Friday, January 21, 2011

As If We Never Left

So I know what you are wondering, and the answer is yes. Organic kitty litter does clump better than the industrial, pesticide-laden cat sand. Now that we have that out of the way, let's get back to business.

After returning from Lima, I took a generous hiatus from writing entries. Very generous. 10 weeks generous. I always prefer to write these entries when I am in the mood to write and when I have something to say about an important topic (roof dogs are important). The past two months have certainly been interesting, but I haven't had the writer's itch. Of course, there were moments of the writer's itch, but I fortunately had plenty of Writer's Benadryl Topical Cream at the ready. Instead of dwelling on the past I want to focus on the here and now. So let's give this little blog thing another shot. I can't promise fruitless hunts for wig shops, terrible municipal election publicity, or Machu Picchu-centric humor, but I guarantee to relate some interesting travels, some unique foods, and endless asides and excessive use of parentheses.

I am writing this entry from an apartment building at the corner of 84th St and 1st Ave in New York City (where they don't manufacture Pace Thick n' Chunky. Can you say that about YOUR salsa?). Some of you may be asking yourself, "What was that Pace comment about?" Then again, some of you may not. I don't live in New York. In fact, I currently don't live anywhere. My current project with Deloitte has me in Houston Monday through Thursday, and then I can go wherever I want on the weekends as long as the plane ticket costs less than a plane ticket to the city of my home office, Los Angeles. If it costs more, well, it's coming out of my kitty. Anyhow, this weekend I am visiting the Mo residence in Manhattan. Last weekend was Redondo Beach with Jon Lee, and Chicago with Matt Robbins before that. Next weekend is Orinda with my extremely athletically gifted parents, followed by Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Jackson Hole, and then who knows? Clearly I am focused on getting my life together, finding a nice little house, and settling down. I have been asked what it's like to live without an apartment and have all my possessions for the weekend in a carry-on suitcase. Honestly, it's not that difficult, as long as you don't mind wearing the same clothes rather frequently (yes, I wash them). But the great thing is, no one knows you are rewearing clothes because you see different people each weekend. It would be nice to have an apartment to go back to every night with your bed, your Nordic Track, and your Ronco rotisserie oven, but 3.5 years of consulting has made me surprisingly accustomed to shifting abodes on a weekly basis. Checking in and out of hotels all the time doesn't strike me as odd when I am doing it, but when I check my hotel account and see I have stayed in Starwood hotels over 250 nights over the past three years (this excludes all the Hilton nights), it's a bit of a shock. So living like a nomad hasn't been too hard on me, and it's a great way to see friends who no longer live in California (or who never did, I suppose). How long will I live like this? Depends how long I can last before wearing out my welcome.

So back to New York. I woke up this morning to see the rooftops, awnings, cars, hedges (let me interject and say that I took a three week break between the first part of this blog and the second. I definitely need to work on my literary discipline, but let's continue as if I am in New York even though I am in Chicago. The inconsequential observations still hold true.), and people all covered in a healthy frosting of snow. I don't mean like the amount of frost on a lawn after a chilly night. I mean the amount of frosting you put on a funfetti cake when you realize you have far too much funfetti frosting for the aforementioned funfetti cake. Funfetti! The snow looks beautiful for a while, and it almost makes this incredibly urban environment feel natural and pristine. However, my affection for the snow is illusory and is soon replaced by spite and hatred. It creates a mess for cars and pedestrians. It serves as a medium to transport oil, salt, and road chemicals to the surrounding waterways. It traps defenseless cars in parking spots. All these effects are nuisances for us humans and sea creatures, but what about the dogs. There are a lot of dogs and very few backyards in New York, so these dogs need to get walked somewhere. And if there is snow on the ground, well, that dogs are going to have to suck it up. I know I have these idealistic images of Siberian Huskies and St. Bernards frolicking and having a grand old time, but there are very few of these natural snow dwellers in New York. There are many many small dogs however, and they couldn't be more unhappy to mucking it up out in the freezing cold. These dogs don't get to experience the luxurious roofs of Lima because their owners have decided to settle in a decidedly inhospitable climate. For the humans of New York, the downsides of the city (weather, prices, too many buildings, not enough Trader Joe's) are balanced by great upsides (terrific food, there is a lot to do, lots of buildings, one Trader Joe's). Unfortunately for the dogs, living in New York seems like a whole lot of downside. They don't have much space to romp, their owners are out having a ball in the city while they are stuck in undersized apartments, and they are largely isolated from their fellow canines while at home (due to the lack of backyard barking opportunities). I'm not saying people in New York shouldn't have dogs, but I sure wouldn't want to be a dog in Manhattan.

