Saturday, June 5, 2010

Hair cut



So, not much to report this week. I am getting organized for all my final projects. I had to take some time to get my haircut today (moments after I cut off that mustache- it was getting in my mouth); I just couldn't handle it anymore. Probably the longest haircut I have ever had. The guy cut the entire thing with scissors and a straight razor- no trimmers, no clippers, just scissors, comb and a razor. Anyway, Im not too picky. It was a $3 haircut, after all.


As far as all the stuff that is less important than my haircut goes: Im cranking out a 19th century literature paper about Incanism in the works of 6 authors; god it's exciting! (not really).

This evening I am going to see one of the most popular soccer teams in Lima- Universitaria, play against Huancayo. It is supposed to be a pretty good game with a lot of people in attendance. Ill take some pictures and post them up here later.

I got notice from the social center that I am trying to do my language project with. The dates they have are the 27th of June- 30th. This is just 6 days before I leave the country, and is also the week of my final exams, but I am going for it. I will have to arrange two of my exams at times other than they were scheduled, as well as finish a couple of important papers about a week before they would have been due, but I think the trip to Cuzco will be worth the extra work.

Somewhere in there I also have to rewrite my project proposal in Spanish so the folks at the center can have a good idea of what I am trying to work on. Lots of challenges to come, but things are coming together. It feels like there is so little time to do everything, but I am finding that you can accomplish a lot more in a short amount of time than you initially think you can.

Hopefully next time around I will have more to show than a haircut. Thanks for reading.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Back From the Dead

So, the blog has been on hiatus for a while, but it seems like time to get into it and write another chapter. A lot has happened since last time I was on here: midterms are over, the last and probably most important month of school has started, I went with Ryan Waite to Cusco, to Macchu Picchu, and saw some interesting new things in Lima, and it is crunch time for my language project. I thought I would talk about a little of each.

Let's start off with the pictures first. Most importantly, I have grown a mustache, although I think it is about to meet its end in just a few days when I get around to getting a haircut.
This one is a preliminary mustache photo and it has filled in a lot, but I thought it was worth mentioning.


Ryan arrived in Lima on the 18th of May and after spending a couple of days seeing different sites around Lima we headed out to Cusco, the town closest to Machu Picchu: Aguas Calientes, and the site of Machu Picchu itself. The way to Machu Picchu is complicated as a large part of the train tracks that make their way there were washed out by floods earlier this year. To get there from Lima we had to take the flight from Lima to Cusco, take a taxi service from Cusco to a town called Piscacucho, and then take the train from Piscacucho to Aguas Calientes. From there it is a half hour bus ride (there are so many visitors that you have to get up at 4am if you want the early bus) to the entrance to the city.

Machu Picchu itself was amazing. It was also exhausting. The scale of the city and the incredible precision with which it is all built is not something that comes across in the photos. Im tempted to go on about the city and all the things we learned there, but I think I will try to be brief and just post a couple of photos. It is pretty difficult to take a bad photo at Machu Picchu, the views are amazing, and we got there early enough to avoid the crowds. We also took the hour and a half hike up to the top of the peak that is seen over the city. It is another ruins where an alternate view of the city can be seen.


There are llamas all over the site that maintain the grass and stroll around. They are pretty great. This guy was checking things out before the sun rose.

The view from the top tier of the city was incredible. This is still about a half hour before the sun came up. We heard that we were lucky to get there on a day where the fog had already cleared by the time things were open.


After we hiked around for the first half hour we decided it was time start looking for some of the places we had heard about. There are a lot of things to see and it is incredible the amount of time it can take to get from one part of the city to the other. To get from the far side by Waynu Picchu to this part in the photo would take two youngsters like Ryan and I about 40 minutes of straight walking and climbing.This is a photo of the Inca bridge. It is built on the back side of the mountain and was designed to keep intruders out if the need arose. you can see in the picture how steep the slope is that one would have to come up just to get to the bridge, and the two logs that form the cross members can simply be lifted out and the bridge becomes impassable. There is a door near the bridge and visitors to the site are not allowed to walk on it. I think that's an understandable restriction; its pretty intimidating just to look down from there.



After we got back from the Inca Bridge the sun had started to come up and it became even more obvious that the city was immaculately maintained. It makes you wonder how much of the existing city is an accurate reflection of the original. Some workers install walls, rebuild floors, and generally obsess over keeping things clean and neat. It is hard to realize what is new and what is old.


After touring around other parts of the city Ryan and I made our way towards the entrance to Waynu Picchu. We had to get there early to get our tickets stamped for entrance to the trail that leads up to it, but it was well worth it. This view of the city is probably one of my favorites. It took over an hour of almost non-stop hiking to reach this view point (still about 15 minutes shy of the top), but it was great. The city itself is supposed to have been designed to resemble a condor. The condor was supposed to have had great importance in the Inca culture as a predictor for the quality of the harvest, a bringer of luck, and other things that I really don't know enough about to discuss in any great detail. We sat for about 5 minutes trying to envision the condor in the shape of the city from this vantage point, but didn't come up with anything concrete. Let me know if you see it.


This picture was taken from the top of Waynu Picchu. About 5 minutes before this we saw a lady of about 60 or so who had made it all the way to the top. I was genuinely concerned for her safety. There are two groups of tickets for the climb up, she had come with the 7 oclock group, and we had come with the 10 oclock. So, by the time we arrived shortly after 11, she was just making the top as well. Talk about determination! You can't totally grasp it from the pictures, but the stairways around Waynu Picchu are so steep that in most places you have to crawl in order to get up or down. In this picture the young lady who is trying to climb up is doing just that. I got the chance to take this picture because none of the stairways are wide enough to pass with more than one person at a time.

