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August, 2008:

Praying fervently for a connection…broadband, that is…

This morning I am praying fervently to the gods of Cablevision that they will shine their love down upon me & send me a technician to fix our internet & cable TV, which have now officially been non-functional for one full week. At this point, it is not even as much about having the TV & internet connection, as it is about me not having to call Cablevision and have another awkward conversation in Spanish regarding what my problem is, where the h*ll is the technician, why did I sit at home for 4 hours today if he wasn’t going to come, seriously you don’t have another technician available until 3 days from now, etc. etc.  I take some solace in the fact that perhaps I at least brightened the Cablevision operator’s day with the humor of listening to someone trying to get angry in a language they don’t know very well, interspersing anger and vitriol with apologies for using the wrong verb tense.

In my mind, I imagine the Cablevision gods to be slow, dull, fatted calves, which is why I feel this photo is appropriate for how I am occupying half of my day today.

Waiting not-so-patiently for a demon from Cablevision

Waiting not-so-patiently for a demon from Cablevision

Lucha Libre: I may become a regular

Okay, okay, I realize that I have taken a short break from my promised regular blog updates… My apologies to all my faithful readers (both of you??), and I will try to get things back in gear!!  I figured what better way to do that, than via a post about LUCHA LIBRE!!!  For those of you not familiar, Lucha Libre is basically the Mexican version of pro wrestling, only perhaps a bit more acrobatic. AND, the majority of the wrestlers (luchadores) wear masks (mascaras) that cover their entire head.

Flyer for our Lucha Libre match

Flyer for our Lucha Libre match

Attending a fight was definitely on my “Mexico City To-Do List”, but to be honest, I hadn’t made it a top priority. Luckily, one of our friends in our apartment building, Mark, is a die-hard fan (and by “die-hard”, I mean, “knew several luchador names & could identify their mascaras“). Last night Mark convinced us that instead of sitting at home without functioning TV or internet & hating Cablevision (our TV/internet provider) with the hatred of a thousand burning flames, a better idea would be to attend a Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre event. Which, for those of you not in the know, is only the world’s oldest existing pro wrestling organization. Durr.

In the spirit of Lucha Libre, we hopped in a libre taxi (our resolve partially strengthened by Mark being a native Spanish speaker & hence hopefully reducing our chances of being tagged as moron gringos waiting to be mugged/express kidnapped) and headed down to the Arena Mexico.

So many mascaras! So little time!

So many mascaras! So little time!

Tickets were a mere $10 each for 8th row seats near the ring on a Tuesday (we’d been told close seats are KEY for this). We were dealt a momentary blow when the security folks at the entrance confiscated both Mark & John’s cameras, leaving us unable to photograph the wild times inside. (Note to self: either bring a cell phone with a camera [ok] or hide camera in crotch area or bra; security people did not seem very interested in doing a thorough search.) However, we quickly recovered, found our seats, and were quickly overwhelmed by vendors offering anything from $2.50 cups of beer (apparently beer is a rip at Mexican sporting events too), to popcorn with hot sauce packets, to big bags of chips doused with hot sauce, to what seemed to be fruit cups ala Del Monte, to a variety of foods I couldn’t identify. We stuck with beer & popcorn.

Mark & John get ready to crack some skulls

Mark & John get ready to crack some skulls

The matches themselves were great/hilarious. Very acrobatic with lots of aerial moves. Brilliant masks and outfits. Even jumps off of the ropes onto the ground outside the ring. A few of the animal-themed highlights were el Tigre Blanco (the White Tiger) with tiger stripes on all his clothes & fur on his mask, and the Blue Panther, whose blue-paw-print speckled tights were vaguely reminiscent of my junior high school mascot (go Barr Bulldogs!!), except for the fact that he seemed to be wearing an adult diaper over them. The other two I found most amusing were Alex Koslov (“The Russian”), who elicited swoons from all the ladies  in the crowd because he was the first fighter who looked ripped (i.e. no backfat/beer belly), and Maximo, the “gay luchador”, who came out wearing some sort of one-shouldered leotard number with a fringey skirt. Maximo shrieked whenever he was hit & added the constant threat of kissing/inappropriately touching his opponents. He had the entire crowd chanting “beso, beso” (kiss, kiss).  Check out an entertaining video of his antics courtesy blog Blabbeando here or a photo here.

