Friday, October 31, 2008

Twilight Zone Mystery

Have you ever felt like something wasn't quite right? That's how Joo and I have felt for the past week. Our translation deadlines seemed a bit weird, correspondence was coming at a different time than normal, people were calling at strange hours, TV shows didn't match their scheduled time, our favorite local shops seemed to be opening and closing differently... what could be going on???? It suddenly hit me that this was about the time of the year for Daylight Savings Time. Could that be it? No, because we GAIN an hour in the fall, and our twilight zone was happening in the other direction... we were always late for things. Pause now to see if you can solve our mystery, and then scroll down for the answer...

We finally solved the mystery when we showed up at a volunteer center one day at a time we believed to be 20 minutes early. I was afraid no one would be there, but the other volunteers were already deep in a discussion and the director, with a smile, gently chastised us for being "extremely" late. He showed me his watch, which was an hour different from mine, and exclaimed "Oh, I see! You never switched your watch!" and started laughing. Then it hit me. We were in the SOUTHERN hemisphere and here, the time moves FORWARD in October!!!

After we got that figured out and caught up on what we missed, the group hopped on public transport to go to the poorest neighborhood in Buenos Aires, Barrio de Villa Fatima. The area had been a garbage dump 30 years ago, until immigrants from Peru, Bolivia, and northern Argentina started moving in in droves. The population density soon grew far beyond what health standards would consider safe and the problem continues to worsen.

That said, Joo and I were both surprised at how clean the neighborhood was. Evidently, there has been a government cleanup going on for the past month. The government intends to bulldoze the central section of Villa Fatima and I'm guessing the cleanup program was somehow connected to bureaucracy.

I was more interested in how Joo would handle the situation. Growing up in a Mennonite community, I often had opportunities to volunteer in the past, but Joo hadn't. In fact, this was actually her first time volunteering in a formal way. To make things a bit harder, our assignment was to help students with their homework, and so Joo had to do everything in Spanish!
Nevertheless, she interacted beautifully with them. While I was trying to explain to a six year old girl, Camila, what the moon was (she appeared to have never heard of the existence of the moon, even when I drew it and explained everything in Spanish, and later her teacher did the same...) Joo was working with two girls, Analis and Liliana, on their vocabulary. I couldn't believe how much she had picked up during our four months in South America!

All in all, Joo had a really good time and is excited to do some more volunteer work wherever we end up settling down in the U.S. Speaking of settling down, I'll give you just a quick update on how the decision process is shaping up. We've done a series of eliminations and now have only two final options left that we are seriously considering at this point...
1. Ohio University (Athens, Ohio)
2. Arizona State University- Teach for America or similar program (Phoenix, Arizona)
That's probably all the further we'll go in narrowing it down at this point. Now I'll just go through the full application for both routes and wait to see what their decisions are in late February or early March.
In other news, we have only 3 days remaining here at Kristophe's apartment, before we head west for the vineyards of Mendoza... time to start packing again!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Comer!!!

So, what has Joo been doing while I've been buried in studying over the past month? Cooking! Deeeeeelicious cooking! I've snapped a few photos of some sample cousine that she's whipped up, but I can assure you there's been a lot more than this! It's been great to have some quality healthy food after all the thick, cheesy, heavy empañadas and pizza we've been devouring.

Let's take a look at her process more closely. We begin with the shopping in the marketplace, which Joo has gotten quite good at. Unfortunately, I'm studying during this time, so I don't have any photos of it. My first moment of participation is watching her stroll in the door with bags of fresh produce draped from her wrists...

Next, we have the cooking process itself. This can be quite violent, especially when garlic or onions are involved, in which case Joo takes measures to protect herself...

The massacre is followed by a much more peaceful stage of arrangement by color in order to present the food in the most mouth-watering way possible...

All of this, by the way, is done strictly WITHOUT my observation (with the rare exception when I took these photos). This is because we've become accustomed to a surprise meal pattern where I have absolutely no idea what she is making, except whatever I can deduce through smells and sounds. It makes for a fun game for both us, climaxing in the presentation!

Here are a few more shots of some foods... as you can see, she is working on blending North American, South American, and Asian foods as much as possible :)

Asian veggie babies...

Oreganized chicken...

Elite hamburgers...

Talkdoritang (a Korean spicy chicken soup)

Tomate relleno

Stir fry swimming pool...

Konkaekdong (That really doesn't mean anything, but I bet you thought it was Korean, right?)

In fact, the meals are sooo good, it's often hard to say goodbye to all the food, and so we end up playing with it for awhile...

So, at the end of the day, I'm thankful once again for having such a caring wife! Hallelujah for the honeymoon!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Time for Joo to Talk!

