Monday, September 29, 2008

I found the art of doing (almost) nothing in Chile (Part II)

When I first got to Chile, I was so busy. There were people to party with at the hostal. My new friend Scott wanted to tour around Santiago. I had marketing writing to do.

Imagine my surprise when in the first week at my new house, I was alone…a lot. I attacked my loneliness the go-getter way and signed up for a dance class every night of the week. I promised myself I would go on a road trip every Sunday. I would kick loneliness in the ass!

Then I caught a cold. My roommate Kanke went off to a retreat. My eye got really swollen. And my other roommate left for a weekend getaway. I was sick and sequestered in a house with no TV, no comfy couch, no people and a lot of organic food.

And I was really scared. Scared to be alone. In a foreign country. Scared to not be busy. Scared of what would happen to me.

It was then that I found myself on the computer chatting with my friend Trevor about the fact that, I can’t believe I’m going to admit this, I was actually bored in Chile. I felt like somehow I had failed. I felt like unless I was exploring every second of every day, I was doing myself a disservice, and I would deeply regret my inaction when I returned to America. What surprised me was Trevor’s response to my complaint of boredom. He said he loved what happened when he was bored and was always interested to see what his brain would think up. He made it sound like fun. It was then that I decided I would let myself be bored and hope my brain was smart enough to think of something good.

And it did!

As I write this, I’m imagining some of you thinking, “What’s the big deal? So you’re bored…” I guess the big deal is that I’ve expended a lot of effort in my life to never be bored. I was, for whatever reason, terrified of being bored. And even more frightened to be bored and alone. Add the foreign country element, and I was practically paralyzed.

Aimlessly, I tried chatting more with friends on Facebook. I watched a video. Then I crept onto my blog and tentatively began to write. And it was like opening a long-closed book. The pages were brittle perhaps, the smell was a bit musty, but it was still capable of entertaining for hours. It was a thing alive, and I was a thing alive, finally, fulfilling my heart’s smallest pinecone-wish to write what I wanted—not what someone else needed. To write without obligation.

I have always gravitated towards the introspective magazine articles, pined over the writings of Carrie on Sex and the City, communed with Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love. But I could never reconcile the idea of revealing my thoughts to the world so candidly.

Turns out, it’s not as hard as I thought. Turns out I really, really, really love it.

And I’ve discovered something. It’s in our moments of flux, where nothing is planned and everything is possible, that we can be our most creative selves. Harnessed by nothing but the wind, we are capable of listening to our hearts’ deepest desires and realizing them.

Strangely, my need to “do” and “go” has faded so considerably that I’ve gotten nervous. Shouldn’t I be doing more things? Shouldn’t I see more of Santiago? And each time, I push those obligations aside and think, “When I want to, I’ll go. But for now, this is my Chilean experience. I can’t imagine anything that would make me happier than to sit at this computer and write.”

And I am.

I’ll leave with you very cool designs by shaderlab.

Friday, September 26, 2008

I found the art of doing (almost) nothing in Chile (Part I)

Anyone who knows me well, will know that I love being busy. It keeps me entertained and challenged, and for the most part, it keeps me happy.

But the past 2 years, I began to feel differently about being busy. My life was being taken over by “shoulds.” I should go to class; I should go to work; I should clean up this mess. But it didn’t feel like my idea anymore to do any of those things. I had a life full of obligations I had created and no longer wanted.

I began to try to change things with my New Year’s Resolution, which only consisted of two things: to have fun and be funnier.

I actually have had trouble keeping this easy resolution. (I know, I know…half of you have your mouths open and are just staring at the screen in complete incredulity. The other half might actually understand.)

Here’s the thing: I had to keep at bay my incessant need to plan six months in advance. I had to ignore the feeling that if I did not have some ultimate goal or if my life was not on a five-year plan I would escape Earth’s gravity and float up into open space. That without all my “shoulds” I would be lost. And if I were lost, I would feel terrible.