I have lots more photos of Machu Picchu on my Facebook account, and Im sure Ryan will post some of his soon, too. There are some other really good ones, but I hope that the few that I have posted show how beautiful it was.


After coming down from the mountain we decided to visit one of the attractions in Aguas Calientes: the natural thermal baths. Those trunks and towels were rented on the walk up to the baths. Ryan chose that lovely blue and yellow number to match his mustache. Don't worry, any risk of anything unclean is obliterated by the incredible amounts of sulfur, zinc, and iron in the water from the baths.

After we left the baths things started to go seriously wrong in Aguas Calientes, which up until that point had seemed like a strange, if single-minded little town. We went to an ATM (one of only two in town) only to discover that it was out of service. The other ATM in town was also out of service. They weren't slated to be fixed until after our train would depart, so we were stuck for the next twelve hours with only $9 US, and nothing to do. We had to convince the owner of our hostel to loan us the money for the taxi on the way back, as well as let us leave the money for our two nights at her hostel with our other hostel in Cusco. It was an adventure in patience to say the least.


I could go on about how much I enjoyed Cusco and Machu Picchu for quite a while, but I think it's better to stop here because I would eventually have to also complain more about Aguas Calientes. If you ever go, make it a point to only stay there one night...enough said.

As for the rest of things, I guess there is quite a bit I have left unsaid since the last time.

Midterm exams are over. They all went surprisingly well, although none of them turned out the way I would have guessed. The exam that I had initially thought I would struggle with the most, my nineteenth century literature exam, was the best exam I had. The one that I thought I would excel in, the Quechua course, was my lowest. They both went well and I was really pleased at the level of personal interest and feedback from my professors. They all seem to be experienced and understanding of some of the difficulties that international students face in trying to orient themselves to a new academic culture here. Also, it is really apparent that a lot more of my professors are studying and teaching things here in which they have a vested interest. I have had many professors in the US who might have a PHD in Linguistics, but they are asked to teach courses about basic Spanish grammar. The lack of personal investment in the subject can sometimes be apparent when you ask questions outside of class. My experience here has been that the professors are extremely interested and knowledgeable about the specialized interests of the class, and especially when you make the effort to see them outside of the classroom. Not to say that professors in the US are totally disinterested, just that I have been impressed by how open they are to students exploring things on their own, and it seems like a reflection of the fact that they teach courses from their own personal and specific area of study.

I have a little over a month left here and I think it is going to be a real challenge to make the most of the time I have. There are essays and final exams due in a couple of weeks, and the pressure is on to get all of the important pieces in place to finish the semester. I feel more and more urgently that this may be the only chance I have to do a lot of things, and I don't want any of them to go undone.

One of the things I have been starting to work on is my USOAR project from NIU about Quechua language attitudes and maintenance in urban areas of Peru. I visited the social center that I am supposed to partner with while I was in Cusco, and it was pretty intimidating. The Casa del Cargador works to provide job training, meals, lodging, counseling, and education to a changing group of about 100 native speakers of Quechua who live in Cusco, after having migrated from different parts of the Andes. The presence of a lot of the habitants of this center represents a real cultural and personal displacement, due in large part to the language barrier between Quechua and Spanish.
Quechua has been a spoken language historically, it was written by spanish monks in the sixteenth century, and is still being standardized from over 27 vastly different dialects (which presents another set of problems) in order to facilitate education in schools. One way to understand how large the gap is culturally between the largely non-literate Quechua population and the spanish population is that the Peruvian constitution was just translated into Quechua less than 8 years ago. Of the representative governmental body for all the provinces of Peru, many of which still speak Quechua as their official language, only two representatives speak Quechua, and only one of those is a native speaker. There is a social and economic divide here that is connected with use of the Quechua language, and for this reason the social center I work with works mostly with Cargadores. Cargador is basically translated as "carrier"; he is a guy who fills a giant tarp or burlap bag with bottles, hay, garbage, food for the market, and anything else that anyone will pay him to carry, and then straps it to his back with a lengh of rope, and carries it to where it needs to go. Workers in this position are notoriously underpaid, have no hope of finding other gainful employment, and are often homeless and illiterate. They are also ,almost exclusively, native Quechua speakers.

My hope is to get a perspective on how speakers of quechua at this center perceive their language, and themselves as speakers of the language. One of the main reasons that previous research has found that languages die out over time is that the populations of people who speak them have devalued them over time. They see them as disadvantages in the social world, they make it difficult to find work, they mark you as an outsider, etc. So, if you can determine the answers to questions like: Do you speak Quechua on a daily basis? Do you plan to teach your children to speak Quechua?and a lot of other questions with specific details about use of the language in "high value" areas such as at work, in school, in certain social settings, can help shed light on why certain dialects and groups who speak them are struggling to maintain the language.

I only realized the reality of working with a group who is in this position after I went to the center. It is a world apart from the tourist shops, clean streets, and friendly policemen that you find about 5 blocks away from the area where the center is located. For that reason, I say that the center was a little intimidating, but I am hoping to receive approval to do the project in the next few days and am really looking forward to doing the work.