In summary, a Lucha Libre match is definitely worth a visit; the venue felt surprisingly safe, with attendees ranging in age from kids through grandmas, who happened to have some of the funniest/most vulgar chants from the stands. Finally got our cameras back outside the venue, so we stocked up on merchandise & took some key photos of Mark & John looking tough. And as penance for not updating my blog for two weeks, I am even posting one of me in our newly purchased mascara. The things I do for you people.

Wait for my soon-to-be-announced pro wrestling debut. My stage name will be "White Molasses"

Wait for my soon-to-be-announced pro wrestling debut. My stage name will be "White Molasses"

The MBA countdown has officially begun…

I officially survived the first 10 days of my MBA. I think it may have been a bit more focused on drinking/dancing than I can anticipate the rest of program being, but hey, it’s all about balance, right? :)

We have been busy studying allll night

We have been busy studying allll night

The orientation & initial classes at Thunderbird all went really well, and gave a promising indication of things to come. While it would be nice to be there in person with the professors vs. watching them over live broadcasts, I think that with the combination of the onsite facilitators (either a professor themselves or a Tbird alum who’s an expert in that field) and interesting/experienced/entertaining classmates (44, I believe, at my site in Santa Fe), it should make for a solid program! I’m also interested to get more of the Latin American perspective on these business issues. For instance, one of our first lectures was regarding ethics– a key focus of education at Thunderbird, as per its Oath of Honor. There were numerous interesting perspectives from students who run into ethical challenges on a regular basis, particularly in countries where small (or not-so-small) bribes are quite common as a means of doing business. Anyway, plenty to learn about before graduation on JUNE 18, 2010!!!  (not that I am counting)

Outside of the classroom, I got to spend time with dozens of fascinating people, learning all sort of fun tidbits. A few highlights–

  1. Mexicans love ‘gobbler photos’ (oh, how I wish I could remember the term in Spanish), where you gather your friends in a circle, set the timer on the camera & put it on the floor, and then it takes a picture highlighting everyone’s 3 chins. I can see why this flattering camera angle would be so popular.
  2. Pisco is a magical liquor created in Peru made by distilling recently fermented grapes, and there are two kinds– aromatic and non-aromatic– with an alcohol content between 38-48%.
  3. I need to learn the words to the most popular a) mariachi band songs, b) traditional Mexican songs, and c) Mexican pop hits ASAP.

    Leading the crowd in some mariachi band classics...

    Leading the crowd in some mariachi band classics...

    These are the songs that get played right before the bar closes (or when the mariachi band visits) that EVERYONE knows the words to, that cause everyone to put arms around each others’ shoulders, swaying/stumbling in unison while belting out the lyrics. If you do not know the words when these songs come on, you can try just mumbling things, but the real Mexicans will KNOW that you are faking it.

  4. Everyone kisses each other on the cheek when meeting/departing, and if you forget this, you will create awkward moments as people hover near your face waiting for you to remember that Latin Americans are not as socially frigid as Americans are.

  5. One of my classmates recounted what I found to be a hilarious story (from what I could understand in Spanish), about how excited she got when reading through our agenda for the week at Thunderbird. She came across one evening that was allocated entirely for a “Desert Survival” simulation (one of those “your plane crashes in the desert with only 5 toothbrushes, a bottle of engine oil, and a box of 17 honeybees; what do you do” teambuilding exercises).  However, she initially translated it as 3 hours of “Dessert Survival”. Although she wasn’t certain what tasks could possibly be involved in surviving three hours of desserts, as a woman five months pregnant, she was confident she was up to the challenge. :)

  6. For those of you who thought the Macarena died out in the late 90’s, FYI–apparently dancing to the Macarena is not only still socially acceptable, but encouraged.

  7. There are kind people out there who will take pity on you and correct you when you make mistakes speaking your 2nd-grade-level Spanish.

  8. Don’t profess that you’ve “been wanting to learn how to dance to Mexican/Latin music” to a large Mexican guy who outweighs you unless you want to learn how to dance to Mexican/Latin music very close together with slightly inappropriate hand placement.

    Minimum of 8 guys needed for grill-monitoring

    Minimum of 8 guys needed for grill-monitoring

  9. The need for all the men at a barbecue to stand around the grill & monitor the meat exists in all cultures.

  10. Class presidential campaigns in your mid-twenties & thirties cause the same amount of stress, rampant gossip, & social drama that they did back in high school.

