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Our First Christmas Posada in Mexico City

One of the many Mexican Christmas traditions I’m missing while back in the US this year is the posada. The season of posadas began on Friday, December 16th– nine days before Christmas.  When we lived in Mexico City, this marked both a time of holiday joy & grinchy anger, because of the sharp uptick in traffic (even worse than normal!).  My friends told me the reason traffic got SOOOO bad was due to all the chilangos driving to posadas after work each night, as well as shopping for last-minute Christmas presents. :) Unfortunately my social calendar never had nine days of parties in a row, but I did get to experience at least one authentic posada thanks to my MBA classmates!

We arrived at Grace & Lalo’s house to discover a well-dressed dog, which I took as a sign that this would be a successful night:

Santa dog = key ingredient for any posada. :)

They had their own outdoor patio heater, which was both awesomely warm & perfect for lighting sparklers on:

It's all fun & games until someone loses an eye, David.

And most impressively, they were even prepared with posada instructional booklets!

All the official posada wording you could ask for

These were important, because a key part of the posada is reliving Mary & Joseph’s experience trying to find shelter in Bethlehem. You set up half the party attendees outside pretending to be a very pregnant Mary & tired Joseph, and the other half stays inside telling M&J to go away & not bother them. FINALLY Joseph explains how he has the mother of our savior with him & then the jerks inside are like “Oh! Our bad! We didn’t know! In that case, come on in!”

The text for the exchange between Joseph/Mary + the meanie lodging folks. It almost feels like that experience you had at the Motel 6 outside of Albany when you showed up at 2AM without a reservation.

Once Mary & Joseph are let inside the house, then the party gets started with some singing, a good old fashioned piñata, food and drink.  I was pleased to see that much like the Lutheran church, no celebration is complete without the opportunity to burn you & those around you with small candles while singing:

Ceci makes the rounds with candles surrounded by their protective, holiday-themed mini-muffin wax drip guards

Alonso pauses to marvel at the flame of light burning so close to his fingers.

The celebratory singing begins!

Finally, the time for the piñata arrived. I took endless pleasure in watching the careful, laborious piñata set up.  I will confess to the fact that my motto of life in Mexico (“What could go wrong?”) flashed through my mind more than once… 😉

Things began with the transfer of the metal ladder over the electric fence. It was never clear to me whether it was truly on or off, which just made the process all the more exciting. :)

The other side of the piñata was secured to this ladder across the street.

To get a full visual of the piñata setup as well as hear a preview of the piñata-smashing theme song, you can check out this incredibly-dark video shot right before the first piñata contender made their way up to the plate:

Luckily the street that the piñata was strung across was not very busy... :)

Finally, it was my turn!!

Grace carefully instructs me in the ways of piñata-beating, while I am blindfolded with an artsy blue scarf.

I think I may have knocked loose one of the piñata's wings, which I promptly claimed for myself as a victory hat.

After the piñata excitement died down, we headed back to Grace’s deck and continued eating & drinking. The fan-favorite drink at any posada is ponche. It’s kind of the Mexican version of hot apple cider here in the US, but better (added alcohol optional but recommended). Check out some excellent recipes courtesy Maura, Silvia, and Lesley.

Good ponche, good people, good times. :)

It looks like we may miss the boat on hosting a posada this year here in Arlington, VA, but hope springs eternal for next year. Though I really need to work on mastering the lyrics to the piñata song.

Is anyone out there holding their own posada this week??  Would anyone like to bring over some tamales & ponche and we can have a quick posada, just the two of us? :)  In the interim, here’s to all my GMBA classmates who made our first & only posada so much fun! Check out more posada blog posts below…

Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program. All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blog are completely my own.

Sancocho: the most impressive meat stew ever

One of my MBA class friends here in Mexico City is married to a woman from the Dominican Republic. For Rodolfo’s birthday last year, his wife made an amazing Dominican creation known as Sancocho de las Siete Carnes. John and I were invited to the Gran Sancochada (as apparently one calls the event at which one stuffs oneself with sancocho), which of course we could not miss!

Now the recipe I linked to above states “Time: 90 minutes”. That sounds extremely optimistic to me, as I believe Rodolfo’s wife Elizabeth spent *at least* all day making this dish, and probably plenty of additional time scrounging up all of the ingredients! To start with, you have seven meats. These typically include beef, chicken, chorizo, pork, perhaps some goat, maybe bacon or cured beef (cecina), you get the idea. Rodolfo was quick to point out in his invitation that although the specifics of the siete carnes are left a bit vague in advance (depending upon what’s available), “…no es carne de gato, ni de rata, ni nada por el estilo.” [translation: It’s not cat, nor rat, anything along those lines.] :)

In addition to the meat, sancocho requires a variety of  Dominican-y vegetables like “la yuca, yautía, ahuyama, y todas esas cosas dominicanas que no entiendo lo que son,” in Rodolfo’s words. [translation: yuca or cassava, yautia or malanga which is similar to taro, ahuyama or cucurbita maxima which is a type of squash, and all those Dominican things that I don’t understand what they are.] I also recall ñame [yams], platanos [plantains], corn cobs cut into thirds, and other more familiar vegetables and spices.

