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viernes, 29 de octubre de 2010

Trip to Cuenca, etc.

Right now it's raining pretty heavily and it's my day off. I did have a really fun night last night so, I have that to sleep off.

Earlier this week, the director of my school (Manolo) asked if would meet him and his family for coffee on Thursday so we could talk about me doing private conversation lessons for his kids. So, I met him, his wife and his kids and some of his friends yesterday evening for coffee. I sort of thought we would just meet for maybe an hour and talk about the specifics, but it ended up being more. First we had coffee at a cafe and we were chatting and such. He has 2 daughters and one of them is 21 and one is i think 13. We finished our coffees and they said, "let's go get some wine." So, we went to a wine bar and had some wine and tapas chatted some more. Then they said let's go somewhere else, so we went to another bar and got more wine and beer. My director doesn't know a whole lot of English, but he's trying to learn and he can speak a little bit. We we're speaking in Spanish most of the time, but my director said, "after a few more of these (glasses of wine) I'll speak English perfect."

Anyway, we were getting pretty tipsy at this point, but we still hadn't said a word about English lessons. I was kind of confused. I thought maybe I was mistaken that he wanted lessons for his kids and was thinking, hmm, maybe they just wanted to hang out? After this bar we went to yet another bar for more beers and we were just chatting and joking and Manolo's wife was asking me how to say bad words and things in English and they were teaching me swear words in gallego. I told them a few different ways to say boobs in English. They told me there's a saying "se vive como puta madre" (i think?). It's a good thing, it's like living like a son of a bitch. Finally they discussed giving lessons for their kids at the very end of the night. I thought it was funny how casual everyone is here. I feel like if i was meeting someone about private lessons in America we would discuss that for an hour and part ways. Needless to say, by the time I left them I was quite drunk, but the night was just getting started. In Spain, young people don't really start to go out to the bars until 1 or 2am. I got home at around 12ish, so i called Victor to see where he was because he had gone out skating with some friends. A week or two ago Victor was out skating and met some other skaters here and they became friends pretty quickly. Some of them think he's really cool because he's from San Francisco and there's a ton of famous skate spots in San Francisco that are in skate videos.

I met up with him and the skaters at a bar called Fifty-fifty (which is a skate trick). The bar is skate themed and all the skaters hang out there. All the shot names are skate tricks too; it's pretty funny. Victor had initially met a guy named Hugo who is really nice and knows all the skaters in Pontevedra. We hung out at the bar for a while and took some shots with Hugo. Hugo and I talked about learning Spanish and he told me that in Galica especially everyone had a different accent. Some people speak more Galician and some people speak more Spanish and even the different provinces in Galicia have different accents and in Pontevedra, not everyone is from the city of Pontevedra. A lot of people have moved here from other small towns in Galicia. I thought that was so interesting because I've noticed that I can understand some people perfectly and they say, "oh your spanish is so good!" and some people I can't understand at all and they think I don't know a lick of Spanish. Victor and I hung out at the bar for a while then went home at around 3:30am. Victor had work this morning at 9... i feel bad for him.

Speaking of learning Spanish, I went to Cuenca last week and I think that was good for learning and practicing Spanish. Only 10 kids from my school went, but when we got to Cuenca we met up with a bunch of kids from other schools in Spain. There was a school from Asturias, Valencia and Cuenca. We took a charter bus from here to Cuenca and it took like 12 hours to drive there. That part was pretty boring. It was a little bit awkward at first on the trip because i think my director thought i didn't know any Spanish, so i think he would say that to people when he introduced them to me and then nobody talked to me because they didn't know English. Then, i said to him that he can speak spanish to me and i understand as long as he doesn't speak really fast. It was still a little awkward because all the other teachers that were on the trip knew each other already and would talk with each other really fast (and they're all from different regions and have different accents) and they would talk over each other. So, most of the time when the teachers were talking to each other, I didn't understand. If i talked to people one on one it was fine. Other than that, the actual trip in Cuenca was cool. The whole old town is up on this rock hill and it looks really cool. We saw the casas colgadas, which means hanging houses. They are these houses that are built on the edge of the rocks and it looks like there haning off of the cliff. We went to the science museum and the kids got to built a rocket out of plastic coke bottles. We went to the abstract art museum which was a pretty hilarious experience.