(written by JooYeon)
It has been almost 3 and a half months since we began travelling. I knew that backpacking would be different from vacation travel. Even though I was expecting that I would have difficult times, when it actually happened, it was difficult to accept the reality and many times complained about our accommodation and food. Many nights including 3 nightmary nights in Iquitos´s moldy and funny smelly wooden house, a night in a small remote island near Iquitos where I thought that the mosquitoes will suck up all of my blood, 2 nights at Lima´s central area´s hostel where I had to sleep with bedbugs, 3 nights at Nasca´s hostel with dog poo´s on the floor, and 11 nights at Buenos Aires´s Carly hostel where I had to wake up many times during the night by people walking by our room, loud radio sound or weird constant tick tick sound. During those occasions, I spent much precious time by complaining about things that would not last forever, and I learned that I need to focus on each precious seconds with beloved people.

Today, when I was washing dishes in our Buenos Aires apartment with one small sink kitchen, I thought that I would really appreciate if the sink is a little bit (just a little bit) bigger than that or if I have one more sink. And I began reflecting how much I appreciate many things that I took for granted back home like potable tab water that we can drink directly and wash vegetables and eat without heating, safe and clean street that I don't need to worry about stepping on dog poop, grass, pre-washed salad and so on.
(written by Daniel)
Actually, Joo has done a really good job about putting up with a wide variety of new situations, and hasn't complained much at all. The nights are definitely the worst part when we are in a bad situation, because they mean less sleep and therefore more tired the next day. Like she said, backpacking is much different than simply an extended vacation because you constantly challenge your own limits and test your raw strength. That said, there are of course multitudes of high moments too, and it's been so fun for me to share them with her... from simple moments like listening to street musicians, to grand majestic moments like looking out at a sea of stars in the Atacama desert or dancing in a village Incan ruins in Peru.
It's been beautiful to see her growth too throughout the trip. At the beginning, she rarely ever ventured out anywhere alone, but now she is quite comfortable with it and even initiates basic conversations in Spanish with people. Also, whenever confronted with an uncomfortable situation, she immediately reflects on it and her reaction to it, and has grown significantly through this process. I think she does miss having a girl's presence nearby now and then, so she is really excited to have Heather join us in Costa Rica next month (and then they can unite their female power and overrule me... who knows... we might even have to end up staying in places with clean sheets and hot showers... AAAAH- the horror, the horror!)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The sun'll come out... tomorrow...

My hours of studying are getting me ready to be a teacher (or student) again, as I work hard on losing my hair (since everyone knows that bald teachers are scarier!) The options are beginning to narrow down as I explore more and more and discuss with past math professors and prospective employers/grad schools. It's been quite an adventure to dive back into academia and I have to admit I really like studying the math again. As things stand now, Arizona and Ohio are appearing to be the top two choices for our new residence (Virginia slipped one to number three and Pennsylvania and Indiana have made occasional surges before retiring back at fourth and fifth.) Which is exciting because I haven't lived near immediate family in six years and Ohio would place us near my parents while Arizona would be by Heather!

This is the cat that guards over the computer room where we've been spending a lot of time lately. The owner is a very kind balding (but not too scary) man who loves to abruptly belt out choruses of famous Latino ballads at the top of his lungs. At other times we simply stay in our hostel and sip maté while I study and Joo researches her next move.

I saw a newspaper today that had me laughing... remember my entry "No hay monedas" where I was commenting on the shortage of coins in Buenos Aires? Well, the newspaper headlines read, "Subtes gratis por falta de monedas" (Subways free for lack of coins). And it's true! Joo and I have already ridden for free several times now simply because the person at the window is unable to give any change... can't beat those transportation prices!

Joo has also made a new friend... Florencia. Their relationship is quite comical to me... for example, in this picture Florencia picked up a travel guide written in Arabic characters and asked Joo to read it to her. Joo communicated in Spanish that she didn't know that language. Florencia didn't skip a beat before saying, "Yes you can; You're Chinese!" And to make the whole thing even funnier, JooYeon quickly obliged by making up a nonsense language to read to Florencia, who was quite satisfied. Joo also dipped into our Love fund to get a cute little hairband for Florencia since her hair was always getting in her eyes.

The big news (for us) is that we FINALLY get to move back into our beloved apartment tomorrow... Joo has been jumping around with excitement all day as I sing renditions of "Tomorrow" from the musical Annie. We'll be there about two and a half weeks before heading west for Mendoza (the vineyards of Argentinia) and onto Santiago, Chile where I'll take my Math GREs.

Super H20!!!!!