Every time I felt the urge to take charge, take on more responsibility, push for a management position, start some amazing new business, I resisted (do not try this if you want a spectacular career). I played videogames with my brother instead. I jumped on trampolines. I pursued the fun parts of work first. I cut class often. I came home and played with my dog. I felt better.

For my thirtieth birthday, I wanted to do something that would be a symbolic gesture, a message to myself to continue down this very scary (yet fun!) path.

So it was the combination of my 2008 fun resolution and a secret childhood dream to live in a foreign country which led me to Chile:

  • I now work around twenty hours a week instead of forty
  • All the classes (design, writing, dancing) I took on top of the forty hours I don’t have here
  • My dog is safely with my cousin, my cats with a friend in Davis
  • This house is not mine. This furniture is not mine. These rules are not mine. This language is not mine. There is no car to drive, fill up with gas, to wash. No mail to open. I don’t even have a plant.

And I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time. So how did I go from being “on the go from the get go” to this new space?

Find out tomorrow! To be continued… (haha, I’ll write the next part soon…just wanted to keep it in bite-size chunks).

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Your Chile Education Continues

I wanted to continue your education on all things Chilean (starting with this dude here who I thought looked very mafia-esque in this photo)

I really like analyzing the differences between our two awesome countries, and it’s something to entertain me for a couple of hours.

So here it goes.


  • Home still feels the same to me. No matter how home is decorated, it still feels the same. Home is the same everywhere I think.
  • Chilean wine is as good if not better than Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley wine. I’m not sure how I’m going to bring back all the wine and Pisco in my bags. (I am currently drinking Merlot and loving it). I'm too lazy to take a picture of it.
  • Bohemians in Chile like incense as much as bohemians in America.

  • Chileans love having pets like in America.
  • Colds are the same everywhere. So are parties. (my cold looked gross, so you don't get to see any of those...and I already posted the latest party'll just have to wait for more)
  • The cars are similar, though I’ve seen a lot of Puegots, which I think are different.
  • Ants scurry pretty much the same way on the sidewalk as they do in California. They’re the same size too.


  • Making out in public is not frowned upon, but is expected. This activity is not restricted to just teenagers either.
  • Lots of jeans like America, but the back pockets are much more elaborate than anything I see in the states. Zippers, embroidery, leather, etc. Yes, I have stared at a lot of butts…what else am I supposed to do on the metro! I tried to get photos of these pockets but as soon as I was looking for them, I didn't find them anywhere! So, here's a photo of some poppys by the Mapocho.

  • Shoes—almost never white sneakers, almost never white socks—these are for exercising only. Exercising below...white socks and sneakers...
  • Iron fences with big spikes separate each house. I have to unlock two gates to get out of my house complex.
  • No watering systems in the lawns where I live. People come over and water. The other day, I came home to some dude watering my plants. I of course said nothing because if he wants to water my plants, I’m not gonna stop him. He was also really cute and later I found out that he was my roommate’s older brother. Normally, I would have been really happy, but this was not a great meeting because my eye was red and swollen and my nose was running. He asked if I had just woken up from a nap. Ugh! Alas, it was not my finest moment.
  • Public transportation is a way of life (similar in SF, sure, but for those of us car bound in East Bay, it’s quite a difference). "Por favor, where is this bus going?"
  • People juggle knives on street corners (one of them asked me to marry him as I walked by).
  • I ordered a doble helado the other day and got an ice cream with three scoops…so a doble is a triple scoop and a simple is a double scoop. It’s like at Starbucks where a small is a tall.
  • Dating. They officially ask a girl to be their girlfriend. This is a grey area in America. People sort of slide in to a relationship and nothing is ever said. And then, when a girl is finally introduced as a girlfriend, that’s when she knows.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg, but I wanted to give you educational tidbits in easy-to-read morsels.

Till next time!

Que te vayas bien!