And this is the best he could come up with after 2.5 months...?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

More Reflection Than The Galerie de Glaces!

I know that my title is probably a bit too obscure of a reference, but Kudos (chocolate caramel flavor!) to those of you who get it. Yes, I used Wikipedia, and you can too! Anyways, back to serious business. On Tuesday night I caught the 7:25pm screening of "Eat, Pray, Love" at the Ovalo Gutierrez movie theater in Miraflores (don't worry fellas, I balanced out my "sensitive side" by trapping and eating mountain lion and arm wrestling a Saguaro cactus. I followed that up by going down to the forge to hammer myself out a brand new poleaxe and halberd set.). This was the first movie I had seen in a theater since leaving the US, so I had high expectations for the experience. Given my anticipation I probably should have chosen more of a slam dunk type of movie to guarantee my satisfaction, but I instead opted for Julia Roberts rediscovering her ability to love. Yep.

It turned out to be an enjoyable movie, heavy handed at times with the emotional shlock, but I felt it to be worth my 9 soles. I absolutely recommend this movie for those of you who need a reliable date option, and there is a scene which features an extreme close-up of Julia Roberts' mouth eating spaghetti for about 2 minutes (if you like that sort of thing). Better see this sucker in IMAX! Towards the end of the movie I began to reflect upon my own experience in the context Julia Roberts' journey. She leaves her life in the US after a painful divorce to spend a year in three different locations (Rome, India, Bali) to try to rediscover herself. Along the way, she begins her healing process by, you guessed it, eating, praying, and loving. While our motivations, emotional situations, ages, genders, professions, destinations, and mouth sizes were different, I still found myself relating to her. I left my life in the US to live in a totally random place doing new things. I didn't come to Lima with the need to heal myself, but I certainly wanted to discover a clearer vision of my future. Julia's journey seemed more action-packed and emotionally-charged than mine (I guess that's what you get when you cram a year of experiences into 2 hours, or maybe she is just more fun than me), but we both came to some realizations by the end (I imagine one of her realizations was that it sure is nice to have the disposable income to traipse around Rome, India, and Bali without once worrying about money and then write a successful book about these experiences which then gets turned into a successful movie about these experiences, thus securing her financial future. GAH! Give me a slice of the pie, why don't ya?) and I would like to share some of my personal revelations.

I do not want to be one of those folks who backpacks around the world for a year or longer. Previously, I imagined myself leaving the shackles of my job and my mortgage (metaphorical, of course) behind and seeing all the wondrous sights of the world as I backpacked from place to place. Now that I live in a hostel, I see these types pass through all the time. To travel around the world for an extended period of time you must respect your budget. And unless your budget is massive, such a long trip necessitates certain sacrifices like: nice lodgings, nice meals, non-dreadlocked hair, romantic movies at the cinema, etc. You can enjoy these things from time to time, but the travelers I see are scraping by for the sake of staying on the road longer to then scrape by to stay on the road even longer. When I travel, I don't want to view my journey as checking things off a list. I want to enjoy life in the context of the destination. I also enjoy feeling settled in a place and not constantly picking up and moving on. I like roughing it and I like seeing new sights, but I now realize that I wouldn't want this life for a year. My hair is too short to put into dreadlocks, so I really wouldn't fit in with that crowd anyhow. And I don't listen to enough Steely Dan.

