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

June 27, 2011

High-functioning princess (HFP)

A friend forwarded me an excerpt of a eulogy that the chief of Taiwan's Examination Yuan, Kuan Chung, delivered at his beloved daughter's funeral in May. I cried in the subway when I first read it, and teared up again watching the TV clip of his speech when I got home.

It seems universally acknowledged that the father-daughter bond is something special - terms like "daddy's girl" and "Jewish-American princess“ (JAP) come to mind.

Although Chinese fathers don't tend to be openly affectionate, the few that are, from what I have observed firsthand, are testament to the Chinese saying that fathers and daughters were lovers in their past lives. Not lovers in a Western sense, but lovers in a puritanical sense - certainly celibate, and often pining from afar, as befitting the protocol of dynastic China. And perhaps that's why in their present lives, daughters hold a special place in their fathers' hearts - not a son that's imperative to carry the family name, but a little girl to spoil for spoiling's sake. That's the feeling I got from Kuan Chung's eulogy.

Kuan Chung's daughter by all accounts was the pearl of her father's palm (掌上明珠). What surprised me when all the news stories of her suicide/accident (a fall from her 27th-floor Shanghai apartment) came out, was how talented and independent she was, growing up largely on her own in the U.S. and carving out a film career in the U.K.

Chinese expressions like the ubiquitous four-character idiom can be fun but also excruciatingly difficult to learn for foreigners without the cultural context. The bright-pearl-upon-palm idiom is one such case of lost-in-translation, so for a Western tongue I would substitute it with "high-functioning princess". For my attempt at coining a new term complete with an armchair psychologist's observations, HFPs are often:
  • first-born, so growing up, they basked in the attention of their fathers without any competition from siblings in their formative years
  • attractive, so the pattern they established with their fathers are replicated to some degree in their dating relationships, with the balance of power titling in their favor
  • self-sufficient and usually fiercely independent, these type-A personalities earn the adoration they subconsciously seek
Kuan Chung carrying his favorite photo of his daughter and her remains 
back to Taiwan 

June 22, 2011




我在Buenos Aires市中心的滙豐大樓領錢的時候,在沒有把提款卡取回的情況下就離開了。事後證明不是我沒有取回眼前的提款卡,而是ATM吞了我的卡沒有吐出來還我!(不過我確實是因為前天晚上睡眠不足、精神不濟,才會大意的離開了。)

1. 3點過了5分鐘,不能換錢了(那在我後面還在排隊的40多人是怎樣?)
2. 我是台灣滙豐的客戶,不是阿根廷滙豐的客戶,所以根本不能在這裡換錢。那還是World's Local Bank嗎?




這時候我很努力的控制自己的怒火,對她用英文說:“你們Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation 整層樓沒有半個人可以用英文替我服務嗎?”

她這時候才跟她的主管請示,她主管看到我火冒三丈,於是跟著我去找不會說英文的小姐,總算確定他們有我的提款卡。我緩和了下來,跟她說"Sorry about that, I was really frustrated." 她說她理解,我也跟她解釋說這在美國和大陸應該不會發生,在台灣更不可能發生,所以我才會反應這麼大。她說美國和大陸應該也會公事公辦,但她去過台灣,知道台灣人真的比較有人情味、可能會幫忙。







1. 我因為這件事跟滙豐耗到沒時間吃飯、氣到沒胃口,順便減肥。

2. 50、60坪大的滙豐大樓一樓,至少有10名警察(不是保全)站崗,讓我意識到阿根廷的治安真的不太好,而我的本地台灣人朋友Martin說現在局勢不太穩定,昨晚電視就播了上一次軍變的紀錄片,好似事件又要重演。(我還因為覺得這個警察多到快跟客人一樣多的畫面太經典,偷偷拍了一張相,但被發現、警察小姐要求我洗掉所有在滙豐拍的照才讓我走。)

3. 阿根廷法律禁止人民在銀行裡使用手機,我想不透,應該又跟治安有關係吧。

4. 阿根廷服務的速度我不敢領教,我大概算了一下,40個客人,有8個人服務,但我仍然排了50分鐘的隊,等於一個人的作業時間大概是10分鐘,我的天啊~不過跟大陸有的比哦!

