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Embassy Interactions

Obesity linked to Snickers consumption at gym

My fellow blogger Burro Hall has previously mentioned the ongoing battle between Mexico and the United States over which country can achieve higher obesity rates. Today I discovered another tactic at use in this war. However, it was observed at the US Embassy Fitness Center (patronized by US & Mexican citizens alike), so this tactic seems to be supporting both sides in this obesity quest…

Check out the section I’ve outlined in red below, from the Fitness Center Rules of Operations:

Snickers are required?!? If you're wondering why my gym-going has increased so much, there's your answer in a nutshell. ;)

Ignoring the absence of rules 2, 3, 10, 11, and 13, focus in there on #4: “Proper dress is required, clothes and Snickers at all times.”¬† Snickers are required at all times in the gym?? No wonder I haven’t made much progress losing weight here…

What the Embassy gym might look like if rules were carefully followed...

Jeez, am I getting tired of seeing THIS guy at the gym every morning. Put a shirt on, will you!!

* Amazing image quality courtesy the winning combo of Microsoft Clip Art and Microsoft Paint, every graphic designer’s dream team ūüėČ

P.S. To avoid the inevitable discussion with some killjoy out there, yes, I realize it is supposed to say “sneakers”, not “Snickers”. *Sigh.*

http://www.snickers.com/default.htm

Best time of day in Mexico City: early morning

The last three days, I’ve been test-running a new morning routine here in Mexico City. The reason for this was the expiration of our Gold’s Gym Polanco membership, which prompted us to reflect on a few questions before we extended it for our last couple months here:

  • They want to charge each of us $1800 pesos for 1 month or $4000 for 3 months?? Am I paying for someone to lift the weights for me?
  • Is there any way we can justify paying >$100 USD a month for a gym here? No.
  • How many people in spandex can I handle looking at during the course of one gym visit?
  • If you can drink a cappuccino and talk on your cell phone during a workout, is it really a workout?
  • What kind of gym has a cafe area that occasionally cooks meat?? (John about yakked one afternoon after a hard workout from the smell of sausage wafting through the gym)

After my return from Nebraska, John and I decided to pursue a more economic option: working out at the US Embassy gym. This costs $50 USD for a 25-visit card, and $100 USD for the two of us sounded much more compelling than Gold’s Gym’s ~$576 USD for 2 months of watching waifs drink coffee while doing side bends.

We get to the Embassy around 7AM, and I depart for home about 8AM. It’s about 2.5 miles back to our house, which gives me about a ~50 minute walk in the morning, right as Mexico City starts pulsating with life.

I realize an hour-long walk in the morning is a luxury that will soon be coming to an end once I have a job (God willing) back in the DC area in November. That could be why I am particularly savoring this time of my day. But I also think the 8:00-9:00AM time frame is a great time to experience Mexico City– tourists, take note!

To be clear, life in Mexico City certainly begins well before 8AM. People in on the street-side of our apartment building have complained of being awoken by the sound of vigorous sweeping at 5AM. For workers who transit in from the far-reaches of DF’s suburbs, their 1-2 hour commute via buses & the metro begins well before sunrise. But from the perspective of action on the streets (i.e. number of vendors set up selling food, number of men and women in suits heading toward work, level of mind-blowing traffic), I feel like it really hits its stride between 8 and 9.

What are the highlights of a walk during this magical hour in Mexico City’s mornings, you may wonder?

  • The food street vendors are in full effect. Tables/carts/stands are set up anywhere with sufficient foot traffic, selling atole, tamales, churros, pan dulce (sweet breads), and sometimes sandwiches. Another type of stand is more fruit focused, selling freshly-squeezed orange juice, other juices, and chopped-up fresh fruit to-go. Some taco vendors are even going at it to satisfy those with a craving for a good breakfast taco al pastor. I’ve been opting for atole (figuring it to be the more healthy option than made-with-lard tamales….even though a tamale verde is the best thing ever). In three days, I’ve stopped by three different atole stands and sampled flavors of chocolate, nuez (pecan), and arroz (rice). Chocolate was very similar to hot chocolate, arroz was like a runny rice pudding with a few rice grains as a surprise at the bottom, and nuez (my favorite) was like drinking liquified pecans. Mmmmm.
  • The weather is perfect. In the morning, temperatures are in the upper-50’s/low 60’s. The sun is usually out, but still slowly sliding in from its ~7AM rise time… no risk of it beating down on you from overhead. It is the rainy season right now, so walking in the late afternoons/evenings puts you at high risk for getting caught in a downpour. However in the AM, the odds of rain emerging out of nowhere are slim– you’ll generally know when you get up if a rainy morning is in store.
  • A popular street vendor stove design in Mexico City

    Other vendors are busily preparing for their day. You’ll see many a pack of gum being artfully laid out at the candy stands throughout town. I passed one woman just arriving to her final destination, whose hand truck was loaded to bear with everything she needed for a day of selling tlacoyos and tacos cooked on a stove like the one at the right topped with a massive metal disc. Of course you may also see vendors still en route to work, such as the gentleman below.