The number of ingredients is impressive, but I have to admit what most impressed me about Elizabeth’s cooking [before I actually tried the dish] was the pot she was using. This thing took up about 4 burners on their gas stovetop. It was MASSIVE. And bubbling away inside it was vastly more sancocho than our group of 20-something guests could possibly eat. :) I remember thinking to myself, “This woman is not screwing around in the kitchen,” and feeling slightly ashamed of the wee, loser pots we had hiding in our cupboards back home.

Chef extraordinaire Elizabeth and birthday boy Rodolfo pose with their sancocho success story, inside a pot big enough to bathe a medium-sized dog. Luckily, I am certain that activity has not happened in this particular pot. ;)

The sancocho was served with various accoutrements like avocado slices, rice, hot sauce, etc., and plenty of alcohol. It was fantastic– definitely as meat-diverse as promised, with amazing flavor from all those ingredients having simmering together for a few hours. I had at least two helpings, quickly making a mess of myself trying to eat the corn off the cob and ripping some of the meat off bones. Then I spent the rest of the evening wondering things like,

  • What will they do with the rest of the sancocho?
  • They cannot possibly have enough tupperware containers to store all of that, nor space in their fridge… right?
  • Maybe they have an extra “sancocho fridge” hiding in a back room, just like people in the Midwest have an extra “meat fridge” in the garage?
  • Maybe Rodolfo brings the extra sancocho into work and sells it?
  • What would he charge?
  • Why didn’t we bring 18 tupperware containers along with us?”
  • Is my purse waterproof?
  • Why didn’t I bring a larger, waterproof purse?

This is the point in any food-related post where I might claim, “This was so good I will definitely make this at home!”  And the sancocho was indeed good enough to almost inspire me to that point– it almost feels like it should be a traditional Midwestern dish with all that meat hanging out along with numerous ears of corn!! But given my feelings of pot inadequacy and skepticism that I could identify all those Dominican veggies without a field guide, I think I will just wait for the next Gran Sancochada. 😉

Here I am, trying to pretend that a) I am not intimidated by the size of the sancocho pot, and b) I am ready to just rip into a massive hunk of meat right now.

Radio Silence!

Wow, it’s been a solid 2 weeks since I’ve managed to share any riveting, witty stories with my loyal blog readers. But I have a good excuse! Upon return from my 15 days in China, I spent a couple nites in Mexico City & then was off on a plane again to Phoenix, Arizona. Off to protest the new immigration law, you may wonder? Certainly a possibility!

But in fact, I have been busy finishing my MBA @ Thunderbird School of Global Management! It’s been both an exciting and exhausting week & there will be many more photos to come, but first just one to prove that I’m all done. :)

An MBA + a valedictorian plaque to boot! Yipee!!

We have a couple days in Sedona to recuperate, so expect more final China updates + MBA celebration news in the near future! Thanks for your patience, and I will be welcoming any job offers with open arms… 😉

A Visit to the Great Wall!

My time in Beijing has come to end (note: 3 days ago, but the blogging is a little delayed, folks). I am (was) typing this offline while sitting in the Beijing airport, with the distinction of being the earliest passenger to arrive for my 8AM flight. I’m unclear if the guy at my hotel has just been acclimated to Americans wanting to arrive 18 hours early for flights, but it took me a mere 40 minutes to get from my hotel room to sitting at the gate (coffee in hand). Now have 1:45 to kill.

This is the most alone I've been since arriving in China

Over the last couple days, I made it to the Great Wall, Ming Tombs, Forbidden City, and saw Tiananmen Square (but got lazy & didn’t wander around through it because it was hot hot hot and I was a sweaty dog). One notable change in my travel style over the years is a steadily decreasing sense of obligation to check the box on all the big tourist sites in a given place. I would much rather people-watch, hit some markets, explore a neighborhood vs. death march through every museum listed in Lonely Planet. (Though maybe this isn’t that much of a change—I still remember my mom’s horror when friend Leigh & I traveled to Florence and skipped the Uffizi gallery, thinking our time and money would be better spent on bread/cheese/wine at the local market.)

To that end, I spend about 1.5 hours yesterday afternoon sitting in a sidewalk café on the busy Wangfujing Dajie shopping street sipping a frosty glass of Tsing Tao and soaking in the masses walking by. It felt like watching my own Chinese TV show, with the occasional foreign extra making a brief appearance. Good stuff.

Speaking of people watching, I spotted this fashion emergency: pink shirt, shorts, blue patterned socks, and yellow shoes. He was also wearing some sort of beret. This is an instance where his girlfriend is not doing her job.