In the abstract art museum they set up a little art project for the kids in the studio. They had little square translucent pieces of paper in different colors for the kids to arrange how they wanted on their white paper. The guy that worked there was around my age and was explaining the task to them, but when he showed them examples of other kids' papers that had done the same thing he brought out two papers and said "this one on the right is good, you see? and this one on the left is bad. Understand? see how this one is organized and this other one is just chaos?" I was thinking that was ridiculous because it's abstract art. How can you say one is right and one is wrong? Anyway, I wasn't alone; all the teachers were laughing at how ridiculous he was for trying to pin down a right and wrong way to make abstract art.

We also had a tour through Cuenca's old town with an group of 3 people dressed in old timey outfits and playing a little flute thing through the town. The following day we went to visit the elementary school in Cuenca that was hosting the visit.

Manolo (the director) and I With the 10 6th graders from my school

The abstact art guy telling the kids that their abstract art is wrong

las casas colgadas

the kids making a rocket at the science museum

old timey tour guides

The kids from my school: From top left: Jose, Ibana, Pablo, Iamer. Middle row: Xoel, Laura, Maria, Andrea, Francisco. Bottom: Francisco

Visiting the Cuenca city hall

At the ciudad encantada. A place with cool rock formations (conan the barbarian was filmed there)

 The trip was good to get to know the kids from my school. I like them a lot. Yesterday at school Maria, Xoel and Andrea from the 6th grade class gave me a card and a gourd for Halloween and they tried to write the card in English. It was so cute. I told the English teacher that they gave me the card and she said she had talked to them and they were worried that I wouldn't have a pumpkin to celebrate Halloween like in the US and I would miss it because I'm in Spain. During a previous class with them I told them about Halloween in America and then they asked me questions about Halloween. They asked me if I carved a pumpkin this year and if i decorated my house and I said not this year, but I did before in California. So, they thought I would be sad without a pumpkin. It was sweet of them. 

Halloween card/letter that the kids gave to me

The trip was fun and a bit awkward at times, but I think it was good to be around Spanish speakers  for 4 days straight to have a full immersion. I think it did me some good with comprehension. I feel that I had improved a lot at understanding and speaking when i got back. I was talking to Emma about how I feel differently about my ability to learn Spanish after every experience I have with it. For example, when I have a bad experience where I can't understand someone and am having a really hard time expressing myself i feel like I'm never going to be fluent and 8 months is not enough time to learn. But, when i have a really good experience and have a flawless conversation with someone without saying "como?" every minute, I feel like I'm so awesome and I'm going to be speaking like a Spaniard in no time. I do feel like I'm in a good place right now though with Spanish. I've made a pretty big noticeable change from when I first got here. I just remember when I first got here and I went to Celia's house and she was talking to me and I didn't understand a single word she said and kept looking to Victor to translate. I felt like I didn't know any Spanish. But, it's been about a month and I've improved a lot. I can especially note the improvement when I have a conversation with Celia, which I was not able to do at all when I first got here. I feel more comfortable trying to speak now. I've also noticed that Spaniards are not so uptight with manners here. Like when you want to ask for something you don't really ask for it like you would in the U.S.. Like in the US you would say "can you pass me the salt?" here it, "give me the salt." People are always talking over each other here it's not like it's so rude to interrupt, people just don't let themselves be interrupted because they just keep talking. They're not as concerned with being so delicate here and it's kind of nice that I don't have to worry about offending people. It makes me more comfortable in terms of learning to be able to just say what i want without worrying if it's rude. Like saying "I don't understand, speak slower."

I've noticed that as i start to think more and more in Spanish that my English gets worse. I've also started to form some of my English sentences like Spanish ones. For example, when I mean to say "it doesn't matter" I catch myself saying "it is of no importance" because in spanish it's "no importa." Anyway, I think it's time to go because I've been sitting here for too long. This sunday Victor, Emma and I are planning on making a huge batch of bagels. Victor really misses bagels.

domingo, 10 de octubre de 2010

Sickness Abounds!

