today, with a much wider spread of scores.

Kids have chicken pox; I just hope my blood test claiming antibodies was on the mark. Mostly the middle kid; the oldest seems to have inherited G's immunity to poxes. Youngest gets to enjoy stomach flu or something instead.

I've made meat sauce here a couple of times, though both times I felt like some addictive element was missing. Don't know what, though. Not enough spice, maybe, or maybe there's some flavor to cayenne besides capsaicin; I've been using red pepper flakes, and not as much as I'd like, since I'm the local spice fiend.

Cleaned out my browser tabs, especially a lot of reading on income inequality. I'll link dump some other time. Been splitting attention between Wikileaks, RPG stuff, and System of the World more recently. Also finishing Noein, and earlier finished Railgun and Sora no Woto. Stephenson is frigging hilarious, at times; the Dappa/Peer/faeces throwing conversation was priceless.

Thanksgiving was followed by a Chilean BBQ Sunday, birthday of another co-worker, held by the family of his Chilean wife. Lots of meat, lots of salads, buttery rice. Hot dogs (salchicas), ribs, chicken -- just for appetizers. Steak (excellent) and pork and chorizo (not so much) at the table with the salads and starches (also corn, and a cheesy potato thing that was good.)

Tonight, some dinner party. I'm not sure what or why, but I borrowed slacks.

No fennel in Chile. Snickers and Milky Way in the store, but not 3 Musketeers.

I've signed up for Arisia. Need to look into actual domiciles in Boston.
mindstalk: (CrashMouse)
Baby M claps her hands to Steeleye Span's Cam Ye O'er Frae France, and seems to like Silly Wizard's Donald McGillivry (sp). S' likes Meg Davis's Monster's Lullaby, which I first discovered from her mother. G' is still reading the Hobbit.

Food is sort of on Spanish schedule here. The rest of the family has breakfast, big lunch (cooked by the maid during the week) at 14 at least for the home crowd, and dinner 6-8. I tend more to have my first meal be the big lunch, with a third meal at 10-midnight. The Deutschule goes from 8 to 13:45, whereas the same ages in Chicago got 9-14:45 (and high school 8-14:45, IIRC.)

My best wishes to any Americans trying to fly tomorrow.

I'm trying to make my meat sauce in S's crockpot, though I didn't thaw the meat in time, and I'm light on the spiciness given local preferences.

S had me try some late-season white Moscatel wine with sweet grapes. I don't positively like it, but I do like it more than typical dry reds. I also had a loquat, common garden fruit here; more seed than fruit so not a big commercial fruit. Artichokes are 8 for a mil from a guy on the way to school, so we're having a lot. That's like a quarter each. Apricots are really good now.

*I'm* making myself big salads everyday, so getting a lot of lettuce at least. Will have to go out for more, since I slept through this morning's shopping trip. I hope my shins will have recovered from yesterday morning's exercises.

I was told last trip that OJ is rare here. We currently have an endless supply of clementines so I don't care. Milk is typically hyper-sterilized and sold at room temperature, though kept in the fridge once opened. I'm not sure if it tastes any worse than normal US milk. You can't buy hazelnuts or brazilnuts here, but they have something of their own they call hazelnuts, smaller than true filberts. Sadly, I wasn't too impressed by the taste.

Oh yeah! Remember me going on about the walls and fences and Mediterranean architecture? I'm told the ubiquity of the walls is actually a development of the past 10-20 years, due to high crime rates as La Serena's population explodes. The fact that visible first-story windows typically have bars on them seems to support this. :-(

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