Truth be told, things have not been everything I expected them to be here. I think after my last experience of studying abroad I had glossed over some of the more difficult parts and idealized the experience a little. It is a lot of work to adjust to all of the new things in another country, and it is taxing to be away from the people and places that you know and care about. I have had a hard time trying to focus on what I really want to accomplish here, partly because I think the day to day experience (that in a linguistic way is a lot like repeating your childhood) is now even more out of sync with my priorities than it was when I lived in Spain. The look at the center and the daunting task of setting up a full fledged independent research project with a group of people who experience a real daily struggle to work and live in their own country has been a shock to my perception of what all this really means. On one hand it makes me really appreciate where I have come from and how fortunate I have been, but it also makes me question my place here. I am going to press on and try to find some insight into the experience. I think the research project will provide a lot of that perspective, but it would be a lie to say that I am not really looking forward to coming home. I dont think I could live in another country as a tourist again. I would have to find a way to live. Something that makes sense for the rest of my life, and has a purpose that goes beyond observation and learning the language. Peru is an amazing country and I reccomend you visit if you ever have the chance, but it makes you appreciate what it is to know who you are and where you are from.

Thank you guys for reading along. I will do my best to get a few more of these out before I leave. Looking forward to hearing from and seeing everybody when I get back. See ya!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Update: learning in Lima

It has been a little while since my last blog. I was gonna tell you all how busy I have been with homework (over 400 pages of reading in the last week), but the fact of the matter is that I have just been procrastinating on writing another update for no concrete reason, save a lack of new photos to post. I have also been thinking about the suggestion that a closer look at the people I have met would make for an interesting blog, but I'm still working on that, so I thought I would try to do a part II about my classes here and how they are different from those in the US (meh, more on that momentarily). There are a lot of things about the university here that are distinct that are not related to what I talked about last time, which was mainly the physical setting of the university itself. Everything from the registration process ,to the classes themselves, to the methodology and approach of the instructors has been a little more informal, at least by my own perception, than classes I have taken up to this point. Let me explain in some more detail.

First, I want to stop making all of my explanations in terms of comparisons to the US. It may be hard to get away from this, but I will strive to observe things here on their own merit as opposed to holding them to some other standard.

Anyway, the first step in the process of getting started with classes here was, as it is at most schools, the registration process. At the PUCP this consisted of a number of orientations over the course of a week and a half, all of which were obligatory. There was a security orientation explaining the dangers of living in a city like Lima with all sorts of helpful advice like: don't leave your drink alone and then come back and drink it, don't go to dangerous neighborhoods alone at night, etc. There was also a photo day (for the ID's neccesary to make one's way through the front gate of the fortress), a campus tour, a pre-registration where we chose the courses we thought we would like to take, a week of classes to try out the courses, a second round of registration confirmation and class enrollment, and finally, classes, homework, and the real business of trying to learn thing has begun. This whole convoluted process lasted about two full weeks, which I am inclined to say that I could have done without, but I think it may have also served as a good adjustment period to a very different environment. I also think it is worth mentioning that most of these extra steps in orientation are probably attributable to the fact that we are foreign students.

Some things about the classroom environment here do require a little bit of adjustment. The first thing that may require tweaking in the mind of a student accustomed to a demanding sense of punctuality and attendance in college classes is the perception of time and the expectations students and teachers have about timeliness here. All of my courses are in two hour or three hour blocks- for instance, I have a literature course on Mondays from 9-11 and a Linguistics course on Monday from 11-1. Both of these happen to be in the same classroom, but the policies regarding time are interesting. I have yet to see either professor start class before 10 minutes after the hour, and commonly class will begin at 15-18 minutes after the hour. The first thing my instructor told everyone in my sports class was to not even show up until 15 minutes after the written start time. He said he would be there at that time and we could begin. Students ordinarily roll in sort of casually at around the same time they expect the teacher to arrive. No deference is really given to the fact that the classroom is partially empty or the fact that the professor is speaking, people stroll in as they will and the lecture eventually picks up steam.

Once class is started things are a little bit different from what I have experienced before too. A good example of a different classroom culture here is the attitude towards cell phones. Instructors gave explicit instructions to turn them off during classes, not send text messages, etc., but it is funny and strange that, while the students more or less observe this courtesy, it doesn't seem to apply to the instructors themselves. It reminds me of a story a professor of mine told when explaining varying international attitudes toward public speaking. She said she was attending a conference to help establish the rules of grammar for some dialect that was going to publish a school curriculum in Turkey, with the country's current president in attendance, several heads of state, important leaders from the academic community, etc. She said she was amazed that people never turned off their cell phones for any reason. In the middle of an address by the president of Turkey someone would stand up in a crowded auditorium and shuffle their way to an exit, all the while taking their phone call in a normal speaking voice, without apology for interruption. She said this went on all day until finally a man in the back of the room took a call while an important keynote speaker was up, and did not leave. She was on a panel that organized the conference and she said she felt it was her place to stand up and ask the man to leave or hang up the phone, and in the middle of her doing so, the keynote speaker's phone rang, which he picked up immediately and began his conversation while she was explaining how improper it was to speak on the phone...In the end she said she was the one who felt embarrassed for speaking out against something that everyone else found to be relatively tolerable.