I feel much more free to pursue opportunities or adventures than I had in the past. For instance, the other day I saw a development consulting job which would be a decent fit for my skills and looked interesting and rewarding. The only catch? It was an opening in the Mumbai office of the consulting firm. Before coming to Lima I would have immediately ruled the job out for being so far away from "home." However, my thought new thought process went something like this: "Wow, that job seems like it would be really enjoyable and challenging. And it's in Mumbai! I've never been there. I know they probably don't have a lot of burritos or roof dogs, but I do enjoy Indian food and 90 degree weather." Previously I would have felt hesitant to pick up everything and start a new life in a totally foreign place, but coming to Lima has made me more confident in my ability to build a new life wherever I go. Of course I still miss my family, friends, and food in the US, but it's not like life back in the US stands still either. Everyone continues along their own paths, and it would be naive of me to expect everything to stay the same. I'm glad that I now feel comfortable experimenting with more adventurous paths than I had considered before. Philosophical mumbo jumbo aside, you will find me gorging on Gordo's and Cactus Taqueria burritos, Peet's and Blue Bottle coffee, Cheeseboard pizza, and my mom's cooking come December 1st. Some things are irreplaceable.

Work to live, don't live to work. Self explanatory.

Remember the line from "The Shawshank Redemption" where Andy Dufresne says, "Get busy living or get busy dying?" Yeah I remember that line too. It was a really good movie, and popular here as well. I hardly consider myself learned or qualified enough to give advice on life, and even if I had such qualifications (or was Tim Robbins), I don't know that I would want to give that advice to anyone. Coming here has helped me realize how different everyone's life really is and how counterproductive/frustrating it can be to try to follow traditionally prescribed paths. I don't know when I will settle down...hell, I don't even know if I will. I do know that regardless of whether or not I get married, have a great job, leave a legacy, build a house, write a book, whatever...that burrito at the end of the day is still going be delicious.

Don't worry, the next post will be funnier.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Survey Says....

As you know from previous posts (or from my tolerant and worldly attitude), I tend towards cultural relativism (to an extent) when judging other countries and cultures. Now that I have spent the better (and I suppose the worse as well) part of five months living in Peru, I feel versed enough in Peruvian culture to make some comparisons to the United States. Specifically, I want to address those things which I think are better in one country versus the other. Rather than discuss obvious topics (who has the better space program, who has cooler monuments that date beyond 1750, who makes finer classic rock, who dances better, etc.), I will talk about those items which one might not observe without spending time in both the US and Peru. Let's start things off with my bread and butter, the United States. What are you better at, oh Land of the Free and Home of the Brave?

Cell Phone Plans: Before coming to the US, I thought US wireless companies abused, extorted, manipulated, and deceived us hapless customers. Though rates have declined and minutes have increased, I still felt a certain enmity toward the cell phone giants. That was until I came to Peru. Granted, I don't own a cell phone here, but after seeing the cock and bull (I'm not entirely sure if I am using that correctly, so bear with me) that Peruvians have to put up with from Claro, Movistar, and Nextel, I feel downright grateful to be able to return to T-Mobile. A much larger majority of users here elect pre-paid cell phones than in the US. The idea is that you eschew a monthly contract and instead buy minutes as you go. Sounds convenient right? It is convenient, but it's also obscenely expensive. How does $0.35/minute sound to you? The phones are fairly cheap, but they also fall apart approximately 4 minutes after you leave the store. 'Well, what about the contract plans?' you ask. Well they, on the other hand, are terrific. If by 'terrific' we mean overpriced and under-minuted. Once you run out of minutes, you are stuck buying more minutes like the pre-paid suckers. Except you are a sucker now too. How do Peruvians talk on their cell phones so much? Brand loyalty. It is free to talk from a Claro phone to a Claro phone, Movistar to Movistar, etc. Basically, as long as all your friends and family and important contacts patronize the same wireless company, you are fine. If not, well, I hope you don't mind paying more for your cell phone than your rent.