This man would seem to have a deathwish, as he pushes his soon-to-be street stand between lanes of oncoming traffic... but no one bats an eye. I would peg him as a gum/candy vendor based on his cart design, but it is hard to know with certainty from afar.

  • Smugly observing street after heavily-clogged street, and being happy that you are not stuck in that traffic. Sure, you’re breathing a little exhaust…. But you will quickly learn which streets have standstill traffic with lots of peseros (the buses) blowing smoke in your face, and which routes seem to be less stinky.

As taken overlooking the Circuito Interior this morning about 8:15AM. This really isn't that impressive of a photo in the grand scheme of Mexico City traffic, but I was still happy to be walking rather than in one of those cars.

  • There is no debate over the appropriate greeting at this hour. To explain– if you are the type of person who says hello to passers-by and you are out and about in Mexico City between a) 12-2PM or b) 6-9PM, I feel like these times are a bit of a greeting no-man’s-land. I operate by the principles of “after noon = buenas tardes” and “dusk = buenas noches”. These principles vary amongst Mexicans– some feel it’s not buenas tardes until after lunch, and not buenas noches until it is pitch-black dark outside. I will offer up a buenas noches to a stranger, get a buenas tardes in return, and then panic/feel like I need to look at my watch. POINT BEING: between 8 and 9AM, there is no debate. Buenos dias all the way, people. And just trust me– when everyone you pass by is staring at you awkwardly and you feel obligated to offer a greeting just to break the tension, it’s great to be in the definite buenos dias zone.

For anyone interested in maximizing their food-eating/people-watching experiences on a morning stroll in Mexico City, there are about a zillion cool streets on which to do this. But take note– sometimes the best ones aren’t the obvious ones, like Reforma. Instead, I found one street off Reforma to be much more bustling (Rio Lerma) & have more vendors lurking at its intersections as well. Metro stops are an obvious tip-off for lots of morning activity– the Polanco metro stop on Horacio offers plenty of excitement within a several block radius. :)

If you’re in Mexico City and not yet had a leisurely morning walk that involves a street breakfast of a tamale inside a bun (torta de tamal… touch me, carb overload) accompanied by a cup of atole, you don’t know what you’re missing. And if you’re not confident in your atole-discovery skills, email Lesley and she’ll walk you through it on a street food tour! Enjoy. :)

Call for Earth Day vendors in Mexico City

I want to take advantage of the ol’ blog today to send out a request on behalf of the US Embassy in Mexico City.

The US Embassy is celebrating Earth Day by holding a green bazaar on April 22 in the Embassy compound.  They are looking for vendors (food, jewelry, clothing, anything!) who are green or trying very hard to go green.  If you’re interested in setting up a table at the bazaar and having your goods perused by several hundred American and Mexicans, please contact  mexicocityCAC@state.gov with a short description of why you’re a green vendor (organic materials, no packaging, low carbon impact, etc.) and what you would be selling.

The Embassy is located on Reforma near the Angel monument in Mexico City.

If you have any favorite earth-friendly vendors in Mexico City or nearby who might be interested in joining in this event, please pass this request along to them!¬† Please find my 3rd-grade Spanish translation below. ūüėČ

*************************

La Embajada de los Estados Unidos en la Ciudad de M√©xico esta celebrando El D√≠a de la Tierra, 22 de abril, con una “bazaar verde” ubicado en el complejo de la Embajada. Est√° buscando vendedores (de comida, joyas, ropa, lo que quieras!) quienes son “verdes” o estan tratando de ser verde. Si tiene inter√©s en tener un stand y tener una audiencia de cientos de estadounidense y mexicanos, por favor mande un correo electronico a mexicocityCAC@state.gov con una descripcion de la razon por la que es un vendedor verde/ecol√≥gico (materiales organicos, no embalaje, impacto de carbono bajo, etc.) y una descripcion de lo que vende. Gracias de antemano por su inter√©s!

Thanks in advance to anyone who can offer any referrals for this event!

Note: image courtesy loftlifemag.com

Chinese Government: Not a fan of Mexicans nor swine flu

I hypothesized that these pigs (spotted on a highway in central Mexico) were perhaps being whisked away to a safehouse, to avoid harm at the hands of any area hypochondriacs...

I hypothesized that these pigs (spotted on a highway in central Mexico) were perhaps being whisked away to a safehouse, to avoid harm at the hands of any area hypochondriacs...

Day 12 of Swine Flu not-quite-as-much Frenzy. John & I returned this afternoon from a fantastic get-away from the hub of the furor, with 2 nights in San Miguel de Allende and 2 more in Guanajuato. (Check out the article I wrote for Inside Mexico regarding our escape here!)¬† Expect a run-down on our trip later this week, though I am including a quick preview to the right…

First, I wanted to give a quick update on one of the more shocking aspects of all the swine flu fallout. As I mentioned in previous posts, I was scheduled to depart this Friday for Beijing, China for an interim trip that is part of my MBA program¬†with Thunderbird/ITESM (basically a combination of company visits + sightseeing). My fellow students and I were all getting a bit suspicious as flights to/from Mexico began getting the axe…¬† Aeromexico’s direct Mexico City-to-Shanghai route was one of the first to go. Nearby Japan implemented a new requirement of visas + medical¬†certificates for all Mexicans¬†entering the country (where previously no visa was required).