She explained that at this time (probably ten years ago), cell phones and the availability of dependable service were so new to people in that part of Turkey that it was still a novelty to be able to talk to people anywhere, anytime, and that no one was really annoyed enough to observe what many consider to be a common social convention. I think the case here in Lima is quite a bit different in the reasoning for why people do what they do on their phones in class, but is still funny to me because the same professors who warned students not to use their phones in class regularly do so. My 19th century lit professor has received a brief phone call or a text message literally every day since the first day of class. She doesnt even stop talking or excuse herself to do so. She pauses in the middle of 'The obvious importance of the early work of Pablo de Olavide is  (text, text, text) that he clearly differentiated himself from other neoclassical authors  by (text, text, text) focusing on the Spanish customs and rights and transporting them to Lima. I have another professor who has not answered his phone in class, but everytime it rings he pauses, says "one moment, please", looks thoughtfully at his phone as if expecting an important call, waits for it to stop ringing, and then continues. He never turns off his phone and he never picks it up, he seems comforted by knowing that he could receive an important call during class, not that he has had need to yet.

I think all of this cell phone behavior can be explained by exploring the expextations for a relationship between student and teacher. To try to explain this I think it would be beneficial to make a direct comparison to the attitudes in theUS. Basically the attitude of students in US schools is one that reflects an approach to teaching that centers around suiting classes to a student's needs. In addition to the idea that instructors listen to students, it the idea that they are somehow equal; if a student is expected to follow a certain rule, say, not speaking on their cell phone, then a professpr should not only do the same, but will lead by example and be extra cautious to turn off their phone, etc.  I am sure someone will correct me if this is too far off base, but I am referring, in a roundabout way, to a student centered teaching methodology that promotes attitudes where students and teachers are in many ways equal,  like feedback about the content of lesson plans (if it helps me leanr better, why shouldnt I request the use of more audiovisual materials in the class lectures?), student preferences for different ways of presenting material, an expectation that students should voice their opinions and professors should, within reason, accomodate their desires as long as they don't negatively influence any other aspect of the class. I am not sure what one might call a contrasting methodology that places priority on the ability of the student to absorb the information presented rather than contribute to it; in other words, questions are not encouraged unless they are fundamental to understanding the lecture, not just for you personally, but for everyone listening. Student feedback (at least in the form of handraising during the lecture) is not valued as a way of retooling the class for an improved learning experience and would likely be disregarded by most instructors, or even considered disrespectful. Notetaking is a virtue somewhere in between cleanliness and godliness. The ability of a student to receive information and accurately apply it, repeat it, and understand it independently seem, at least in my experience so for, to be the benchmarks for succesfully teaching something. Maybe a better way of putting that is that all you need to worry about is learning, leave all the teaching to them.

In a classroom in the US, a student could raise his hand with a partially correct answer, a sort of question sort of answer, or a just plain wrong answer, and I think the reaction of most teachers is to first affirm the fact that the student has chosen to participate by saying something benignly positive like, "perhaps another way of interpreting Ben's point is", or, "lets think about how we can apply that idea to this...". In my classes here, a half question, a wrong answer, a partial answer or otherwise would likely result in a polite, but direct: "Im sorry, but the correct answer is...", or, "you have forgotten an important element, which is...", or you might get passed by, ignored, and lloked over for the next student who believes he has the answer. I have the impression that if a student puts forth a lot of effort here, and fails, he has still failed (which is intimidating on a certain level, but seems entirely realistic), while we feel compelled in the US to reward effort in the classroom in much the same way we reward correctness, ability, or whatever it is that constitutes the subject at hand. This is a nice thought, and there may well be a place for it in education, but I think the contrast is refreshing.I think one of the byproducts of an extremely student centered teaching methodology is students who become very dependent on feedback (both their ability to contribute it and their professor's tendency to give it), and students who can feel emotionally vested in the approval of their instructor, rather than an absolute focus on the content of the course and their mastery of it, which will continue to be important long after the course is over.

This is a really summary way of considering teaching methodology and relationships between students, professors and materials, but I myself have noticed I am a little uneasy at times with the differences in expectations, due partially to the idea that I have unconsciously developed that I am important in the class. This may be a revealing statment about students in the US, or it may just be a revealing statement about how I see myself as a learner (a little self-centered, eh?), but I think the short time I have spent here already has been instructive as a reminder that: 1) The class is not there to work for me, I need to labor on the material, try and fail (which implies trying multiple times), and possibly challenge myself enough to reach a point that I can admit that I don't understand the material. I can't remember ever having been pressured to do admit that I was wrong in any way in my classes in college up to this point. 2) Learning can be a two way street, but for a student it is probably advisable to adopt the attitude that you strive to understand first, and then strive to be understood. This attitude specifically seems to evade a lot of students that I have had class with in the US. A tendency to speak first and then think about whether it made sense later, is a common occurence. 3) I enjoy the positive pressure of an independent learning experience, because I think it helps prepare me for the realities of having responsibilities outside of school. It makes sense to me that a teacher should not be directly interested in whether I fully grasp the material, or rather, should not be preoccupied by it, but should be honest and direct about how well I have grasped the material.

Anyway, so much for the avoidance of direct comparisons. You can't avoid where you come from, I guess you might as well incorporate in (in your blog and in your life). I will leave you with that nugget of wisdom and a promise that I will try to take some pictures soon and write something about some people I know here, maybe the people from my house. Thanks for reading.

-Ben

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Back to school, back to school...



Classes started this past week and I thought I would write this blog about some of the basic differences I have noticed about the school I am attending and others I have been to in the past. Before I get into that, let me lay out my plans for the semester and that should lead into the particulars of what I have seen.

I spent a lot of time before I left trying to ensure that the classes I took and the time that I spent here would be worthwhile in terms of what I need to graduate with my Bachelor's degree (ideally this semester). With that in mind I had a number of literature and linguistics courses pre-approved by my university, NIU. Of those courses, even after a couple months of planning, meeting with advisors, signing forms, requesting course syllabus, and all sorts of other minutia, only a few turned out to be viable due to scheduled times and availability here in Lima. I scrapped the courses that didn't work and I ended up with a schedule that should give me what I need to finsh up. That schedule consists of:

1) General Linguistics- a course focusing on the theoretical fundamentals of hispanic linguistics.