Importation: I don't care what it is, the US has more imported products than Peru. This may not sound particularly noteworthy, and I freely admit that I took it for granted in the US, but there are a lot of imported products we enjoy that just don't make it down here. And if they do make it down here, it's hard to find and expensive. Guinness, cheeses, Japanese beef, Louis Vuitton, Apple products, Washington apples, apple aren't going to see much, if any, of these in Peru. You may want to remind me that I get to enjoy many fine South American products that don't make it to the US, but I still believe the US imports way way more stuff than Peru. For instance, I went to the supermarket looking a nice import to drink while watching the market recap. My options: Peroni, Erdinger, Erdinger Non-Alcoholic, and Heineken. Now why don't you go down to the supermarket and tell me what you find? Enjoy that selection, Jack, because it ain't like that everywhere.

Smog: Yeah yeah, I know that LA and Houston and a host of other cities are always noted for their smog problems. Try walking along a busy street in Lima, and you will have a much greater appreciation for what smog is really like. I know that there are yearly smog checks for vehicles here (I do not know, however, how strictly they are enforced), but based on the thick smoke you can see and smell coming out of every second car, you would have had me fooled. It's hard to tell if there is the pollution soup like that which hovers over LA (since Lima is always foggy the smog isn't really visible in the sky), but you sure notice it in the city. Fortunately (and this barely falls into the fortunately category), a lot of the smog comes from buses and shared-ride vans, so at least it's from public transportation and not single moms in their 'Sclades. Just remember to enjoy the clean air when you are walking along a city street, dining al fresco, or hosing down your driveway (use a broom! Water don't grow on trees, you bozo!).

Political campaigning: You all know how agitated I became as a result of the excessive, unprofessional, and wasteful campaign publicity I saw in Lima during the mayoral elections. Fortunately back in California, our candidates know how to do campaigning right.

Now it's time to give Peru it's due. What are you better at, oh home of the Incas, Moches, various pre-Colombian societies, and the inimitable llama?

Seafood: Any creature that comes from the ocean is consistently fresher, cheaper, and most importantly, tastier in Peru than in the US. Don't get me wrong, there are certainly gems to be found in the states (Bob's Clam Hut, Providence, Swan Oyster Depot, etc.), but on the whole, your average Peruvian restaurant serving seafood blows your average American restaurant serving seafood out of the saline water from whence your dinner came. The best part about the seafood is that it's also comparably cheap (when judged against beef and chicken prices), so you hardly need an incentive to eat more of it. I don't have a good explanation why the seafood is so incredible here, but I recommend you eat as much aquatic life as you can if you find yourself along the coast of Peru.

Sports broadcasting energy: I know that the US has a great tradition of color and play-by-play announcing for a variety of sports, and I am a fan of many American broadcasters currently on the air. However, for sheer excitement for the game in question, no one, save for Gus Johnson, can match the energy of Peruvian announcers. I knew that they brought a lot of enthusiasm to soccer (yes, football) matches, but I didn't know that this same enthusiasm would carry over to Major League Baseball, the Women's World Cup of Volleyball, or the NBA. Listening to broadcasters here is certainly a different experience. Often times the Spanish is too fast for me to appreciate the analysis, observations, and commentary. The infectious excitement, though, can be appreciated by anyone around the globe. I find this energy to be particularly important while watching games on TV or listening to the radio. Since you can't be there in person, it's very thoughtful of the announcers to make the game as exciting as possible for you. Did I get in to the Brazil-Italy Women's World Cup of Volleyball match? Well, kinda. But certainly more than if I had watched it with American announcers (save for Gus Johnson, however. Anyone who watched the UCLA-Gonzaga game from the Western Regionals a few years back knows how much an enthusiastic announcer enhances the experience.).

Roof security: Dogs, dogs, a sheep, and more dogs. Peruvians maintain a well trained canine army on a large number of roofs on houses and buildings. It's a win-win situation for everyone involved. The dogs get to enjoy superior views, prime barking vantage points, and higher wind speeds. The dog owners/employers get to enjoy piece of mind that their structure is protected against aerial assault from: special forces teams, criminals with helicopters, supervillians suffering from cynophobia, and roof cats. And your truly gets to enjoy the most magnificent vista of them all, a dog barking his guts out at you from 20 feet up.