  11. All cultures enjoy learning gang signs of other cultures.

    Go Bloods, Midwest, and uh, Fighting Bears?

    Go Bloods, Midwest, and uh, Fighting Bears?

That’s all that leaps to mind for the moment, but I will try to add other key lessons-learned as I recall them…

An Update from Arizona

A brief note for anyone interested– two major milestones reached last week! 1) I got a job offer! 2) I started my MBA program!  All in less than one month in Mexico; vast progress in my mind. :)  Certainly a dramatic improvement from the options to occupy my time that were bandied about among my friends when I told them about our impending relocation to Mexico City…  Most suggestions focused on either child rearing or drinking large amounts of tequila (in either straight or margarita form).  And while both are valid ideas in their own way, I figure the job/MBA may be the best option for the near future…

Assuming all the work visas magically fall into place, I will be working at (drum roll please…….) Texas Instruments! Yes, some of you may recognize this company as the place where I have also spent the previous 7 years (+ 3 summers) of my life…and I’m back for more. :) Only I will be experiencing a slight reincarnation, from sales into marketing, as well as another minor change– English into Spanish. Should definitely be an exciting challenge!

On the school front, I began the “Global MBA for Latin American Managers” program on Friday (08-08-08), a joint degree from Thunderbird School of Global Management (Glendale, Arizona) and Tec de Monterrey (Monterrey, Mexico). Some of you may be thinking, “Latin American Manager? Aren’t you from Nebraska?”  And yes, this is a valid point which I have addressed several times this week. In a nutshell, I’ve been wanting to get MBA, I want to live/work overseas, I find international business really interesting, the classes are in English, and this 2-year weekends-only program aligns perfectly with John’s assignment at the Embassy in Mexico. The program begins with a 10-day orientation at Thunderbird in Arizona. I’ll be attending classes with 40+ students in Santa Fe (a suburb of Mexico City) where we’ll interact with local facilitators, and the lectures will be broadcast live from professors at either Thundrbird or Tec. We have a week-long trip overseas in the middle of the program, and then bookend it with another week at Thunderbird just prior to graduation.

In case an MBA was not challenge enough, however, note that I am joined by 178 other students, the vaaaast majority of whom are indeed native Latin Americans & all of whom are fluent Spanish speakers. And then there is Julie, the awkwardly tall girl who speaks Spanish like a 2nd grader (and a probably a 2nd grader who’s in the slooow reading group). And while the official language of the classes may be English, you can bet that the official language of the Thunderbird pub during GMBA week is not. :) Because of this, I was both excited and slightly terrified about the 10-day orientation, and had fleeting visions of me sitting alone in my dorm room reading my “Breaking Out of Beginners’ Spanish” book while everyone else was out fluently debating the merits of various tequilas and salsa dancing for hours on end.

I am pleased to report that although there has been plenty of salsa dancing & drinking, every fellow student that I have met so far has been incredibly friendly & patient with me & my Spanglish and I am having a fantastic time. My goal is to be fluent by the time after our two year stint in Mexico, and all my newfound MBA cohorts will certainly help!!! And let the record show, I even gave in to pressure to attempt to salsa or merengue or something the other night. While I am confident that I looked like a moron & was only out there for about 2 songs, maybe this will inspire me to try again? 

Maybe. And maybe someday I will also understand more than 50% of a conversation outside of class… :)

When security companies show off

Properties in our neighborhood here in Mexico City are heavily secured, to say the least. Almost all have high walls/gates of some sort. Many have manned guard shacks or at least a guard window. The more innovative have decorative borders of electric fences, concertina wire, or shards of glass bottles/etc. jabbed into cement on the tops of their walls. Point being, most all of the residences put out a definite “Don’t screw with me” vibe.

Then you have this place. When you walk by the entryway, you can almost hear the glass doors shouting, “Come on! Just try to break me! I bet you think you can break glass real easy, don’t you, tough guy? Well come on then! Give it a shot!”

[insert witty caption about 'those who live in glass houses' here]
[insert witty caption about ‘those who live in glass houses’ here]
Don’t get me wrong, structural engineers; I am sure these are like, totally unbreakable, dude. All I’m saying is that if I was a felon & was sussing out an entry gate to ram with my ’78 VW Bug, I would definitely pick glass over steel.