2) 19th Century Peruvian Literature- designed to introduce students to the canonical authors and works of post colonial Peru

3) Contemporary Peruvian Narratives- focusing on contemporary peruvian authors who are significant in latin american and world literature

4) Quechua 1- an introduction to the grammar and culture of one of the major indigenous languages of Peru, Quechua.

5) Deportes- Varones (Sports for Gentlemen)- this is a class that offers an overview of various sports for, you guessed it, just dudes.

Most people who have poured over the course offerings at a major university in the US will pick out some of the differences between the schools just based on my brief description. Some outstanding examples are:

1) Peruvian literature classes- as far as most US universities are concerned, canonical authors from shortly after the colonial period in latin america are very, very few and far between, much less an entire course that emphasizes the importance of those specifically from Peru, which should make this an interesting and challenging course for me. Imagine that you know nothing about some of the most important authors in United States from any given time period, let alone the history and social context that surrounds them and you are expected to read Moby Dick and then discuss it with 20 of your peers in a language that is not your first language. But I digress, I think it is gonna be a great learning experience.

2) Indigenous language classes? What are those? I'm really looking forward to this class. Aside from being an interesting subject for me personally it represents a whole social movement in latin america to revive languages and aspects of culture related to indigenous people, and that idea is a controversial one here for a lot of reasons that do not merit discussion here.

3) Sports for Gentlemen? Despite all the social progress it seems that it is somehow still neccesary to separate a lot of things here into boys and girls. I don't want to speculate on what that means, but it strikes me as a little bit comical.

All in all I think the classes look great and should be a really big opportunity to learn in a context that I haven't really seen before. Outside of class represents a whole different set of interesting new things and, mostly for the benefit of you guys who are kind enough to read my rambling blog, I will try to use some photos to explain a few of the differences in the campus here.


This first picture does not quite illustrate this point as clearly as it would if you stood in front of it on the street, but what I meant to show was that this campus is essentially a city within a city. If you were to turn in the opposite direction, away from the school gate, you would see tens of buses, taxis, street vendors with blankets covered with pirated dvd's and handmade jewelry, food carts selling juice, cheeseburgers, etc. If you looked directly down the wall to the left of the photograph you would see that the 12 foot tall brick wall that is the division between the school and the street extends for a number of city blocks. It is striking to someone who comes from a big open campus, that is designed like most US universities to be an almost indistinguishable part of a city that hosts the campus, that this school is intended to be its own fortress. To that end, it comes complete with its own 24 hour security staff with designated, gated entrances for cars, students, visitors and maintanence personell. When I first got here, it made me think of several conversations I had about the changes that were bound to happen after the shooting at NIU. It seemed then that it was an impossible idea that a college campus should be a castle that keeps people out as much as it keeps people in. Clearly, that is exactly the notion that, out of neccesity, some colleges have employed to do what they think is appropriate to keep people safe, and just maybe, project a desired image. Despite all that, to me, it more closely resembles the entrance to a local juvenile detention facility than it does a prestigous, private university, but that's just me.



This picture will resemble something that looks more familiar to those who have ever strolled around the campus of a private university, but it comes as a total oddity here in Lima, as do the green trees that you see in the background. That is to say that Lima is essentially a city built in a desert and everything that is green requires water constantly. Never have I been anywhere where the maintenance of the landscaping is so meticulous. The attention to detail and the green surroundings are even stranger if you can picture that this lawn sits about 30 yards inside of that main gate and that outside of that gate is all the chaos of a sizeable neighborhood of a city of almost 10 million people.
More of the same in this picture. There are little ponds and gardens all over the campus. It does not resemble any of the plants that you would find growing naturally in this part of the world, but I think that may be the desired effect.

This picture from google earth struck me as a pretty simple way of relating the sheer size of the campus and how much it is like its own little city. Everything in between the two large streets that extend from the top to the bottom of the picture is University property, and it is all totally closed off from the rest of the city.

This is the coliseo deportivo that you see as the blue building on the top of the picture above. Some of the sports that play a prominent role here are surprising. There is of course, designated programming for soccer, basketball, swimming, tennis and some other surprising sports, but there are also, rugby teams, a huge chess arena (yes, thats right!), 40 competition level ping-pong tables, a martial arts studio, 15 handball courts, and a number of other amenities that football loving american sports fans might be puzzled by. Also, I have to admit that I expected the facilities here to be somewhat less well equipped than those on NIU's campus, but I would say that, if anything, most of the equipment and facilities here are probably more modern than most universities I visited. could be one of the perks of private funding...who knows?


This picture is the social sciences building. I don't really have any opinions to draw on this, it is just a nice picture.


Once again, these deer are everywhere. It is really strange. I guess if you wall off your university you can keep basically whatever you want inside. I saw a girl try to feed an apple to one of these deer the other day and it tried to run away from her, but she sort of jumped in front of it as she tried to get away herself. She fell down, the deer ran like mad. It gets pretty wild. Do not feed the deer!