C in C

Monday, September 22, 2008

I am lost in translation

Well, you probably already expected this, but I was unable to resist the temptation of the fonda (party). I was trying to desperately to stay at home and recuperate from my cold and eye infection. But, when a friend of mine emailed me in one last attempt to get me to come out, I couldn’t help but think, this was my only chance to experience the true Chilean semana diezochera (week of September 18).

You may be wondering what exactly is semana diezochera. Well, here’s the background on this celebration. Diezocho (18) is their celebrated Independence Day. But their real independence day is in February. However, the guy who helped win their independence, Bernardo O’ Higgins, fell out of favor with the social elite. After they kicked him out, they changed the date when they would celebrate Chile’s independence day so it would have nothing to do with him (man, that's harsh!). What makes diezocho so special is that one day isn’t enough celebrating. So they celebrate the entire week with the main portion happening on the 18th, 19th and the 20th.

With one last thought about being mature and getting healthy, I said to heck with my cold and my eye and went out with my friend to a fonda.

The thing with the word “fonda” is that it means small party, but it also means restaurant that serves typical Chilean food. When used in plural, las fondas, it also means a fair or festival, much like you see at the county fairs in the states. But, interestingly enough, you can also use fonda to mean las fondas. (Below is a photo of what the fair-type-fondas look like--in this photo below they're playing Taka Taka, which is Fooz Ball. The days that I went out kind of blurred together but this was one of the evenings and one of the fondas.)

Anyway, I wasn’t quite sure which fonda my friend was taking me to. But I was prepared for anything. I was also prepared to be at one of these fondas all night, because the Chileans do not stop partying at 2am. In fact, it seems like most parties are just getting started at 2am.

We purchased rum (called ron) and Coca cola for the event so I was clued in that we were going to be attending the small-party-fonda, which look a lot like our parties:

I cannot express how much I both love and fear the Chilean fonda or carrete. The Chileans I have met have just been incredibly friendly and curious about who I am and where I’m from and what I think about Bush and Obama and Chileans. I always tell them I’m anti-Bush (they love that), pro-Obama (love that too) and that my favorite things I love about Chile are:

The variety of natural landscapes

The helado (ice cream) and the fact that rain or shine, Chileans are always eating it

The cadence of Chilean Spanish. This third item always gets the Chileans going because Chilean Spanish is very unique. It has been transformed by so much slang that it can be difficult for native Spanish speakers to understand Chileans. The Chileans often laugh when they hear that I like their Spanish with a proud, “Ah, Chilean Spanish is totally shit.” Though I still can only understand those Chileans who talk to me like I'm a small child, I love the sound of their Spanish. I do. It’s rolly poly.

But I fear these social gatherings too because the amount of modismos (slang words). So many inside jokes and phrases go zipping by my head without me understanding more than a word. Every time I go to one of these parties, I know I’m going to reach maximum saturation. It’s the point where I stop trying to understand, plaster a smile on my face and stare off into space for a while.

Me, lost in translation.

But what I fear more is that my personality is being lost in translation too. I told a friend this and he told me that when you’re learning a language, it’s important to only focus on communicating concepts. My issue with this is that I’m communicating to native speakers who are used to judging and assessing others based on HOW they say something.

Let’s face it, the words we choose are a reflection of ourselves and our upbringing, education, social standing, attitude. So, even though I’m a foreigner, and Chileans have been utterly, incredibly forgiving of my twisted Spanish, the Spanish words I choose will be assessed and judged and are a reflection of me.

Which leads to the big question that’s been tumbling in my head:

With less Spanish vocabulary, am I less of me?

I was dying to know what Chileans thought of me based on this limited vocabulary. I found out when two nights ago, my Chilean friend told me he liked me because I was simple...

...Okay. You can stop laughing now. Anytime now…

...Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. I can complicate putting on a sock.

So maybe that's it then? Maybe that's the answer. Maybe I'm not less of me. Maybe I'm just a simpler, more direct version of me.