After debating a blog post entitled “I Went to Beijing and Didn’t See the Great Wall,” I capitulated Tuesday night and booked a Great Wall/Ming Tombs tour at the B&B I was staying at. I was a bit reluctant, since the itinerary outlined “tours” of the Jade Factory & Silk Museum (a.k.a. forced shopping periods where your guide gets a commission for each hapless tourist he drags through). However, this seemed to be the case with the majority of tour options & I lacked the time to find a superior option with sub-24 hour advanced planning. J (And I figured that since this was one of the few organized day tours I’ve ever done, I should really have the full bullshit tour experience.)

The tour itself lived up to expectations (low), but I will say it was worth it to see the Great Wall. The drive through the Chinese countryside/small villages was also interesting, as was our tour guide’s commentary on capitalism vs. communism. “Many businessmen are lucky. They make lots of money by being lucky. This is not good for the poor people. Here, it is better for the poor people.” Additionally, our tour bus driver performed an impressive number of slow passes on blind curves, accompanied by liberal honking at any elderly bicyclist who dared to stray into our path.

First stop was the Jade Factory. After a riveting explanation by our guide about the magic of jade, we were left to our own devices in hopes that we would drop some yuan on the outrageously priced jade items on display. Lessons learned/questions wondered:

  • Which Party official did these people piss off to get stuck in the Jade-making Zoo for the day?

You can almost hear the conversation between the two old men... "I wonder what they eat in their normal habitat"

  • Similarly, someone must have lost a bet to end up as the guy forced to do his work on the old-timey foot-pedal carving machine.

Three words: hates his life.

  • The Jade Factory can be very dangerous. For instance, I was attacked by this eagle:

This bird went straight for my jugular. It was touch and go for a while.

  • And THEN I got attacked by this jaguar (or perhaps jade-uar as they are known here):

I was barely able to wrench my wrist away from his death grip.

2nd stop: Ming Tombs. Or more like Ming Tomb, #13 to be exact, and the Underground Palace. Its primary redeeming features were its green, hilly setting:

The Ming Tombs offered a nice spot away from the thicky-settled air of Beijing.

And the amount of money that tourists have scattered around the coffin of the Emperor & his two wives:

With my long monkey arms, I was tempted to reach over the glass wall & yoink some of these bills, but I figured the emperor wouldn't appreciate that.

And these sweet elephant-chair tables, under the careful watch of the Chinese guard.

This is totally what our next dining room table/chair set is going to look like.

Next stop: lunch! Watered down Chinese fare, anyone?? The food was unremarkable, but did allow me the opportunity for my first non-Western bathroom experience.

What, did you think I was *NOT* going to put a photo of a Chinese toilet in here?? Luckily my squatting muscles have been well developed on the toilet-seat-free facilities of Mexico.

Finally, it was time for the main attraction, the Great Wall at Mutianyu (http://www.mutianyugreatwall.net/)!! I chose this spot for my Wall visit as it seemed to combine convenient location (45 miles outside of Beijing) with a reputation for not being *as* touristy/busy/swamped with obnoxious vendors (as Badaling), but not quite as hard core as the 4-hour hike between Jinshanling and Simatai (as I lacked appropriate footwear/sportswear). Plus, it has TWO cable cars, a selling point on which friend Todd tipped me off. Having no other data points on which to base a comparison, Mutianyu lived up to expectations—it was indeed a Great Wall, cool mountain-y setting, cable cars/ski lifts galore, a TOBOGGAN return trip option, and lacking mobs of people.

You can see the Great Wall in the distance from my ski lift perch.

And do you know how else I know that Mutianyu was the right choice? Because TONY HAWK was there too. With his posse. I mean, I’m not one to judge, but I feel like it’s getting a little awkward the way he’s following me all around China. First my international flight & now the same spot at the same tourist attraction on the same day and time…?? Coincidence?  I think not. 😉 Unfortunately he startled me coming out of a guard tower as he + posse were outbound & I was inbound, so all I managed to get were some paparazzi-esque photos of the back of his head & a profile that may or may not be him from a distance.

Red circle: Tony Hawk, carrying child. Yellow circle: one of Tony's posse who appears to be wearing a panda hat. Blue circle: fellow tourists who are more alert than I am on the quick-photo front. Green circle: possibly Tony's wife, who also did not plan well w/r/t proper footwear

The Enquirer is never going to hire me as a paparazzi at this rate.

It was drizzling a bit when we arrived at the wall, so the toboggan run was closed and we had to take the ski lift back down. Upon learning of this disappointment, I thought to myself, “My mom must have been doing a rain dance in Nebraska since she would die before supporting the idea of anyone riding this”:

How sad that we didn't get to rip down this thin metal pipe built into the Chinese mountainside.

Anyway, you’ll just have to trust me that it was cool, since my photos all suck due to the rainy/foggy weather.

It's meeee! At the Great Wall!!