June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day!

While it's Father's Day in the West today, I thought I'd share an observation on how Argentines dote on their kids. Parents anywhere love their children, but parents here are certainly not afraid to show/flaunt it!

As I understand it, inflation here is creeping towards the "out-of-control" direction yet again and the middle class is shrinking fast. A typical Chinese parent in this case would be saving for college tuition at breakneck speed, and even without the threat of an impending economic "reboot" every 10 years, I don't know any Chinese parents that buy designer clothes for their toddlers. Are we frugal or prudent?

I'm sure I'm stereotyping, but my guess of the Argetine psyche is, doomsday fears are no reason to stop spoiling your children with an occasional trip to a pelotero (children's playhouse with a pool of colorful balls to dive into) and dressing them in adorable upscale children's clothes for a special occasion.

Of all the countries I've been to so far, Argentina has the highest density of children's play facilities and clothing stores by far - it's a great place to grow up! Imagine peloteros almost as common as cafes (albeit in a nice part of town) and children's clothing labels occupying a fourth of all clothing stores in a mall - not the case in Asia or the U.S., right?

Andreas, Charlie, Ewan, Seb - doesn't this look like a great place to bounce around in for a few hours?

June 8, 2011



比較細膩、難以解釋的原因,是西班牙文帶給我的驚艷。我多年來訂閱A.Word.A.Day (AWAD)的觀察是,英文字彙的多數字根都可以追溯至拉丁文,而雖然拉丁文已經作古,但它的精髓仍然在西班牙文裡延續下去。


還有一個例子就是阿根廷計程車司機最愛問的"A qué te dedicas?" 。西班牙文和英文的相似度不低,"dedicas"如同英文的"dedicate",所以計程車司機問得是一個簡單的問題(你從事什麼職業?),但表達的方式別帶意境(你的一生,致力/奉獻於什麼?)。

還有一個簡單明了的西班牙文常用字,就是"tranquila/tranquilo"我每次聽到這個字,腦子裡都會浮現"tranquil"的湖面的畫面。當有人對你說"tranquila"的時候,氣焰不立刻緩和下來都難吧!不像有人用英文叫你"calm down",只會更氣吧!


June 3, 2011

Ice cream heaven

I bought a half kilo of ice cream and gelato today to celebrate the return of my sense of taste after a bad bout of the flu. The best Italian ice cream in town set me back by a whopping 43 pesos (US$10)!

Frutiera (strawberry, peach, orange), banana, mango,
and a complimentary sampling of apple

While ostensibly about ice cream, this post could also be aptly titled "Latin men heaven".

At the ice cream parlor, a 6' 2'' footballer-lookalike opened the door for me, and not because I was looking hot myself! Two strapping grown men eating ice cream together in public, and to open the door for me on my worst-looking day ever (sans make-up, in glasses, sneakers) - what is there not to love about Latin men?

Footballer-lookalike is in white and shades on the 
lower right-hand corner

June 2, 2011






P.S. 我自作聰明把milanesa的豬肉薄片放到烤箱裡烤,但意外的發現烤乾後有牛肉乾的嚼勁!

Bilingual it is!

I was debating the merits of writing a travel blog in English or Chinese, when I came across this most-emailed New York Times article The Bilingual Advantage. Most of my friends are English-speakers, and a significant subset of them are bilingual in Chinese.

As cognitive neuroscientist Ellen Bialystok points out, bilingualism sharpens the mind. In this spirit, I have decided to write my travel blog in both languages as they pop up - depending on what's relevant in the moment.

This decision also saved me from procrastinating further on documenting my time in Argentina, which started on May 23. A day-by-day play of my life here would be overindulgent on my part and a bore for you, so I'll use my best judgment on interesting, beautiful, bizarre, or mouth-watering things!

Thank you for being a friend and showing an interest in my travels - it makes me feel less alone at the other end of the world.

First day in Argentina, with the Rio de la Plata (Silver River) and Buenos Aires coastline