On Saturday morning, the MBA program finally announced that the trips for Beijing, Shanghai, and Tokyo were all “postponed” (indefinitely at this point). Although I was obviously disappointed with this turn of events, I think it was definitely for the best, particularly given the news coming out of China over the last few days.

Most of you probably already heard about Friday’s quarantine imposed on the hotel in Hong Kong where a Mexican national was diagnosed with swine flu. While this seems a bit harsh for the ~200 guests¬†& 100 staff members at the hotel, one can perhaps¬†understand their reaction given the none-too-distant bird flu drama. However, China continued to ramp up its response into “bat-shit crazy” mode over the subsequent days.

Saturday morning, my hopeful Beijing trip-mates & I¬†received an email from two of our classmates who had arrived in Beijing (via Los Angeles) early to do an organized¬†tour before the MBA activities. Solely because they showed their Mexican passports, they were set apart to have their temperatures taken (mind you, after a 12 hour flight with no sleep) for a second time. (They had already passed through the infrared camera temperature detectors with no problem.) Despite having no symptoms, they were taken to a Chinese hospital waiting room filled with camera-toting reporters, then to an isolated, filthy hospital room, and then to an old, crappy¬†hotel that had been closed down for their arrival (and not in a good, “we’re expecting royalty” kind of way). They were told that the Chinese authorities wanted them isolated for 7 days.

I had not heard an update on Yamil and Claudia’s status until today, when I saw this article in Reforma. The article elaborates on some additional details (for non-Spanish speakers, I recommend www.freetranslation.com if you want to translate the whole thing) including:

  • they were told they had to either return to Mexico or spend 7 days in the hospital
  • the Chinese authorities at the airport¬†refused their requests for a doctor to examine them at the airport,¬†for a translator, and¬†for a¬†call to¬†the Mexican Embassy
  • they did not want to leave the airport, but were given the “option” of either going to the hospital, or being put in a room full of sick people with all kinds of illnesses
  • the Chinese authorities promised a “quick test” at the hospital, but instead Yamil & Claudia were transferred to the infectious disease unit for 12 hours
  • as of TODAY (Tuesday), they + 8 other Mexicans are still unable to leave the crappy hotel, which is being guarded by police.

If the “Gou Men Hotel” mentioned in the article is the same as the “Guomen Hotel” I found listed in Beijing on Trip Advisor, the one scathing review listed seems to confirm Yamil’s initial comments of “less than desirable” conditions…

Anyway, the thought of “What would happen if I got sick during the trip? Would I be able to get out of China?” certainly had crossed my mind as a concern as the swine flu frenzy built up… but certainly not the thought of “Maybe I could be quarantined for no reason at all.”¬† The other commentary I have heard was that the Chinese authorities were giving “special treatment” to all Mexican nationals, including Mexican nationals who had not been in Mexico for months. No special screenings however for other-country passport holders who had just come from Mexico, nor citizens of other countries with swine flu cases. Which all makes total sense. ūüėõ To that end check out¬†this Reuters article regarding the rapidly deteriorating China/Mexico relationship. Of course China has denied any discrimination towards Mexicans saying its decisions are solely medically based¬†(here it is straight from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs)… you be the judge.

China also made the bold move of sending an airplane today to retrieve nearly 100 Chinese citizens from Mexico City & Tijuana. (Since clearly making them fly on a Mexican airline would be tantamount to a death sentence???)  To be fair, Mexico also sent a plane to Shanghai today to retrieve Mexicans, but that was largely driven by them being quarantined for no reason!!!

Well, more to come on the Mexico/China flu battle. Please send Yamil & Claudia your positive, H1N1 flu-free thoughts & hopes that they manage to escape this horrible quarantine and actually enjoy some of their trip to China, though I’m not sure that will be possible at this point…

¬†In other news, Mexico City is making progress with movie theatres opening tomorrow as well as restaurants¬†(this article in English), despite some confusion over places that serve alcohol possibly not being allowed to open. Additionally, high schools & universities will open on Thursday, and elementary school on May 11th. Let’s hope things keep moving in the right direction!! Now off to bed to dream about my next michelada on the patio of a bar in Polanco…

UPDATE: Yamil & Claudia made it back alive & well yesterday (Wednesday May 6) on the special flight sent over by the Mexican government. They informed me they are recuperating rapidly! Welcome back!!!

Crazy Pig Flu vs. Mexico City: Day 4

As we wrap up Day 4 of Crazy Pig Flu vs. Mexico City and beyond, all is still well here on the Southern front. I have essentially not left our apartment building since Friday night, not so much out of fear as a lack of anywhere to go. As per all of the news, much of Mexico City has been pretty quiet the last few days, with all public events, schools, movie theaters, and a number of restaurants shut down. John did go into work at the Embassy today, but even that was quieter than normal, with the consular section shut down for the week to avoid having ~1600 people a day waiting in close proximity to get a visa. He commented that among the general public, mask-wearing ranged from between 20-50%, frankly not as high as I expected.