Here I am with Great Wall post-rain or sweat... Let's assume rain. :)

Upon our return to the minibus, our guide informed us that it would be around a 2 hour drive back to Beijing with traffic, and since that is SUCH a long time period, their tour company requires the driver to get a rest. And where we would do that rest?? Why at the Silk “Museum”, of course!! It shouldn’t need to be said that I did not make any purchases. Rather, I was too busy feeling sorry for the girl whose job it is to pull silkworm pupae out of their silky little shells all day in front of gawking tourists, and then soak/stretch the silk over increasingly large bike locks. Woo hoo.

Handling bug carcasses all day? Un-sat.

Must run for now, but more to follow on Peking Duck! Talk soon kiddos!

My time in Beijing has come to end. I am typing this offline while sitting in the Beijing airport, with the distinction of being the earliest passenger to arrive for my 8AM flight. I’m unclear if the guy at my hotel has just been acclimated to Americans wanting to arrive 18 hours early for flights, but it took me a mere 40 minutes to get from my hotel room to sitting at the gate (coffee in hand). Now have 1:45 to kill.

Over the last couple days, I made it to the Great Wall, Ming Tombs, Forbidden City, and saw Tiananmen Square (but got lazy & didn’t wander around through it because it was hot hot hot yesterday and I was a sweaty dog). One notable change in my travel style over the years is a steadily decreasing sense of obligation to check the box on all the big tourist sites in a given place. I would much rather people-watch, hit some markets, explore a neighborhood vs. death march through every museum listed in Lonely Planet. (Though maybe this isn’t that much of a change—I still remember my mom’s horror when friend Leigh & I traveled to Florence and skipped the Uffizi gallery, thinking our time and money would be better spent on bread/cheese/wine at the local market.)

To that end, I spend about 1.5 hours yesterday afternoon sitting in a sidewalk café on the busy Wangfujing Dajie shopping street sipping a frosty glass of Tsing Tao and soaking in the masses walking by. It felt like watching my own Chinese TV show, with the occasional foreign extra making a brief appearance. Good stuff.

è Pic: fashion emergency

After debating a blog post entitled “I Went to Beijing and Didn’t See the Great Wall,” I capitulated Tuesday night and booked a Great Wall/Ming Tombs tour at the B&B I was staying at. I was a bit reluctant, since the itinerary outlined “tours” of the Jade Factory & Silk Museum (a.k.a. forced shopping periods where your guide gets a commission for each hapless tourist he drags through). However, this seemed to be the case with the majority of tour options & I lacked the time to find a superior option with sub-24 hour advanced planning. J (And I figured that since this was one of the few organized day tours I’ve ever done, I should really have the full bullshit tour experience.)

The tour itself lived up to expectations (low), but I will say it was worth it to see the Great Wall. The drive through the Chinese countryside/small villages was also interesting, as was our tour guide’s commentary on capitalism vs. communism. “Many businessmen are lucky. They make lots of money by being lucky. This is not good for the poor people. Here, it is better for the poor people.” Additionally, our tour bus driver performed an impressive number of slow passes on blind curves, accompanied by liberal honking at any elderly bicyclist who dared to stray into our path.

First stop was the Jade Factory. After a riveting explanation by our guide about the magic of jade, we were left to our own devices in hopes that we would drop some yuan on the outrageously priced jade items on display. Lessons learned/questions wondered:

· Which Party official did these people piss off to get stuck in the Jade-making Zoo for the day?

è PIC jade zoo

· Similarly, someone must have lost a bet to end up as the guy forced to do his work on the old-timey foot-pedal carving machine.

è PIC old timey

· The Jade Factory can be very dangerous. For instance, I was attacked by this eagle:

è PIC eagle

· And THEN I got attacked by this jaguar (or as jade-uar as they are known here):

è PIC tiger

2nd stop: Ming Tombs. Or more like Ming Tomb, #13 to be exact, and the Underground Palace. Its primary redeeming feature was its green, hilly setting:

è PIC mingtomboutside

And the amount of money that tourists have scattered around the coffin of the Emperor & his two wives.

è PIC insidetomb

Next stop: lunch! Watered down Chinese fare, anyone?? The food was unremarkable, but did allow me the opportunity for my first non-Western bathroom experience.

è Bathroom

Finally, it was time for the main attraction, the Great Wall at Mutianyu (http://www.mutianyugreatwall.net/)!! I chose this spot for my Wall visit as it seemed to combine convenient location (45 miles outside of Beijing) with a reputation for not being *as* touristy/busy/swamped with obnoxious vendors (as Badaling), but not quite as hard core as the 4-hour hike between Jinshanling and Simatai (as I lacked appropriate footwear/sportswear). Plus, it has TWO cable cars, a selling point on which friend Todd tipped me off. Having no other data points on which to base a comparison, Mutianyu lived up to expectations—it was indeed a Great Wall, cool mountain-y setting, cable cars/ski lifts galore, a TOBOGGAN return trip option, and lacking mobs of people.

And do you know how else I know that Mutianyu was the right choice? Because TONY HAWK was there too. With his posse. I mean, I’m not one to judge, but I feel like it’s getting a little awkward the way he’s following me all around China. First my international flight & now the same spot at the same tourist attraction on the same day and time…?? Coincidence? I think not. 😉 Unfortunately he startled me coming out of a guard tower as he + posse were outbound & I was inbound, so all I managed to get were some paparazzi-esque photos of the back of his head & a profile that may or may not be him from a distance.