There are things I am looking forward to in the US, but there are also things I will miss from Peru. Unfortunately, neither country has helped me make any headway on my search for a decent wig (I'll even go second-hand!).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Porque es uno, dos, tres ponches y te vas en el partido de beisbol!"

Contrary to what I had been informed prior to arriving in Peru, this country is not "hockey crazy." In fact, it's not crazy for a lot of the sports I'm accustomed to seeing in the US. Now I am all for cultural relativism (to a reasonable extent, at least), but I really miss seeing my LA Kings (talk about a lively second line! Stoll and Williams the points leaders?! And who thought that they would be winning so much without Drew Doughty? Talk about a clutch pickup in Willie Mitchell. And Quick! This kids lives for the competition!) and European cycling action. I assumed that soccer (ok fine, non-US-centric grammar sticklers, football!) would be extremely popular, and it is. Unfortunately for Peru, their local pro teams and national team are very not good. Unfortunately for the local pro teams and national team, their fans know they are very not good. Still, the games here generate a lot of realistic enthusiasm, but also leave enough time to follow other sports. And by "other sports," I mean women's volleyball (small disclaimer: South American ESPN does televise a variety of other sports, but I am analyzing sport popularity primarily by what shows up on network television. By that measure, the only two sports that non-cable toting Peruvians watch are soccer and women's volleyball).

If you were a fly on the wall of the chifa (Chinese restaurant) where I was eating my $2.70 wonton soup, stir fried chicken and vegetables, and fried rice tonight, you would probably land on my dish and proceed to clean your mandibles. However, if you were another patron of the restaurant enjoying a satisfying Chinese-Peruvian fusion meal, you would find me watching a women's volleyball match between the Russian and Korean national teams. This is on Lima network tv, lest we forget. If this broadcast wasn't a testament to Peruvians' love of women's volleyball I don't know what is. Two Asian countries duking it out in a non-finals tournament round can't be that compelling for Peruvians, can it? It certainly wasn't compelling enough for me, so I kept tabs on the fly that was just aching to land on my plate and do a little mandible touch up work. I had much greater sports spectation luck this past weekend, though, when I was able to enjoy the final three games of the 2010 World Series on Spanish language ESPN (there isn't a Peru-specific ESPN channel as far as I know). No one I talked to in Lima caught the games (I think the Belarus-Morocco women were having an exhibition), but I was able to make some keen observations about how baseball is presented differently in Spanish speaking countries.

First observation: 99% of the broadcast is in Spanish. Some of you might want to remind that I was watching SPANISH ESPN, but I still expected more English words to come across in the broadcast. Home run? Nope, quadrangular. Strike? Sorry, ponche. Ball? Forget it, bala. I ignorantly assumed that the English vocabulary of baseball would simply be carried over into the Spanish play-by-play and color, but apparently there is an extensive Spanish baseball vocabulary with which I was not familiar. I had no problems identifying the words above, but things get a little trickier when you are trying to figure out the words for "cut fastball" and "journeyman outfielder." I would have preferred commentary in English, but I still felt the excitement of the games. I even learned some new phrases which are popular with the Spanish announcers. When a pitcher gets a strikeout they will often say, in Spanish mind you, "Good morning, good afternoon, goodnight!" Fouls balls are referred to as souvenirs quite frequently. My favorite comment, however, shows up when a batter hits a home run (or quadrangular, as us Limans, native or adopted, like to say). Rather than the common English remark "and that ball iiiiiiiiiiiiiiisssssss OUTTA HERE" or something of that ilk, the Spanish announcers react the same way they would when a goal is scored in a lackluster Peruvian soccer grudge match. Once the ball clears the fence, the announcers launches into an "OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH LOOOLOOOLOOOLOOOLOOOLOOO LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Small difference, yes, but I think the guys down here got it right with their reaction to a home run. They aren't all that frequent and are arguably the most exciting single play in baseball, so why not get a little nutty in the booth. You may think that Renteria's home run in game 5 was exciting enough on it's own, but try watching it with a grown man yelling gibberish on your TV broadcast. It definitely turns things up the experience to 11.