There are loads of other things that they have done differently here that you would never see on a campus in the US. One example is the books that are used for classes. At NIU I average a cost of $400/ semester on my books and i could not understand when they reccomended a cost of $150 for all my books when I filled out the initial application. I now understand how they accomplish this. Inside of every building is a small room run by a private copy company where they run off thousands of pages of books every day. The professor drops off the lesson materials, the students pay a couple dollars, and everyone gets away cheap. I am not sure which copyright laws are potentially being violated by this, but it loos like my books for this semester will total about $75. Weird. There are other similar things, banks, restaurants and phone booths from private companies here that seem a little out of place at a private catholic university.

Well, I have to be on my way, but I will be back with more in the next couple of days. I would be happy to hear some ideas about what to write about. I had a list going, but I would be open for suggestions. Thanks for reading.

-Ben

Sunday, March 14, 2010

At the beach


Well, as you can see, I took the last couple days off, and truth be told the reason is that I have been pretty lazy. So in keeping with that theme I am going to post up some pictures from my trip to the beach. Incidentally, the day that I went to the beach was also my birthday, but I didn't realize it until about 5pm.

So here we go....

I took the early bus out of lima with a group of kids I met at school at 7:30 am and we arrived at a beach about 10 miles south of the city called Punta Hermosa by 10. The bus ride cost 4 soles (a little over a  dollar!), but it was packed with people; the 7 of us who went were lucky to get a seat as there were about 15 people who ended up standing for the entire 2 hour ride. The kids I went with all attend the university where I am at, one of them lives in the same boarding house I do. There were 3 bolivians and 4 americans, the other 3 being from the University of Wisconsin. Normally I try to shy away from activities where there are bunch of other people whose first language is english, but I was surprised to find that everyone was pretty open to speaking spanish for the duration of the trip. There are a lot of good reasons that it is preferable to not speak english in these situations and I think the greatest of these is that you dont learn anything if you only communicate in ways that you are already comfortable, another is that groups of english speakers tend to draw unwanted attention from all the wrong people. In any case, I was glad that, in contrast to some of my experiences in spain, the kids who were here that spoke english seem to be here to speak the language and take this an opportunity to learn and not just as a vacation.

We got to the beach around 10 and took a couple of mototaxis from the bus stop to the beach front- these are 125cc motorcycles that have been converted into 4 seater taxis. The funny thing is that the 5 minute ride to the beach cost as much as the bus ride out (4 soles for 4 passengers, so a little less), but it was a fun ride.

Punta Hermosa has two sections of beach, one is located in front of a bank of restaurants and cafes and the other is located in front of a group of private homes and condos, although both are open to the public. We went to the private side and picked out a spot under an umbrella. I would estimate that there were about 15 people on 1000 yards of private beach at the time we arrived, I was really glad there wasn't a huge crowd.

Here is the view of the beach a couple hours after we arrived:


The first section visible in the photo is the public portion where most of the people sat and the private section starts about half way down by the big white building you see there. This is as crowded as it got all day long...

The water looks pretty subdued in this picture, but I was surprised by how strong it was even at the lower tide in the morning hours. It got rougher and rougher as the day went on and by 4pm you didn't see anyone who wasn't attached to a surf board venture more than 30 or 40 yards from the shore. We had been warned that the waves and especially the undercurrent were very strong here and there was a little mishap after our first 5 minutes in the water. The bolivian guy who lives in my house didn't appear to be very familiar with how to go through the waves and he got taken under and tossed around in one when we were all standing together about 30 yards off shore. I jumped to break the wave and I felt him underneath me and was worried that I had kicked him in the face. He came up bleeding, he had been pulled straight to the bottom of about 5 feet of water and got the whole right side of his face slammed into the ground and scraped across the sand. He was fine, but I think more embarrassed than anything. We took him up to the pharmacy, got him a bandage and he got right back at it. Although he does look pretty rough today, sort of like he got punched by a really giant fist. I can only imagine how much worse that would have been had we been out in the water in the late afternoon, but I think he figured out what went wrong.

Here is a shot of the waves when they were a little bigger:



Still pretty calm at this point, they tripled in size by the time we left for the evening. the undecurrent was really strong too, you could feel it pull at your feet even right on the shore, I think this is because the level of the sea floor drops really quickly, you were in up to your head at just about 40 yards off of the shoreline.


At about 2 we went up and ate some lunch. Even here outside of the city everyone is pretty agressive and compettitive when it comes to finding customers. As we came up the boardwalk street we had waiters from two restaurants shouting out the specials to us. We chose a restaurant that was offering a Ceviche appetizer, which is a specialty here in Lima that consists of raw fish (not sure which kinds), spices, onion, lemon and lime juice, carrots and lettuce, served with a spicy sauce called aji; along with a choice of main course of chicken and rice; or a dish I had been wanting to try called Chicharron. Pitchers of lemonade, ceviche, main dish and some cookies for dessert were 12 soles per person, or about $3.50.

I had been wanting to try the Chicharron, which can be made many different ways with different types of meat, and in fact, we were supposed to go to a cafe in the city Saturday morning to try a pulled pork Chicharron sandwich, but that got postponed until next week. This dish was made with the same fish used in the ceviche, but dipped in a light batter, fried, and then served with lemon juice, white rice, salad, and a garnish of really large kernelled corn that is common here. The food was great and I am still amazed by how affordably one can eat and get around in this country.


Here is our group looking unabashedly touristy and shooting some pictures after we ate. In the background you can see some of the houses and shops that line the beach. A lot of the houses had signs out to rent rooms to visitors. We saw some that were as cheap as 25 soles a night per person and others (written in english) that were more along the lines of $200 for a weekend. It is pretty common knowledge that there are two sets of prices for everything here: the english speaking tourist price and the I know what I am doing, don't rip me off price, which extends to everything from buses, taxis, restaurants, housing, and even street side vendors. It pays to know how much you should pay for something.