It was drizzling a bit when we arrived at the wall, so the toboggan run was closed and we had to take the ski lift back down. Upon learning of this disappointment, I thought to myself, “My mom must have been doing a rain dance in Nebraska since she would die before supporting the idea of anyone riding this”:

Anyway, you’ll just have to trust me that it was cool, since my photos all suck due to the rainy/foggy weather.

Upon our return to the minibus, our guide informed us that it would be around a 2 hour drive back to Beijing with traffic, and since that is SUCH a long time period, their tour company requires the drive to get a rest. And where we would do that rest?? Why at the Silk “Museum”, of course!! It shouldn’t need to be said that I did not make any purchases. Rather, I was too busy feeling sorry for the girl whose job it is to pull silkworm pupae out of their silky little shells all day in front of gawking tourists, and then soak/stretch the silk over increasingly large bike locks. Woo hoo.

Hello from China!

Despite what you may think, a lot has happened since BurroFest ’10. First off, I am DONE WITH MY LAST FINAL EXAM EVER!! This past Friday & Saturday (May 8-9) brought about the last weekend of my 2-year, bi-weekly MBA program, with 3 long-awaited final exams. I still owe y’all a snapshot of what an average weekend was like at my Thunderbird/ITESM program, but for now you’ll have to live with this image:

Campus Santa Fe's Global MBA Class of 2010, posing like the rockstars that we are.

On Saturday evening, a few of my ambitious classmates coordinated a fantastic fiesta at a party room somewhere in Santa Fe, which brought together students from all 3 campuses in Mexico City. I will admit to being a bit skeptical of how much fun I was going to have talking in Spanish for several hours after taking two exams on Saturday & running on minimal sleep…(since exhausted + Spanish chatter = even more exhausted) BUT, I am happy to say, I was wrong & the party was a wild success!!

I mean, how could a party with drinks like these *NOT* be a success??

There was a DJ, loads of drinks, tacos de guisados, dancing, karaoke, AND mariachis– what could go wrong?? One of many highlights included the opportunity to sing Celos with a select group of my female cohorts. 😉 One of the lowlights was being pressured to sing El Rey after the official karaoke portion of the evening had ended (read as: without lyrics displayed on the wall) and realizing how few words I actually know when put under the gun.

After a brief recovery/packing period, I was off to the airport Tuesday morning at the crack of dawn to finally make my trek to China!! (Recall last year’s swine flu debacle & fallout.) I spent merely 8,000 hours on two flights with my knees jammed into someone’s seat-back, trying to prevent any further reclining into my lap. The monotony was broken up briefly on the SFO->PEK flight by spotting fellow passenger Tony Hawk, and discovering that the girl next to me is doing a masters in statistics at the University of NEBRASKA!! (Hi Jinglei!) What are the odds?? :)

What?!??! NO! This is NOT the first place I went, or a place I intend to go. After all, I have to save up all my Mexican cravings for when I get to Shanghai (ask me later about the agenda for our MBA interim...) :

My first day and a half in Beijing have been excellent, liberally sprinkled with eating amazing food. I’m sure you could have guessed that the first place I went is shown in the picture at right. I’ll be here through Sunday AM, when I head to Shanghai to meet up with the MBA crew for the actual week-long  interim. Then, off to Hong Kong from the 22nd -> 27th to round out my whirlwind tour of China’s biggest cities. (Would have loved to stay longer, but graduation week in Arizona beckons beginning May 30th!)

Tomorrow I am off on the requisite Great Wall tour, so I must head to bed to ward off the ever-lurking jet lag. But first, I’d like to share with you a few of the lessons I’ve learned in the brief period of time I’ve been here.

  1. If a taxi driver runs into a biker while gaping at you from his car, the best course of action is to walk away quickly as soon as you observe that the biker is not injured.
  2. In normal parts of town, Chinese people are either a) not as fascinated by my height/hair color as Mexicans are, or b) just as fascinated as Mexicans but since I can’t understand anything, I don’t realize they’re all calling me “shorty”/”chaparrita” behind my back.
  3. Lesson 2 does not apply at tourist sites.
  4. At tourist sites, if you allow one bold, daring Chinese person to take a photo with you, this action is the equivalent of ringing a “come to prayer” bell for all the meek Chinese tourists nearby who have secretly been dying for a photo with you. As soon as Photo #1 ensues, you will be instantly surrounded a zillion petite Chinese women and their cameras.
  5. The Beijing subway system is the one of the first subways I’ve been on where it is actually obvious what station you’re approaching/at.

    Love this lite-up Beijing subway map. The light turns green to signify which station you're going towards.