OK, I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but these tapabocas (aka face masks) that my husband got today from the Embassy are outrageous. My best analogy: blue post-it notes with dental floss ties. I reckon this prevents the intake of swine flu about as well as a lucha mask, which I may consider purchasing instead. You will note the pug is similarly displeased.

OK, I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but these tapabocas (aka face masks) that my husband got today from the Embassy are outrageous. My best analogy: blue post-it notes with dental floss ties. I reckon this prevents the intake of swine flu about as well as a lucha mask, which I may consider purchasing instead. At least the lucha masks reflect the shape of my face; these masks seem to assume my face is two dimensional. You will note the pug is similarly displeased.

Things took a turn for the apocalyptic around noon today when we also got hit with an earthquake. A cool¬†5.6 on the ol’ Richter Scale, I was initially excited because this was the first earthquake I have actually *felt* during our time in Mexico. The neighborhood we live in is one of the more seismically stable, so until this AM I had been deprived of any earth-shaking excitement. Luckily, no injuries or damage have been reported from this one, so at least it shouldn’t ADD to the general level of panic. That said, I think it is safe to say that most of us are awaiting the plague of locusts or frogs dropping from the sky, just as a bit of icing on the cake to follow our trifecta of druglords, swine-flu, and terremotos.

The CDC announced tonight a recommendation to avoid all non-essential travel to Mexico. What was originally a Mexico City school closure through May 6th, has now become a country-wide closure of all schools. Starbucks has even closed 10 shops in Mexico City & reduced hours of operation of others. You know when even Starbucks is willing to forego a few bucks, things must be tense.

Despite all of these signs of doom, as my friend Joy pointed out, there is so much we don’t know. We keep hearing stats on number of “possible” flu cases in Mexico City & corresponding numbers of deaths that seem to be a disturbingly high percentage. However, few stats seem yet available on how many mild flu cases have been seen or how many cases & deaths are officially, 100% sure, from the swine flu (this A/H1N1 strain). Word this afternoon from the Embassy (working with the CDC who is visiting Mexico at present) was that only 26 cases have *officially* been diagnosed as this strain of swine flu and only 6 of those cases have died.¬† Another article in Reforma (MX City newspaper) tonite stated the¬†number of reported cases have been falling over the¬†past three days. ¬†Argh. Trying to keep up with the stats in a situation like this seems like a lost cause.

 

Thus far, air travel in and out of Mexico has not been impacted. However, many of us here are suspicious as to how long of a reprieve we will have…¬†(especially those of us heading to China¬†on May 8th for her MBA interim trip!!)…¬†The airport in Tokyo is “thermo-screening” arrivals from Mexico to try & detect high body temps. Anecdotal evidence from US airports shows them not even making a cursory glance at incoming passengers as of today. Where is a good middle ground? Does closing borders/airports really help in a situation like this? Arguably no. But realistic assessments can hardly stand in the way of a media stampede over the cliff of reason, eh?
Speaking of over the cliff of reason, I want to let any fans of Jackie, George and Herman know that we are taking excellent care of them, taking every precaution to hide them from the pig-haters that seem to be lurking around every corner these days. (Well, at least Jackie and Herman are protected.) Overprotective, you ask skeptically? Um, hello people, it's called SWINE flu. Who do you think are its most likely victims?? (Note poignantly-titled sheet music book resting above the little dears on our piano.)

Speaking of over the cliff of reason, I want to let any fans of Jackie, George and Herman know that we are taking excellent care of them, taking every precaution to hide them from the pig-haters that seem to be lurking around every corner these days. (Well, at least Jackie and Herman are protected.) Overprotective, you ask skeptically? Um, hello people, it's called SWINE flu. Who do you think are its most likely victims?? (Note poignantly-titled sheet music book resting above the little dears on our piano.)

From a personal perspective, I am more sad than scared at this point, since most of what we’ve heard about this particular influenza strain is that it responds to prompt treatment from drugs like Tamiflu (of which we are assured there is plenty here in Mexico City). The difference in mortality rates between the US and Mexico cases is certainly concerning & curious, but also not inconceivable when one considers the disposable income that your average Mexican has to spend on health care, whether they would choose to spend it on an immediate¬†doctor’s visit based on fairly¬†unremarkable¬†initial symptoms of fever/coughing/lethargy, and how that delay in diagnosis might negatively impact them when it turns out they have a strain of the crazy pig flu. Obviously after the shit-storm of media coverage, me and every other chilango here in D.F. will be sucking down Tamiflu ASAP if we have symptoms even remotely akin to those!