Saturday in San Angel

lovely greenery in San Angel

lovely greenery in San Angel

We set our alarms for 7:30 AM this past Saturday, in a burst of inspiration that those of you know me, know is reserved only for EXPLORING (especially when that exploring may involve shopping). Instead of taking the easy option of a taxi, we opted for the double whammy of public transit: a pesero + the Metrobus.  It took us a little under an hour to get down to San Angel, a small colonial village from the 17th century filled with cobblestone streets and lovely scenery. The main draw here is Bazar Sabado, a unique arts & crafts market that is set up every Saturday around Plaza San Jacinto. We’d heard that things get going around 10AM, so we got there a bit earlier to observe the preparation & have a lovely cappuccino outdoors on the plaza. As it turned out, 10AM was still a bit on the early side, but as a bonus, we had some time to peruse leisurely before too many loud Americans showed up. (and boy are we loud)

The puppeteer and the blanketman both prepare for a busy day of sales

The puppeteer and the blanketman both prepare for a busy day of sales

Refuting many a woman's theory that you could never be sad with that many purses

Refuting many a woman's theory that you could never be sad with that many purses

   

   

The original Bazar Sabado market is in a stone building along the plaza, with a lovely open-air restaurant in the middle (you can sit-down for a buffet- ~$135 pesos for breakfast, ~$220 pesos for lunch- or just grab a quesadilla from the quesadilla-making section for a mere $20 pesos). There were a number of stalls with some lovely jewelry inside, and it was all I could do to hold strong against their siren call. I decided it best not to overcommit at the first arts market we visited in Mexico, and of course immediately regretted not buying a new silver ring for a mere $40 as soon as we left. Apparently the building holds some of the higher end merchants, but there are three other areas of vendor spill-over: the center of Plaza San Jacinto, a plaza just to the northwest (west of Bazar Sabado), and another plaza at the intersection of Madera/Revolucion that you pass walking up from Insurgentes. Hopefully a few photos will better summarize some visual highlights, rather than my wordy descriptions!

the restaurant in the center of Bazar Sabado

the restaurant in the center of Bazar Sabado

...redefining the term "staring with their beady little eyes"...

...redefining the term "staring with their beady little eyes"...

 
 
 
Gorgeous appliqued fabrics for sale

Gorgeous appliqued fabrics for sale

All the wicker baskets a girl could ask for

All the wicker baskets a girl could ask for

Vibrantly colored weavings

Vibrantly colored weavings

Dia de los Muertos figurines

Dia de los Muertos figurines

Good to see that crass personal decor is not unique to America. I think the top gem is the "There's no danger; I'm sterile" pin.

Good to see that crass personal decor is not unique to America. I think the top gem is the "There's no danger; I'm sterile" pin.

Just one display of what will surely be my downfall in Mexico: an abundance of glassware, and BLUE (my favorite color) glassware at that.

Just one display of what will surely be my downfall in Mexico: an abundance of glassware, and BLUE (my favorite color) glassware at that.

 
How to get to San Angel & Bazar Sabado:  Take the Metrobus down Insurgentes Sur to the “La Bombilla” stop. Disembark & go left across the street; continue straight, walking up Avenida La Paz. Cross another busy street (Avenida Revolucion) & walk up Madero to Plaza San Jacinto. There’s a tiny coffee shop almost immediately on your right when you hit the plaza, in the event you arrive early & need a coffee/cappuccino to kick-start your day.

Public transport in Mexico City: overall, thumbs up

In hopes of someday helping a visitor to Mexico City, here’s my three-weeks-in assessment of the public transit options around here. Positives: plentiful & very cheap. Negatives: busy & usually warm. Major caveat: I have not yet tried the Metro/Metrobus during rush hour on a week day (7-9AM, 6-9PM), and don’t know that I would rush to do so… My assumption is it will closely emulate a can of sardines in an oven.