This is one of the private condos that was on the beach. I liked the building so I took a photo. I was talking to a peruvian guy on the beach a little later and he said that houses here went from 100,000 to 250, 000 USD on the low end of things. I'm not sure if that sounds cheap or expensive in comparison to what a house in the city in Lima would cost, but I dont think 100lk would get you too far in Chicago...


This photo I took just before I fell asleep on the beach after lunch. Looks nice, huh?



I slept a couple of hours on the beach and was awakened about 2 oclock to my bolivian housemate asking me if today was my birthday. I said: "What day is it?". He said: "The twelfth" and I told him that it was indeed my birthday. Some people may be surprised by this but I have almost forgotten my birthday on a couple different occasions. I usually think about it a week or so before and then say, "yeah Ill get to that later" and then just lose track of what day it is. In any case, a couple of kids snuck up to a restaurant a bought 3 pieces of chocolate cake which we all split. It was very nice of them. We didnt have any plates or untensils and I was amazed to find that one of the girls with us happened to have a candle with her, so we ate with our hands and got a little sand in our cake but it was delicious, nonetheless.

After getting back from the beach I began to realize that I had a pretty great sunburn going. If you look carefully in the picture you will notice the lines on my arms where I applied sun tan lotion and the very red portion of my chest where I did not. the light here is not very good and it is redder than it looks here, but i havent lost any skin yet, so I'm still hoping there's a chance.


All in all it was a pretty excellent day. There is very little room to complain when you can go to the beach, sleep in the sand, swim in the water, eat a really nice lunch and make it back home again with just 10 dollars in your pocket. I am still feeling pretty lazy, so I am gonna leave this here with a couple pictures of the beach and town, but I will be back tomorrow with more. Thank you guys for reading along with this and for all your comments. I am sure that some of my insights will get a little repetitive, so feel free to ask if there is anything you would like to hear about or see.

Hasta la proxima...




Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Lima today

Well, I thought I would just post a few things I have left over from previous days and give a rundown of what I did today.

This first video ties into what I wrote yesterday about the buses and how they sort of capture the culture of Lima.

A friend and I from the house I am staying at decided to go to the downtown area of Lima today and on the first bus we got on this man entered on the stop after ours and gave a little speech. This is very common on the buses, something you definitely don't see and we certainly don't condone in the US. The speech is always incredibly fast and praticed in the way that someone recites something they have said 500 times before, usually to the point that even the Peruvian passengers have some difficulty understanding what is being said. However, between myself and my Bolivian housemate we managed to gather that this guy does not have a job and he decided to travel all around Lima to spread the musical tradition of Paraguay. He played pretty well and after about 3 stops he pulled out a bag of candy and informed everyone that it was for sale for 50 cents and that if they desired he would be happy to take any additional donations thay would want to give. He sold a couple pieces of candy and got off to get onto another bus and do it all over. This happens very frequently. I think I probably saw at least 10 people, each with a different talk and thing that they were selling- candy, jewelry, ice cream, or maybe just a sad story. the interesting thing to me is that none of the bus drivers charge these passengers because they only stay on for a couple of stops usually, and from what I gather, the passengers usually tolerate this as a form of entertainment, depending on what the person has to do or say. I think in the US this would be viewed as an inappropriate way of making a little extra money, but no one seems to mind here.

So, enjoy the video. I would have taken more than 20 seconds, but it tends to attract unwanted attention to record something like this for an extended period of time.


video



So these pictures are from one of the main plazas in the downtown area of Lima called la Plaza de Armas, it is a site with a lot of historical significance from what I understand. If you click on the pictures you can take a closer look at some of the balconies that overhang the plaza, they are really ornately decorated and are obviously meticulously cleaned. one of the pictures is la casa presidencial, which is basically Peru's equivalent to the white house, where all the important stuff happens...
























After this we went to a market called los Polvos Azules (which means powder blue for all you english speakers), which the largest counterfeit market in Lima, which is one of the top consumers of conterfeit products in the world. In addition to every type of counterfeit good you can imagine- designer clothes, shoes, dvd's, cd's, phones, etc., they also sell a lot of legitimate stuff at cut rate prices like electronics. I didn't get a chance to take any pictures of the market, but it was huge. There are probably a few thousand separate stands on 4 levels of shopping. On the roof there are restaurants and stands where you can make calls from cell phones, similar to a regular pay phone, but for 10-20 cents peruvian. Pretty interesting place.

We took a cab from the market into Chinatown and ate lunch. Also pretty cool. Lima has a significant Chinese as well as Japanese population that started arriving shortly after Hiroshima and still continues to today.

Ok, I will post a couple more photos and wrap this up for the day.

Yep, this one speaks for itself. More from the zoo...








Ahh, now these might appear to be from the zoo, but in fact, these tiny deer roam all over the campus of the university which is coneccted to the property of the zoo. Very strange, these things are tiny, they are very domesticated and they just wander all over the campus...









I don't know what else to draw from that except that it just wouldn't happen at a school in the US.





Ok, I will be back with more tomorrow. I am going on Saturday to eat breakfast in a cafe that is owned by a lady me and my housemate met today at the home of a friend of his. We are going to eat a typical Chicharon breakfast which is a giant pulled pork sandwich served with tomato, a sauce called aji, and some other stuff. Pulled pork for breakfast? God bless America, or Peru, which contrary to the way we say things is part of the Americas, but that is for another time...