 

At this point, I am more depressed on behalf of Mexico, who needed this media blitz like a hole in the head after months of¬†totally unbiased¬†(ha) “Everyone’s being killed by narcos” coverage. Even if this influenza epidemic dies down over the next week, I fear it will still take a considerable toll on tourism throughout Mexico, since it is not as easy to draw a map showing where viruses don’t do business. Just within Mexico City, the number of businesses on lock-down + the number of parents who can’t go to¬†work (because their children are home from school) will have a crippling economic effect if it continues long term.

To those of you potential travelers with trips coming up this summer, please don’t start making any cancellations yet!! I believe we’ll know a lot more by the end of this week as to whether this will wither out or continue to ramp into pandemic proportions. While obviously I agree with avoiding travel over the next couple weeks, it is hard to make any accurate forecasts beyond that & the CDC/Mexico government needs a few days to sort out the facts from the furor.

Anyway, that is the latest from the new “ground zero”. I will likely venture out of the house tomorrow to purchase groceries for an impromptu birthday-dinner we will host on Wednesday for a fellow “inmate” in our apartment building. This asssuming a) the grocery stores are open, and b) I find a face mask with more protection than blue tissue paper.¬†Over and out from the hot zone!!

¬°Ob√°manos!!!

So we saw him!! Eeeee! Know that I sacrificed the chance for a handshake in favor of “The President is only 4 feet away!!!” photo attempts, realizing that the memory of a handshake would be less effectively conveyed via a blog. ūüėȬ† John almost managed to get a hand in, but was foiled at the last minute by a secret service agent who was pushing his way through the crowd paralleling Obama as he walked along the perimeter shaking hands.

The entrance to the hotel + intimidating warrior.

The entrance to the hotel + intimidating warrior.

The festivities were held at the Presidente InterContinental Mexico¬†Hotel in Polanco, conveniently located within walking distance of our apartment, where Obama spent the night. The area around the hotel had been on near-lock-down for the two prior days, so the walk to the hotel was intriguing as we passed hundreds of armed local police/army (which for whatever reason, doesn’t make me feel particularly “secure” here in Mexico…). One stat¬†we heard was over 3,000 local police were on the scene, but total security was probably well over that between police + army + Secret Service + whatever other organizations were out and about.

Here’s a photo overview of our experience with ¬°Obamanos! ’09, followed by some additional commentary regarding his visit.

We passed dozens of parked buses/trucks/jeeps that had brought in the hundreds of police/army members to secure the area around the hotel. Once you got within a few blocks, all streets were barricaded & heavily armed dudes were hanging out everywhere.

We passed dozens of parked buses/trucks/jeeps that had brought in the hundreds of police/army members to secure the area around the hotel. Many buses were still filled with snoozing police. Once you got within a few blocks, all streets were barricaded & heavily armed dudes were hanging out everywhere.

The barricades directly around the hotel were lined with hopeful Obama-watchers & photographers, all of whom I believe were disappointed by his arrival through the hotel underground parking garage.

The barricades directly around the hotel were lined with hopeful Obama-watchers & photographers, all of whom I believe were disappointed by his arrival through the hotel underground parking garage.

Entering the hotel entailed passing through metal detectors, I'm sure to the delight of any hotel guests who were unfortunate enough to have chosen the Intercontinental for their Thursday night stay.

Entering the hotel entailed passing through metal detectors, I'm sure to the delight of any hotel guests who were unfortunate enough to have chosen the Intercontinental for their Thursday night stay. We also had to turn on all phones & cameras to verify they were real & not secret bombs.

 

Unsurprisingly, we were not the first folks from the Embassy to arrive at the hotel to get in line. Apparently over 800 workers + family members had tickets for the event.

Unsurprisingly, we were not the first folks from the Embassy to arrive at the hotel to get in line. Apparently over 800 workers + family members had tickets for the event.

Our initial point in the *lengthy* line was conveniently next to one of the hotel restaurants, so we were able to have a brief sit.

Our initial point in the *lengthy* line was conveniently next to one of the hotel restaurants, so we were able to have a brief sit.

I was pleased to see one of the Presidential Bomb-Sniffing Dogs on the alert in the hotel lobby.

I was pleased to see one of the Presidential Bomb-Sniffing Dogs on the alert in the hotel lobby.

During our walk to the hotel, a bird made a "deposit" on Mark's arm, which is supposed to signify good luck. This theory was proven tru, as he managed to get a handshake with El Presidente himself.

During our walk to the hotel, a bird made a "deposit" on Mark's arm, which is supposed to signify good luck. This theory was proven true, as Mark managed to get a handshake with El Presidente himself.

As we wound through the hotel in line, we passed this storefront with a security guard MANNEQUIN in the window. I was intrigued as to both a) how many robberies this fake cop deters, and b) why a store selling *property* (arguably something that can not be stolen from your storefront) would feel the need to add this extra layer of highly effective security...

As we wound through the hotel in line, we passed this storefront with a security guard MANNEQUIN in the window. I was intrigued as to both a) how many robberies this fake cop deters, and b) why a store selling *property* (arguably something that can not be stolen from your storefront) would feel the need to add this extra layer of highly effective security...

Finally! We have reached the 2nd set of metal detectors right before entering the official ballroom.