Of all the great and wonderful tastes down here in Argentina, I have to confess that my greatest addiction is to that time-tested old standby... water. Yes, despite the crazed look on my face, there is no alcohol, no additives (except some carbonation), nothing except good old water. Mmmmmm! I remember seeing a carbonation machine at a friend's house in Europe once and thinking it was quite strange, but boy do I understand now. It took Joo a little longer, but she's on full swing now. We keep it chilled and usually add a mixture of Argentinian herbs for some flavor (there are 4 main herb combos sold everywhere here).

In other news, we have finally found an effective way to handle the rampant counterfeit 50 situation here...

I simply take the bill immediately after receiving it from the cashier, and walk to a nearby authority figure and ask them to check. Then (since as the last entry shows, some times even Argentinians don't really know), I hold it up with the number showing and make sure the person who gave it to me is in the background as proof of where I received it. I think this is about as safe as we're going to get (and don't even dream of the alternate solution where I ask for 10's as change instead of a 50... that would get laughter at best and verbal harrassment at worst!)

I forget if I mentioned it, but Joo and I are in limbo now... halfway between living arrangements at Kristophe's apartment. Meaning that we are back in Hotel Carly for about 9 days (just ask Joo for the EXACT amount of time remaining... she's counting down the hours until we can return to the apartment!) It's a friendly place, but the computer gets shut down at 10pm every night, severely limiting translating possibilities and the room is a bit dusty...

But, we're gone a lot more now too. When I'm not studying math, we're off into the downtown at one of our several tango classes. The more classes we go to, the more it seems to get confusing with different teachers enforcing different styles... and yet at the same time, it's quite a high whenever we have a dance (or even a couple steps) when things really click!

And we leave just in time to see plaza republica (or pizza republica) in the center of downtown as the sun sets...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Mathman gets Lost

Remember that entry last week where I was getting confused by the various languages... specialized English, colloquial Spanish, and tango? Things have gotten even stickier! Although my plan all along has been to head into the field of teaching math, I haven't really dove into the nitty gritty until last week, when I started preparing for grad school and entrance exams. As it turns out, I have to take something called the Math GRE:Subject test. Now, if you've ever taken the general GRE's, this is nothing like the Math portion of that test... this assumes you've taken many many tests ABOVE the calculus level and can combine the marrow of all those courses into creative problem solving. For example, a problem from the practice test...

Let R be a ring with a multiplicative identity. If U is an additive subgroup of R such that ur€U for all u €U and for all r€R, then U is said to be a right ideal of R. If R has exactly two right ideals, which of the following must be true?
I. R is commutative.
II. R is a division ring (that is, all elements except the additive identity have multiplicative inverses).
III. R is infinite.
(A) I only (B) II only (C) III only (D) I and II only (E) I, II, and III

I mean, despite the fact that the nice testing people were kind enough to explain what a division ring was on option II, do you notice what is missing from this MATH question? Numbers!!! Yes, it's true... the higher you go in math, the more often there are times when you throw the numbers away and work with philosophical math! Which makes the next point (explaining the above picture) all the more painful. Since I haven't had a math course in 7 years AND my college didn't offer all the courses that the test covers, I obviously need to do some serious review. I found two books written to prepare for the test on, but they took up to 6 weeks to get to Argentina and I have to take the test in 4 weeks (This test is only offered three times a year, so I'll have to take it while we're passing through Chile).

Sooooo... I cruised the libraries, bookstores, and even universities of Buenos Aires in desperation, searching for SOMETHING that could help me prepare for the test (figuring that watching the TV show Numb3rs probably wasn't sufficient), and the best that I could come up with was a Calculus review book... in Spanish. Now, haggling with street vendors, discussing the weather, or even simple Spanish literature is within my comfort zone, but calculus??? In any case, it's better than nothing, and I did find some additional stuff in English online, so I study every morning now while my faithful cheerleader roots me on...

Another little story... do you remember the fake counterfeit 50 we received a couple weeks back? Well, compare the one below to the pictures on that blog entry and see if you can figure out if this one is fake...

If you couldn't, it's probably because you didn't actually go back and compare it with the other two (which is fine... I wouldn't have either). But it wouldn't have mattered anyway because apparently no one else can tell either. Since we had no reason to suspect it was bad (it felt more real than our other fake one and the watermark was good), and we hadn't visited McDonalds recently, we tried to buy some groceries with it, but were politely told that it was counterfeit. Frustrated at being cheated out of another $17, we returned to the restaurant where we had received it, and to our surprise, they didn't deny giving it to us. Instead, they simply said, "It's real." And several employees confirmed it. Confused, we wandered into the street asking random people, who all told us it was real (all Argentinians have their own unique method of determining whether bills are real). After several heartfelt affirmations that it was real, we finally used it. Was it a poorly made authentic bill or an exceptionally good counterfeit? I guess we'll never know...

So as not to end with another counterfeit mystery, let's end with a picture of yummy freshly made spinach ravioli.