  6. Each time you see a wet puddle in your path, ask yourself the following questions: Did it rain recently? Was someone using a garden hose nearby? Is there a plausible sanitary source for that wet puddle? If the answer to all of those is “no”, you are probably encountering a spot where a mother just made her 3-year-old child pull down his pants and squat on the middle of a sidewalk in a major tourist site. Consider avoiding it.
  7. Despite Spanish being the only foreign language you know, responding to all Chinese queries in Spanish is really not effective. Even less effective than responding in English. Try to wean yourself from claro, baño, si and gracias, even though your pronunciation of their Mandarin equivalents sounds like a cat vomiting.
  8. Obsessively researching restaurants online & in free local expat mags is totally worth it when you end up eating meals like these:

These "Bridge Spicy Spare Ribs" from Karaiya Spice House were amazing. I was slightly embarassed when this massive plate was plopped down in front of me...

The embarrassment slipped away after I realized you could pick the meat off the bone with chopsticks. Soooo tasty...

Speaking of slight embarrassment, here's a shot of the mountain of food at my very first meal in Beijing (at Dali Courtyard). When they said a set menu of 8 courses, I thought they'd all be wee little dishes of 2-3 bites each. Instead, they were like 20 bites each. This was taken right before I gave up because I was stuffed. :)

9. Apparently all countries have something like the Panini World Cup Sticker Album. Instead of soccer players, though, they may just have emperors/dignitaries of ancient China. (the venue stickers still hold, though.)

I wonder if MBA students trade these stickers in China??

10. That whole thing about “China blocking Facebook” is in fact true. And Twitter. And several blogs I enjoy. So this will be the lone venue for riveting Julie-updates for the next couple weeks. 😉  Frank/Joy/Leah– FYI that your blogs appear to not meet Party standards. Lesley– you seem to be in the clear; good job on your support for communism. :)

More to come soon! Zai jian!

  1. adsfas

World Cup Stickers: the latest trend where I’m out of the loop

There has been a frenzy of activity in my MBA class this morning (my LAST MBA CLASS WEEKEND ever, FYI! All that remains is final exams + a week in Phoenix. Praise be.).  You might assume the activity is focused on final exam prep, but you’d be wrong. Instead, there has been a burst of World Cup sticker trading.

Walter & Karina review their current sticker inventories to see if they can broker a deal.

What does that mean, you might ask if you are on the fringe of the futbol (a.k.a. soccer for you Americans not living in Mexico) loop as I am. Well apparently each World Cup year, a company called Panini distributes envelopes (each costing 5.50 pesos) with 5 stickers each. There are normal stickers (the player stickers), dual-part stickers (which depict the stadiums in two halves) and the *special* stickers that have holograms of the World Cup logo or trophy on them. FYI, the hologram stickers are the cool ones & hence are more valuable (i.e. you can trade them for more than one player sticker).

A summary of all the tools you need for a successful World Cup sticker orgy: cold hard cash, your list of missing sticker numbers, a pencil to check them off, the cool-ass hologram stickers, the hottie player photos, and the photos of a player caught eating something.

We spotted an album in action-- being filled with stickers as we speak!

The goal is that in the months leading up to the World Cup, you buy & trade these stickers, all the while adding them to your Official Licensed Sticker Album. I was initially confused because unlike baseball cards in the US, there are no stats/info on these stickers– just a shiny photo of the player’s face. BUT it all works out in the end, since the album has the players’ info already in the book, just waiting for his picture to be slapped nearby. Then during the World Cup, you take out your album filled with all your stickers and flip vigorously from page to page when something happens to the relevant player on TV.

My friend Alonso informed me that the trading is perhaps a bit more intense among youngsters who can’t afford to buy envelopes of stickers en masse, the way our MBA classmates are able to with full-time jobs. He says it is more common in the 20-to-30-year-old crowd to buy full BOXES of stickers, which I might argue is cheating.

As you can imagine, few 8-year-olds will have already acquired this many stickers this early in the sticker-collecting season (we're about a month into it), much less be equipped with a PDA to track inventory.

You might think this would be an activity that skews toward the male population, but you’d be wrong. In fact, I was most impressed today by friend Karina, who returned from our lunch break today with an UPDATED MISSING INVENTORY LIST that she created at home. She is NOT screwing around, people.

Karina keeps her yet-to-be-acquired World Cup sticker list with her at all times, making updates whenever she has access to a printer. (FYI, handwritten sticker inventory lists are for losers. I saw a number of Excel spreadsheets in use today.)

I don’t know if the flurry of stickers & cash changing hands today has convinced me to rush out and start collecting pics of hottie football players, but it has provided a good supplemental lesson in economics.

Finally, on a slightly unrelated note, while browsing the Panini website, I came across the mascot from the World Cup in 1986, the year Mexico was the host. In case anyone was unclear about popular Mexican stereotypes, Mexico did a great job reinforcing them with this horrific mascot named Pique:

In case it is confusing for you, you are looking at a POT-BELLIED jalapeno wearing a SOMBRERO and a MUSTACHE. Apparently the shoes are called "tacos", I am told. All we are missing is a half-empty tequila bottle and a sarape.