Okay, this is all too deep for me because estoy con la caƱa (I’m hung over) from three days of fondas. Now for something lighter. I’ve come up with the next line of my poem.

“My eye is fat because I stared at the city too long….

...Viva Chile.”

Haha, I think it’s good!

Que te vayas bien!

C in C

*forgive me for any inaccuracies in this entry…please comment if I have. Please comment anyway. I love hearing responses.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Happy Chilean Independence Day!

I’ve decided that my eye infection and cold are a blessing in disguise because though I’m missing two fondas (parties) tonight, I’m enjoying writing and trying to figure out how to make my blog look cool.

A couple of Sunday’s ago, my roommate Caitlin, her friend Mari and I took the bus to Valparaiso, a coastal city that reminded me of what I imagined Tuscany or Greece would be like, with a hint of San Francisco, too.

I felt lucky to be traveling with intelligent and strong women like Caitlin and Mari—poetic souls who aren’t afraid to take on any city. They remind me of how I was when I graduated college: open-hearted and excited by everything that life might have in store.

They seemed to breathe in Valparaiso so eagerly and so I tagged along and tried to match their amazing enthusiasm—the orange house on the hill was dazzling,

the lunchtime view and meal were perfect,

the murals all over the city captured our attention for hours,

and the Valparaisans and their Mil de Hojas flavored ice cream were divine (Mil de Hojas is now my favorite flavor). (Ice cream not pictured because I ate all of it)

I felt inspired in the same way I was inspired when I heard that Pablo Neruda was a cosista (thing-ist) and would collect things just for the pure love of them: watermelons, ship figureheads, colored glass eggs, dishes, masks—all for their shape, size, color, texture, form, and sound. It made me want to love things for the sake of their beauty, for the sake of loving them, without a monetary value attached to it, without worrying if I could afford it, without worrying if this counted as a depreciating asset (haha, I really don’t think that, but still, I’m sure some people in the world worry about that). Anyway, I digress. I'm just saying, it made me want to appreciate the world in a different way.

And Neruda reminded me of my poetry professor in college. I went to visit her home once and was so amazed at her decorations. She had covered every inch of every wall with paintings—oil, water color, acrylic, old, new, framed, canvassed, dirty, shiny, cracked, new. Forget the designer shows and their advice! It was a whole new way of viewing the world.

In the same way, I felt like I got to see Valparaiso in a different way, the poets’ journey. What a long way from copywriting about lumber! So I tried to write a poem today for the first time in ...has it really been seven years?

My first line was:

“My eye is fat because I looked at the city for too long…”

Ha ha ha. I just laughed and laughed! I think I’m out of practice and maybe a little less poetic and deep than I used to be.

I know you’re all holding your breath for the next line—this is gripping stuff!

Maybe I’ll write more serious things later. But for now, que te vayas bien.

C in C

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

First time for patience or patients

Recently I have developed a second cold and some weird eye thing now too (don't worry, I will not be showing this to you), and because I find myself trying to recuperate in a house that has no TV nor couches, I suddenly find myself bored, with nothing to do...perfect for blogging!

So I wanted to take you through a day in the life of Cathy in Chile. I live in a really sweet house near a park.

I'm one of those wake up in the shower type people so every morning, I have to light this puppy, the water heater, every day.

I have a nice big room and a great window with which to see the world.

I eat breakfast at the dining room table and can easily view my living room which has no couch and no TV. I don't think that this is a Chilean thing. I think that this is a bohemian thing. Either way, it took some adjusting and now I really like it...though I have recurring dreams about watching TV.

When I walk outside my house and head to the metro (subway), I get to see all this!
And then I see this.

Okay, so that's it for now. I know it's tiny, but it's a beginning, right? So here's a happy quiz for you to take. What exactly is this contraption?

Post your comments as you wish! Till next time, que te vayas bien!