Going places...

(For you english only readers you can proceed to the second paragraph without pause...)

Pense que seria apropiado empezar el blog esta vez en Espanol porque, como Fran (Mr. Shy) ha comentado, es un pais hispanoblante y hay que representar la cultura en todo, no? Pues, una mierda, pfff, la cultura. Hay un par de cosas que he notado acerca del Espanol en este pais en mi breve estancia aqui. El primero es que si te diriges a alguien con una referencia a su lengua como "espanol" siempre te responden que no hablan espanol, hablan castellano. Hacen esa distincion en Peru (y quizas en otros paises de sur y latino america) porque creen que promueve alguna relacion de dominacion que existe con los espanoles desde la conquista; a mi no me importan esas cosas politicamente correctas y yo sigo con espanol, aunque puede que haya entre ustedes alguien que quiere parecer sensible y educado y es por esto que he puesto la nota. (ya no me acuerdo que fue la otra cosa que iba a notar, pero voy a seguir con el blog).

Ok, onto more important daily business. I wanted to write a bit about life in Lima on the public transportation system. I think it would be impossible to exaggerate the importance of public transportation here in Lima. A few of my own observations are that, contrary to the US, buses, which are run by many different companies in addition to the single public system, far outnumber the cars owned by individuals. I would also guess that the taxis outnumber the buses by a considerable number. I can ride the bus here from my neighborhood, which is called Pueblo Libre, to a neighborhood about 8 miles away called La Punta, for one Sol and twenty cents or about 35 cents american. Buses here come in many shapes and sizes- there are the large buses we use as school buses, buses that resemble our own public buses, smaller buses that are called combis (See picture below), and everything inbetween ranging from 4 passenger minvans to full sized tour buses outfitted to carry over 100 people. Each of these buses bears the name of the company, usually painted in bright colors that correspond to the individual company, and then has the streets that the route passes on painted on the side. This is great because it allows anyone with a map to figure out which bus can get them to any part of the city.




















This bus is a combi bus and you can see the bright colors of the company and the neighborhood that composes its route, Callao, on the front. In most cities I have been in the difficulty is figuring out the routes, you need a map and a bus schedule which can be hard to read, inaccurate, etc. In lima I think that where the bus is going is easy to figure out, but it's important to know which neighborhoods are safe to pass through in which bus. For instance, it would be a very bad idea to pass through Callao (one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Lima) in a combi bus after dark. Combis are often without locks on the windows, are poorly maintained, etc.

The buses here are really interesting to me since they represent a whole way of getting around in this city of almost ten million that is not nearly as heavily relied upon in most american cities. One example of a way this shows itself is in the words people use to describe things that come from the buses. For example, on every bus, big or small, there is someone who stands in the open door as the bus moves along and shouts out the streets that the bus goes on. If the bus stops this person will jump out onto the sidewalk, which is often almost a part of the street that has no curb or other divider, and try convince passers by to get into their bus. This person is called a cobrador. The verb cobrar means to charge someone, because this is also the guy who takes your money when you enter, but this word is also used in Lima to describe the guy at the supermarket counter who charges you, the bouncer at the door of a night club, and others who perform similar functions. To my knowledge, cobrador is not a word used to describe these positions in places like Spain. I'm sure there are other more prominent examples of ways in which the public transportation influences the popular culture here, but this was just a small, interesting thing that I noticed.

The taxis here are far different from those in the US with the biggest difference being that you have to know approximately how much to pay for where you want to go or you will grossly overpay because they expect you to negotiate (in other words, no meters). I don't want to go into too much about the taxis here, but I think that they too have an impact on the way of life here in Lima. One of the first things that everyone discusses when they arrive at a restaurant, for instance, is what kind of deal they managed to eek out for the taxi ride over. Taxis are also much more affordable here, even by Peruvian standards. For instance, that same bus ride from Pueblo Libre to La Punta (8 or so miles) that cost 1 sol and 20 cents, costs about 10 soles in taxi, or about 3 dollars. Imagine take a taxi 8 miles for $3 in chicago! And if you ride with a couple friends it is pretty much the same as the bus.

Well, there is no end to the public transportation talk in Lima except to say that while it is a way of life here, things are also very poorly regulated. Robberies in combi buses in the wrong place at the wrong time are supposedly somewhat common, Lima is one of the most heavily polluted cities in the world as a result of the incredible traffic, and I think that public travel here is far more dangerous than in many american cities- everyone who drives here takes a lot of risks and things move pretty quickly whether you are a passenger or a pedestrian. In any case, I am sure I will talk more about the public transportation as I learn more, there is a lot to know...

Let me wrap this up with a few pictures. I will put a little caption with each one and try to explain.














Just a sidenote on the chaos of traffic. Lots of minor accidents in the streets, I think the life of a car in Lima is a rough one. This is a taxi and a truck that hit each other in front of my house while both drivers were trying to execute u-turns.














I promised sea lions last time and here they are. There is a zoo called Parque de las Leyendas close to my house and I spent a few hours there the other day. It was very nice, and cost 8 soles to get in, or about $3.50 US.






This last one is me visting a popular shopping area called Larcomar that is built into the face of a steep hill that looks over the ocean.







A
lovely view of the ocean. That hill is Callao starting at the top of the hill and on the other side is La Punta. Some of the richest neighborhoods in Lima are on top of, around and inside of the poorest...





(I mixed up the order of those pictures, but you could've sorted that out on your own, so I will leave it...)

Thanks for reading. See ya later...