Finally! We have reached the 2nd set of metal detectors right before entering the official ballroom.

Inside the ballroom, we noted two more interesting tidbits. 1) Somebody must have spent *a lot* of hours/dollars on that super-special "Welcome to Mexico" sign in the back... 2) What is the deal with the FIVE American flags vs. ONE shorter Mexican flag on the stage? Are we trying to remind the Mexicans of US dominance (+ height)? This seemed a bit misplaced to me, but perhaps there is a deeper meaning of which I am unaware...

Inside the ballroom, we noted two more interesting tidbits. 1) Somebody must have spent *a lot* of hours/dollars on that super-special "Welcome to Mexico" sign in the back... 2) What is the deal with the FIVE American flags vs. ONE shorter Mexican flag on the stage? Are we trying to remind the Mexicans of US dominance (+ height)? This seemed a bit misplaced to me, but perhaps there is a deeper meaning of which I am unaware...

So we basically stood in that room for 1.5 hours, pressed against all the other embassy employees to get as close to the podium as we could. Rough estimate of number times John & I received comments about how we were lucky to be tall: 27. Number of bitter comments heard about our height from people behind us: 13.

So we basically stood in that room for 1.5 hours, pressed against all the other embassy employees to get as close to the podium as we could. Rough estimate of number times John & I received comments about how we were lucky to be tall: 27. Number of bitter comments heard about our height from people behind us: 13.

Yes!!! Finally Obama arrived!! Here he is waiting while the Chargé de Affairs Leslie Basset gave him a 10-second introduction.

Yes!!! Finally Obama arrived!! Here he is waiting while the Chargé de Affairs Leslie Basset gave him a 10-second introduction (the brevity of which he appreciated).

Obama spoke for about 90 seconds, basically thanking everyone for their service to America. He commented that the use of diplomatic power is just as important as the use of military & economic power. It was perhaps a bit shorter of a speech than we had hoped, but I guess his impending dinner date with Mexican President Calderon *may* have been more important than chatting with us at length...

Obama spoke for about 90 seconds, basically thanking everyone for their service to America. He commented that the use of diplomatic power is just as important as the use of military & economic power. It was perhaps a bit shorter of a speech than we had hoped, but I guess his impending dinner date with Mexican President Calderon *may* have been more important than chatting with us at length...

Then he was ushed over to the left for a photo with all the kids over 6 years old, (who a few Embassy employees had managed to keep entertaining/still for at least an hour-- well done). I trust the official photos are less blurry...

Then he was ushed over to the left for a photo with all the kids over 6 years old, (who a few Embassy employees had managed to keep entertaining/still for at least an hour-- well done). I trust the official photos are less blurry...

Obama was merely feet away from us at this juncture, all the while carefully monitored by Se√Īor Secret Service behind him.

Obama was merely feet away from us at this juncture, all the while carefully monitored by Se√Īor Secret Service behind him.

Another close-up as he made his way along the crowd of raving fans.

Another close-up as he made his way along the crowd of raving fans.

The furor of cameras was intense! This was just before he held two lucky babies (who I guess now will never have leprosy).

The furor of cameras was intense! This was just before he held two lucky babies (who I guess now will never have leprosy).

And like that, our brush with fame was over. Here's John & Sergio on the walk home, flanked by one of the many readily-armed security forces... Definitely doesn't make you nervous in the least... ;)

And like that, our brush with fame was over. Here's John & Sergio on the walk home, flanked by one of the many readily-armed security forces... Definitely doesn't make you nervous in the least... ūüėČ

And so ended ¡Obamanos! 2009. It was a lot of standing & waiting, but it was definitely cool to see our new President in person, who seems like such a normal, down-to-earth, smart guy. Although his talk was very brief, his ease and comfort as a public speaker, ability to think on his feet and to get a quick laugh from the crowd were plainly evident.

For additional photos from the day, check out these photo galleries from El Universal newspaper here in Mexico City: security pics, Obama pics. In general, Mexicans seemed excited about his visit, though most of the press skewed more towards “Thanks for coming but we’re not holding our breath that you’re actually going to do anything for us since you Americans have so many problems back home these days.” One El Universal headline read “Obama abre los brazos pero comprete poco“, or “Obama opens his arms but commits little.”

One of the many current US/Mexico hot topics is the assault weapons ban.¬†Obama¬†essentially told Calderon that he supports it, but lacks the political capital to get¬†it through Congress right now & will instead focus on enforcing existing laws. I¬†am not remotely an expert on gun laws nor am I naive enough to think that the drug cartels wouldn’t get their weapons elsewhere if we made it harder to get them¬†in the US, but reading the spate of recent articles on this topics certainly makes you wonder, “Could it be any EASIER¬†for the narcos to buy¬†assault weapons from US gun shows?” (at gun shows, unlicensed sellers can sell from their “personal collections” to any buyers without a background check).

Anyway, some other random facts from Obama’s visit!