Special thanks go out to Alonso, Karina, and Liliana for their support in explaining & photographing this new concept for me. One cultural lesson at a time, folks.

Tasty Capsu

Sometimes one comes across something in Spanish that makes me feel better about my language abilities, because it reminds me that on occasion, Mexicans have trouble with Spanish too. And maybe also trouble with colors.

Reference the below photo snapped by one of my eagle-eyed MBA classmates this weekend, as seen on the table of food we have catered during our 9AM-8PM classes on Saturday:

Mmmm.... tasty capsu...

Mmmm.... capsu....

The Spanish translation for ketchup (when it’s not simply ketchup) is either salsa de tomate or catsup. For some reason, the word catsup is inherently funny to me. But not as funny as when it is spelled “capsu“. OR better yet, when it’s spelled capsu and it’s served in a yellow mustard bottle. Hmm…

I hope the catering guy isn’t a graduate of our MBA program…

Who doesn’t like a good milestone like 100 blog posts?

Well kids, today marks the inauspicious milestone of the 100th blog post here at www.midwesternerinmexico.com. I am celebrating it with a wild Saturday night alone on my couch here in Mexico City, recovering from 3 final exams in one weekend & drinking a bottle of Chianti while watching possibly the dumbest movie known to man, “A Sound of Thunder”, also known as El Sonido del Trueno here on Cablevisión. For those not familiar with this timeless classic, it recounts the story of a business that sends people back in time to kill dinosaurs for sport. But then they screw up evolution by accidentally bringing a butterfly back to the present, so crazed plants and monkey-dinosaurs start taking over the world. (Ah how cliche, the old “butterfly flaps its wings” argument…) Anyway, I digress.

After exhausting my brain space on stimulating MBA topics like Competing through Strategy, Profit Planning, and Fundamentals of Managerial Finance, I am not fit to bring anything particularly exciting to my regular blog readers… But since “existence of end-user interest” never prevented any other blogger from generating new content, I will follow suit.

Two quick topics:

  1. REQUESTS: Are there any requests out there for Mexico-related topics that y’all would like to see in a subsequent blog post? As I’ve mentioned before, I am already delinquent on about 20 posts, but obviously reader requests rise to the top of the heap. 😉  (Reference recent über-popular Mexico City Airport post requested by reader Tori!) If anything leaps to mind, please give me a holler. For anyone who’s emailed me recently to no response, I promise to get more responsive… I will be back in the Midwest for 10 days as of this Monday, so I will have no excuse. :) Requests, feedback, comments, criticisms, please send them my way!
  2. BLOG BENEFITS THAT I DIDN’T REALIZE: As I’ve told several of you, I originally started this blog to serve as a venue for updates to my family & friends to demonstrate that I’d not been gunned down by drug lords. Besides accomplishing that goal (knock on wood), I have been pleasantly surprised by the following benefits (in no particular order…)–
  • New Blog Friends in Mexico City: Given the innerweb’s reputation for facilitating weirdo-on-weirdo conections, the possibility of discovering fun, normal friends in DF via a blog didn’t even really cross my mind. Luckily the innerweb’s reach has expanded as of late, and I would like to highlight a few of my recent acquaintances that I’ve had the fortune to meet in person:
  • Commenters! Who knew the excitement that could be generated by total strangers taking the time to write 2 sentences indicating they’ve enjoyed the random blather that you’ve shared with the world? Every time I joyfully read a comment or email, I remind myself to stop silently stalking other blogs & start posting comments. :)
  • Viewing Stats of What People Searched for on Google that Caused them to end up at my Blog: this is a constant source of amusement for me. After getting over my initial fascination that people were actually ending up at my blog via Google, I then began spending more time thinking “how disappointed/confused/annoyed did the person feel who ended up at my blog after searching for…”
    • reverse mullet
    • are there more pigs than people in iowa?
    • panda hunting
    • high cut leotard
    • americans in overseas prisons
    • bubble butt micro shorts
    • chihuahua kicked across room and video
    • do mexican prisons have toilets?
    • i had bacon last night, could i have pig flu?
    • is it bad to eat hot dogs while swine flu?
    • naked mexican women with sombreros
    • owl mannequins
    • what am I going to do with my life quiz
    • where can i get a mario kart drivers license?

While I realize that this post will likely simply lure in more searchers-in-vain, but at least they will find a post explicitly stating as much. 😉

Anyway, a much-deserved thanks to all of you who have followed this site & offered support over the last year+! I am excited to be entering our 2nd year here in Mexico City, and hope to see more of you down here to take advantage of all that DF has to offer!!

Saludos,
www.midwesternerinmexico.com

And now for something completely different…

Many thanks to any regular readers out there who have been patient with my month-long absence!! I assure you postings should return to some modicum of regularity moving forward. This month has been a hectic one, diving back into my 3rd semester of my MBA program (virtually HALFWAY DONE!!!) as well as surviving 2 major events that I coordinated at work– Días de Tecnología, day-long technical training events for ~380 Texas Instruments fans in Mexico City and Guadalajara. We were also honored with a visit from friend Emily who thus far wins the “longest distance traveled” award from John & Julie’s B&B, as she currently resides in Germany.

