September 3, 2011

Tango at last!

Three months after moving to Buenos Aires, I have finally started taking tango lessons in the tango capital of the world. It seems a terrible waste of time to my dedicated dancer friends that fly 30 odd hours from Taipei every few years just to soak up the tango scene for 2 weeks, or a month if they're lucky, dancing every night till the sun comes out.

I blame my procrastination on decision fatigue. I was overwhelmed with choices of tango salons, schools, and milongas, not to mention a multitude of tango teachers. When I asked my dancer friends for recommendations, I was only left more puzzled by their vague assurances that there are too many good teachers to name. (I later learned that for a beginner like me, I don't need a high-flying pair of tango teachers.)

Turns out I just needed a pair of sexy tango shoes to spur myself into action. Though it's a wonder why I didn't have decision fatigue shopping for tango shoes at the annual Tango Festival and World Championship

Tango shoes aside, I also have my friend Hong I to thank for knocking some sense into me when I was obsessively analyzing the local listings of tango classes based on location, reputation, teacher bios, class times, etc. "Stop thinking!", shaking me lest I miss the point that tango is for experiencing, not overthinking.

My first tango class with Damián y Nancy (far right) at Club Villa Malcolm

August 19, 2011







August 9, 2011

First day of public school

My first day of school at Lenguas Vivas Juan Ramón Fernández, a public school in Buenos Aires, started in typical Argentinean fashion - half an hour late! My teacher is a sweetheart, and when she explained she was tied up with administrative duties on the first day of school, for once, I was neither surprised nor upset.

I take my new-found calm as a sign that I'm acclimating. Two and a half months after moving to Argentina, I've finally reached the point where jaw-dropping tardiness, and people's laissez-faire attitude about it, doesn't infuriate me, but rather amuses me.

For all that I poke fun at Argentinean ways of life (all in good humor), the country has obvious merits for which I feel justifiably smug about intuiting before coming here. Apart from the world's best beef and ice cream, free Spanish classes taught by top-notch public school teachers is no laughing matter, for which I am grateful to take advantage of during my year of no gainful employment.

The view from my classroom at Lenguas Vivas

July 29, 2011

時間 Tiempo

最近常常在想時間的事,可能是因為我對時間很敏感,不管是準時的禮儀還是人生裡大大小小的里程碑。再加我在阿根廷整整兩個月了,漸漸體會到這裡的人對時間有很不同的概念,tempo也相對比較慢。對於不讓自己鬆懈的type A人格,阿根廷真的是個不錯的棲息之地,不過前提是要在適應、學會不抓狂之後!





b-Blue和Sisley的經驗讓我覺得,阿根廷原來跟大陸比較類似,那就是“下班最大”!不像美國和台灣,店家標識幾點關門,就是幾點關門,之後才是店員整理、清潔的時間。其實就是對工作時間的認知不同,一個是店員導向(店員也是人,所以需要下班休息!),一個是顧客導向(老美講的"customer first")。


July 18, 2011

For the love of football! 給我足球,其餘免談!

I'm not stereotyping when I say Argentineans are football fanatics, to the point that watching an important match trumps appearing professional at work! On a visit to a local Home Depot-like store called Easy, we didn't get any service for the duration of the Copa America quarterfinal between Argentina and Uruguay as all the staff tuned into the live broadcast en masse. Just another day in Argentina!


July 12, 2011

Third-world country?

Before and since I have arrived in Argentina, no fewer than four locals have stated matter of factly that Argentina is a third-world country. At first it made me panic I made a mistake in choosing Argentina over arguably safer Spanish-speaking countries like Spain, but in recent weeks I've just come to see it as an acceptance of reality - it is what is is!

Today I witnessed a robbery (unarmed) in broad daylight near Retiro, the main train station of Buenos Aires, where a poor bloke was running after three thugs that snatched his backpack. The commotion was certainly hard to miss, but no one made even a small deal of it. From countless incidents I've heard so far, these petty thieves tend to be short, agile, and work in teams - their modest statures work to their advantage by giving standers-by a false sense of security.

It's been eight years since I last picked up an economics textbook, so I'm rusty on the difference between "third-world countries" and "developing countries", but I'm going to venture to say "third-world country" is less politically correct nowadays, whereas "developing country" - with the emphasis it places on an upward trajectory of growth - has a sunnier disposition.

In my earlier post on my disastrous experience with a the world's local bank, I mentioned two peculiar things I want to elaborate on.

First, I pay my rent in U.S. dollars because inflation in the past six months has kicked into high gear, eroding my landlord's side income. This adds to my transaction cost, but my landlord explained he couldn't simply exchange pesos into U.S. dollars because he already maxed out his forex "quota", above which he would receive a visit from Argentine tax authorities. I haven't looked at historical inflation figures, but this would imply a stark uptick from previous levels of 10%-20% a year (CPI, with core inflation being higher), according to a friend's account.

Second, I was surprised to learn that the security guards outside the Chinese restaurants I frequent in China Town aren't private security guards but rather police officers making a buck on the side. Ditto for the dozen or so police officers at HSBC, I assume, but I could be wrong, because HSBC is a conservative financial institution after all?

According to economic theory, income disparity is a reliable indicator of a country's level of development, so by that measure, I'd have to agree with my Argentine friends that bemoaned their country's state of affairs. But where else in the world would you find a country whose national anthem sounds like a tango song in all its glory, broadcast every midnight on the dot and throughout the day, with cab drivers singing along with admirable vigor? How do you measure a country's level of cultural sophistication ?

Cabbies and footballers alike sing the national anthem with flair

July 1, 2011

Adios Expanish...por ahora!

My first five weeks of Spanish immersion classes at Expanish has come to an end! Except for the first week, my teacher Cynthia taught the class almost entirely in Spanish, which has done wonders for my comfort level with hearing a mile-a-minute Spanish.

Thanks to double-digit inflation, Argentina is no longer as cheap as it was back in the heyday of living like a rock star (or tango star) in Buenos Aires, as Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, put it. But it's still good value for money (or as the Chinese say, 高性價比) if you compare it to Spain. For example, some steals in the city of Buenos Aires include:

  • a 20-hour week of language instruction for around US$150, further discounted during the southern hemisphere's winter low season
  • tango lessons for around US$10 an hour
  • a maximum subway/bus fare of US$0.30 - you guessed it, it's subsidized by the government
  • a thin, crustless sandwich for under US$1, a staple of my current diet - comes in ham & cheese, ham & eggs, ham & tomato, etc.

My favorite hangout at Expanish