  • When Obama stays overnight on his travels, he is accompanied by over 800 people (Secret Service, White House staff, members of the press, Congressional delegation, etc. etc.)
  • The White House flew down the 2 armored limos, armored SUVs, and multiple (~5) helicopters that Obama was transported in while in Mexico City.
  • Terminal 2 of the Mexico City airport was shutdown for the arrival of Air Force One around 1:30 on Thursday, affecting the departures/arrivals of about 40 flights.
  • El Universal highlighted that “Obama did not walk on any street of Mexico City during his visit.”¬† As though this is a great surprise…¬† If Mexicans thought security in Polanco was crazy for this visit, can you imagine if they tried to coordinate him going for a stroll down Reforma???
  • Alas, no opp for a height-comparison photo, but hopes are high for a return Obama visit during our time here in Mexico City!!!

Membership has its privileges…

…and finally tomorrow, I will get to experience one of those priviledges. Membership in what, you may ask? In the Spouses of US Embassy Employees club. Mind you, this is not an official club. Or really even an unofficial club. If it were, I would envision its membership requirements being something like:

  • an inability to remember the 8,534 acronyms that are the apparent sole means¬†of communication among government workers
  • a passion for superficial chats with innumerable govvie coworkers who you assume will probably have moved away to another embassy before you see them again, causing susbequent awkward conversations when you can’t remember their names
  • a slightly-concerning level of desire for some of America’s finest products that are nowhere to be found in Mexico, i.e. real Saran Wrap, good Chinese take-out, and blueberry muffin mix with the wee can of real blueberries in the box.

Anyway, WHAT is said priviledge of belonging to this non-existent club?? A chance to see Obama tomorrow during his visit to Mexico City!!!!

That’s right; this girl has a ticket for the Visit of President Barack Obama tomorrow afternoon. I am somewhat nervous to write this gloating blog post in advance, for fear of jinxing things & causing it to be cancelled due to something like a flaming tacos al pastor stand collapsing onto his motorcade. However, since I rarely have such cause to gloat, I have decided to risk it anyway.

And here’s the proof!

When I make a scrapbook 30 years from now about our time in Mexico, this is definitely going in there.

When I make a scrapbook 30 years from now about our time in Mexico, this is definitely going in there.

Well, here’s half of the proof for the moment. With all you crazy photoshopping wizards out there, I felt a full ticket photo was unwise at this juncture. While I am not holding out great hope for getting any great pics tomorrow with me + the other 8 bazillion Embassy employees + families + pet dogs all trying to touch Obama’s hand in hopes of him healing our leprosy, I will do my best to get at least something that is blog-worthy.

In a perfect world, there would be a magical scenario in which I would be able to get my SECOND “I’m Taller than the President of the United States” photo. However, I will keep the hope alive until tomorrow afternoon.

OK, a few things here: a) this was BEFORE the Monica incident. b) I was not touched inappropriately, nor requested TO touch inappropriately. c) everyone in the Midwest had hair like this in the 90s. d) yes, this is a photo of a photo.

OK, a few things here: a) this was Clinton BEFORE the Monica incident. b) I was not touched inappropriately, nor requested TO touch inappropriately. c) everyone in the Midwest had hair like this in the 90s. d) yes, this is a photo of a photo.

Christmas Fun with Orphans

Everyone wanted to be the conductor and ring the bell

Everyone wanted to be the conductor and ring the bell

A quick guest-post by John.¬† If you follow Julie’s blog, you no doubt saw me featured as Uncle Sam for the Embassy’s election night party.¬†¬†A total sucker, I was quickly convinced to dress up as Santa for the Ambassador’s annual orphan Christmas party.¬†¬†About 150 kids from a number of orphanages attended, and¬†it was really touching to play a small part in helping give them a fun afternoon.¬†¬†

Race to the death

Race to the death

Everyone was remarkably well-behaved, except for about a dozen boys who Mark and I raced over the big slide…they damn near pulled my pants off trying to beat me!¬† I heard something rip, but fortunately didn’t discover any serious wardrobe malfunction.¬†

Just do that 15 more times!

Just do that 15 more times!

¬†Mark was a hit; the little girl at left was afraid of climbing up the slide, but he got the rowdy boys out of the way, put her on his shoulders, and carried her to the top so she could slide down – once one trip was completed he found himself busy for the next twenty minutes!¬† After lunch there were four different pi√Īatas (so more kids could get a crack); one of the highlights was the candy-gathering tactics.¬†

Post-pi√Īata mayhem!

Post-pi√Īata mayhem!

Once the pi√Īata burst, there was a HUGE dogpile; most kids opted for the “leap and sweep” method of diving into the pile, pulling candy under their body with a swoop of outstretched arms, and balling up like an armadillo until rescued by an adult with a bag in which to store your stash!

Santa delivers the goods under the watchful gaze of his elf, the Ambassador, and a nun

Santa delivers the goods under the watchful gaze of his elf, the Ambassador, and a nun

Next, each child got an age and gender-appropriate gift with their name on it.  They were called out by orphanage and each got to visit Santa in his sleigh (complete with six wicker reindeer, who got plowed over by an over-excited little boy).  All told, a great afternoon!
Waiting for your name to be called is tough!