The Metro is not actually as confusing as this map looks

The Metro is not actually as confusing as this map looks

Mexico City Metro: A ticket to go anywhere in the network is $2 pesos (about 20 cents), dirt cheap. Purchase little paper tickets from the manned windows inside the station. The stations I’ve been in thus far have been very clean & well lit, and the trains have been the same. Both have similarly been pretty warm (not stifling, but I was definitely getting my sweat on). Everything is really well marked, and multi-line stations have plenty of signage (directing you towards the last station on the Metro line, so make a note-to-self of the final station on the line that you’re looking for). During the week, the first car on each train is set aside for “women & children only”, a nice option for ladies traveling solo.

  • Act like a local by: putting your metro ticket into the turnstile upside down (black strip up) or it won’t work.
  • Interesting facts: the Metro wasn’t damaged by the 8.1-scale 1985 earthquake, because its structures are rectangles rather than arches…. each station has a distinctive logo as well as a name, because the illiteracy rate was so high when it was first built (1969)

Metrobus: Almost as hot of a bargain, at $4.50 pesos per ride. However, there’s an $8 peso ‘deposit’ for the plastic, rechargable Metrobus card, so it actually costs you $12.50. This extended bus has one route: its own lane running north/south down the median of a lengthy portion of Avenida Insurgentes (aka “the longest urban avenue in the world”). It’s handy for getting down to spots like San Angel & UNAM. Most stops are named after the cross street that intersects Insurgentes, but a few are named after other landmarks, etc., so take a look at a map in advance. Buy tickets at machines outside of the turnstiles at the stations.

  • Act like a local by: as soon as the machine spits out your plastic card, stick it back in the slot above to actually charge it with $$.
  • Interesting facts: the Metrobus replaced 372 other buses when it opened in 2005…. it carries over 260,000 passengers daily 
Transit + circus ride all in one

Transit + circus ride all in one

Peseros/Micros: I have yet to find a website with a secret decoder ring for these micro-buses/VW buses that roam the streets of Mexico City. These puppies range in appearance from something like the one at the right to much sketchier looking ones. They generally cost $3 or $4 pesos, depending upon the route/quality of the bus, and you just pay the driver when you board. They have a fixed route, going towards the destination posted on their windshield. The peseros will pick up any passengers that flag them down along their route, so they can be a bit slow.

  • Act like a local by: riding on these, period. And, by pressing the red button near the back door to indicate you want to get off at the next street.
  • Interesting facts: if you sit in the very back seats, you will be in for the jostling of your life & are virtually guaranteed to get airborne, courtesy Mexico City’s many potholes….the peseros got their name because they originally cost only $1 peso per ride
John was excited by this pesero whose driver is apparently a Vikings fan

John was excited by this pesero whose driver is apparently a Vikings fan

Taxis: Besides “don’t drink the water”, the other best known advice about Mexico City is “don’t take the libre taxis”. There are basically two types of taxis: the libre taxis (often -but not exclusively- green/white VW bugs or red/white), and the sitio radio taxis (some will say sitio on the side, but others are unmarked). In a nutshell, you can hail the libre taxis on the street & they are cheaper, but are more dangerous. The sitio taxis can only be hailed at a sitio taxi stand or by calling the sitio taxi dispatcher on the phone; they cost more but are safer. Libre cabs use meters, whereas some sitios have meters, but others have a fixed price between two points which you should confirm as soon as you get in the cab.

The “express kidnappings” you may have heard about in Mexico City (where thugs jump into the taxi with you, rob you & take you to various ATMs to empty out your bank account) seem to only happen in libre taxis; according to the US Embassy, they don’t have any documented incidences of people having problems in sitio cabs. Anecodtally, some folks who have lived here for a while take libres if a) it’s daytime, b) they are with multiple people, and c) they know the route the taxi should be taking. Barring that, you’ll be better off keeping the phone numbers of a few sitio stands with you & calling them when you need a taxi; make sure you ask for a description of the car/license # when you call, so you know you’re getting into the taxi you called. (Sometimes libres monitor the radio transmissions of the sitios and try to beat the sitios to their fare.)

  • Act like a local by: knowing exactly where you’re going (bring a map into the cab if it’s somewhere a bit off the beaten track) and speaking enough Spanish to the cab drivers to not get ripped off
  • Interesting facts: there are over 250,000 registered cabs in Mexico City… the sitios seem to be less risky because their drivers make more money (higher fares) & are vaguely monitored (they rent space at the taxi stand where they lurk) 

Ok that’s all my hot insight for the time being, but will add more commentary as I experience it!

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