My pal Paul Westbrook at the TI booth during my first Mexico tradeshow, MexEEdev.

My pal Paul Westbrook at the TI booth during my first Mexico tradeshow, MexEEdev.

Anyway, the biggest news in my life right now is that this week marks the end of my employment with Texas Instruments, the company I have worked for since the summer of 1998. I started as an intern for 3 summers in Houston, joined their sales training program in Dallas after college, spent 4 years in technical sales in Boston, and another 2 in the Washington DC area. I thought that would be the end of it when we headed down to Mexico City last year, but conveniently someone had just left the Marketing/University Programs position for TI Mexico. 

Yes, I am a dork, but yes, this is my favorite TI demo: an LCD powered off of grapes.

Yes, I am a dork, but yes, this is my favorite TI demo: an LCD powered off of grapes.

And so it came about that last fall I joined a great team of 7 guys located in 4 cities across Mexico, with a patient boss who was willing to take a risk that I might be able to learn Spanish faster than someone new could learn the 8 zillion acronyms & intricacies of TI! :) Though I certainly still have room to grow on the Spanish, I will say that I have progressed from feeling a flash terror whenever the phone in my office would ring, to being able to have a 3-hour long meeting in Spanish at a university discussing how they might use TI products in their engineering curriculum. (I will admit to getting a bit lost during a biomedical lab tour though…)

A workshop I coordinated in Mexico City, taught by our star trainer extraordinaire, Ken Schachter.

A workshop I coordinated in Mexico City, taught by our star trainer extraordinaire, Ken Schachter.

The experience working for TI in another country and another language has been both fun & challenging, enlightening & frustrating, all mixed together. At this point, however, John & I have about one more year left in Mexico. After much debate, I decided that this is my best (and probably only!) chance to take a break, enjoy Mexico, and figure out what it is that I want to do when I grow up.  The fact that this MBA is coming out of my own pocket is inspiring me to actually take some time & try to get something out of it, vs. the panicked reading/homework-doing/paper-writing the night before class every other week to date.

Here's lunchtime at our Día de Tecnología 2 weeks ago in DF... Let's play Where's Waldo... Can you spot me???

Here's lunchtime at our Día de Tecnología 2 weeks ago in DF... Let's play Where's Waldo... Can you spot me???

I’m really interested in starting my own business, and while I don’t know yet what that might be, I DO know that I need some time to really investigate it. TI has been a fantastic place to work & I truly hope to stay in contact with the many amazing people I’ve met there. After 11 years there, however, I am ready for a change! I feel amazingly lucky to have this opportunity to hit the reset button, not to mention a husband who’s totally supportive (as long as he sees an uptick in tasty dinners prepared by yours truly, which I suppose is only fair). 😉

Me with Clementina, one of the good friends I met in this role, and her esteemed colleagues from CINVESTAV!

Me with Clementina, one of the good friends I met in this role, and her esteemed colleagues from CINVESTAV!

So anyway, expect the occasional brainstorming / introspection / call-for-ideas as I begin this year-long odyssey here in Mexico City. Please feel free to offer any proactive hot tips & insights!! I have so many things I want to do/work on, I am certain that next summer will be here way before I expect it… For those of you who know me, it is time to make a new Excel spreadsheet!!!

In the trendy bright-green shirts, you'll find the proud TI Mexico sales team, accompanied by some other TIers who visited for the Tech Day events 2 wks ago.

In the trendy bright-green shirts, you'll find the proud TI Mexico sales team, accompanied by some other TIers who visited for the Tech Day events 2 wks ago.

And for those of you who are like “what happened to the ‘Mexico’ part of your Mexico blog?”, here is a smattering of the posts I am delinquent on:

  • John’s trip to a luxury house in Ixtapa (while I had MBA class, boo)
  • DF activities for when the parents visit!
  • More Lucha Libre trips!!
  • Views from the top of the Torre Mayor in downtown DF
  • BFF Kim visits from Boston!
  • San Miguel de Allende
  • Guanajuato (go now!)
  • Anniversary trip to Huatulco, on the Oaxacan coast
  • Karaoke night out at Escaparate in Polanco
  • Julie finally goes to the pyramids (Teotihuacan)
  • How to become a luchador: an interview with El Matador
  • Navigating the Mexico City airport

So yes, more to come, honest! Thanks for sticking with me during my month of near-radio silence, and cheers to John for filling in with his Yaxchilan posts. Off to get some sleep in preparation for my waning hours as a TIer…. 😉

And here is the metaphorical mountain I am ready to climb to figure out my new career path!! Please be ready with bottles of water along the way... ;)

And here is the metaphorical mountain I am ready to climb to figure out my new career path!! Please be ready with bottles of water along the way... ;)

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. 😛 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!!!

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