Waiting for your name to be called is tough!

 

I got big hugs from most of the little ones; some even gave me a piece of candy or other small gift

I got big hugs from most of the little ones; some even gave me a piece of candy or other small gift

The Embassy crew and Ambassador post-party

The Embassy crew and Ambassador post-party

Happy Birthday to Me

In lieu of the witty posting about some aspect of Mexican life that you were expecting to find here, I will instead take this opportunity to post a self-aggrandizing Happy Birthday to Me announcement for this Tuesday November 25th. I am excited as John is taking me to Pujol¬†tonite, some trendy restaurant here in Polanco that is reputed to have an “…individualistic and insightful approach to Mexican cuisine.” (thanks, OpenTable)

Anticipation is high, as one of the common items on their tasting menu is chapulines, better known to many as the common grasshopper. As per my last posting, I have generally shied away from the wonderful world of insects thus far here in Mexico, but perhaps that will all change tonite??

Anyway, my head is currently swimming with too much macroeconomics-related info from my MBA class homework, so instead of words I will try to entertain with randomly selected photos of the birthday girl herself.

 

Lovely ladies at the Marine Ball

Lovely ladies at the 2008 Marine Ball!

Me with a gun-toting mariachi at my friend Carolina's birthday festivities!

Me with a gun-toting mariachi at my friend Carolina's birthday festivities!

Me in the Zocalo on Dia de los Muertos with some sort of wild skeletor-altar

Me in the Zocalo on Dia de los Muertos with some sort of wild skeletor-altar

Why buy a fancy moustache when you can accomplish virtually the same effect with your own hair?

Why buy a fancy moustache when you can accomplish virtually the same effect with your own hair?

Note to self: sometimes your neighbors get displeased when the bulk of your house party ends up outside your house & in front of theirs...

Note to self: sometimes your neighbors get displeased when the bulk of your house party ends up outside your house & in front of theirs...

After this photo, Bertie & I took these guys aside for an intervention from the E! Fashion Emergency team.

After this photo, Bertie & I took these guys aside for an intervention from the E! Fashion Emergency team.

Election Night 2008: Expected Highs and Shocking Lows

Tonight John & I had the honor to witness one of the most hotly contested elections in our limited political lives, while attending the US Embassy Election Night Party in Mexico City.  Quite the interesting experience. The excitement surrounding the big Obama win was somewhat marred by the news early in the evening of a plane crash in Mexico City, only about 1 mile away from where our festivities were happening.

During the evening we learned that 8 people were killed in the plane crash, including Mexican Interior Minsiter Juan Camilo Mourino and Deputy Attorney General Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, along with at least¬†6¬†people killed on the ground¬†& 40 injured.¬† Mourino was a close ally of President Calderon &¬†the highest ranking national¬†security official in¬†the government,¬†and Santiago Vasconcelos has been a key player in the army-led war on drug cartels. If those facts PLUS the fact that this incident occured on the night of the US Presidential Elections in central Mexico City one block off the major Periferico highway aren’t enough to raise your eyebrow, there’s more.

One of our friends was out at one of the rooftop restaurants here in Polanco, about 0.5 miles from the site of the crash. As a former pilot, he saw the entire thing from the roof¬†& stated with a high degree of certainty that this did not to appear to be an “accident”, as the initial press reports claim. The Learjet dropped from normal altitude into a ~170-degree fast-paced dive towards the ground. To be clear, this was not a “oops-my-engine-went-out” or “I-lost-a-wing”, corkscrew free-fall to the ground. Rather, the plane directly nosedived at increasing speeds with lights visible the whole way down, meaning there was no loss of power. He lost sight of it after it went below the building line, but did see the massive fireball that emerged after the plane crashed into a number of parked cars that exploded around it.

Suspicions are high-to-quite-high, despite initial commentary from the Communications Minister regarding “everything pointed to the crash being caused by an accident”. Hmpf. For most of us, it seems to be a harbinger of a new level of activity among the narcotraficantes here in Mexico & a slap in the face of the government who is trying to control them.¬†A little scary, to say the least.

On a happier note, we were thrilled to mark the momentous occaison of Barack Obama winning the US Presidential Election with probably ~1,000+ of our closest friends at the Camino Real Hotel in Mexico City! John had the priviledge of playing a key role during the night as Uncle¬†Sam, dressed up like a Disney character who doesn’t have to talk very much, just take¬†lots of photos. :) I was honored to join Emilia in the key role¬†of “Uncle Sam’s Handlers”, so we escorted him around the ballroom, helping to take photos with fans & ensuring that no one got too frisky with Uncle Sam’s see-through pants.

I have to say, it was pretty exciting to hear both McCain’s concession speech as well as Obama’s acceptance speech. I got a little weepy during both, as it is pretty crazy to think about both how far we have come as country to elect an African-American to office, and how far we have yet to go to get everyone in the US on board with the concept. I will spare you any further philosophizing at 1:26AM, and just let you check out a few photos from the festivities this evening.

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