Everyone is sick! First, our friend Celia. Then Emma, then victor and now me. Celia and Emma got sick around Friday. Then, Victor got sick late on Friday. On Friday it was raining all day, so we mostly stayed inside. I was glad we had a spare bedroom Friday night, so I didn’t have to sleep in the den of sickness with Victor and possibly catch what he had. Saturday was beautiful, but Victor had to stay inside because he was sick. I wanted to avoid all of this sickness so I tried to stay out of the house on Saturday. I was taking tons of vitamins, Echinacea, yin chao, remedies, OJ, tea, lemons, honey, etc to boost my immune system. I went exploring alone around Pontevedra and had a nice time.

First I went across Puente de Barca into the city and checked out some discount stores. I found an awesome little place that had tons of house supplies for cheap and I got a spatula, a knife and a garlic press… I was pretty excited about it. After that I went into the old section of town and just sort of moseyed about slowly making my way over to the University of Vigo, which is across the river on the north side of the city (Our house is across the river on the east side). I wanted to check if there were any postings at the University for an ‘intercambio de idiomas’ or ‘language exchange partners.’ I would like to find a partner to practice Spanish with who also want to practice English during the time that I’m here. Although I am practicing Spanish when I go to the store or the bank and when I hang out with Spanish friends, I’m also speaking a lot of English while I’m at school and when I’m at home, so I think this would be a good way to practice.

As I made my way over to the other side of the city, I walked through a few parts of town I had never been to before and they had a lot of interesting things to offer. I found spots in the old quarter that seemed to be bustling with people while the rest of the city was taking a siesta. I found an area that had a lot of colorful and creative graffiti art on the walls (there seems to be a lot here) and a lot more young people than what I’ve seen in the main tourist areas. I found a tattoo shop (maybe for when Micaela visits?) and when I crossed the river I found a open air flea market (yay!). The market was right near an interesting modern-designed bridge called Ponte de Santiago. I walked through the flea market and saw all the faux designer bags, piles of shoes, dresses, clothes, bootleg DVDs, socks, etc. and found myself a lovely black  purse. I had been looking for a new one because mine was falling apart and leaving bits of its flesh all over the house; needless to say I was happy to find one that was fully intact. I also picked up a few DVDs.

ponte de santiago

I only had a general idea of where the University was, but didn’t really know if I was in the right area. It was also Saturday, so I wasn’t sure if it was open either. I walked in confusion in a more trafficy and less-populated area for a while before I decide to go back into the city.

When I crossed the bridge back into the city I walked to a falafel joint to eat lunch. After that I went to find a pharmacy to get some medicine for Victor, but alas it was siesta, so just about the entire city is dead. It’s funny how you are forced to rest in Spain. Resting is weaved into the way of life. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really a great thing, but it’s hard to get adjusted to as an American. You don’t realize how, in contrast with Spain, constant work is weaved into American society. I’m always thinking about what I need to get done and when I can’t do it because it’s 2:00 and everything is closed I feel uneasy, the only thing I can do is go home and relax, but It’s actually hard to do when you know you need to do things.  It’s the same thing on Sundays. It literally is the day of rest, not just for God… for everyone. It seems like in the US you really really have to work hard to deserve your rest. Here in Spain, everyone deserves a rest. I thought Carrefour, AKA the wal-mart of Spain would be open on Sundays, but when I went over there today, it was totally cerrada.

Anyway, after I realized that the pharmacy was closed I had some coffee at a café and then went home. Victor was sick in bed and after siesta, I went back into town to get some medicine for him.  
Me and Vic, pre-sickness, out for tea and coffee
When I came back we decided to watch one of the bootlegs I got at the market. I bought ‘Machete’ and ‘Get him to the Greek.’ So first we tried Machete and sadly It was over-dubbed, very poorly I might add, in Spanish. I thought they would have Spanish subtitles, but both of them were over-dubbed. Oh well, I guess it’s a good resource for practicing comprehension, but it’s just not what you want to do when your sick and just want to relax.

As bedtime rolled around I started to feel my throat succumbing to the evil forces. My stupid immune system lost the fight, I was becoming sick. Today Victor and I have just been lazing about the house watching movies.  On the plus side Victor doesn’t feel like a leper anymore and we can hang out again because I’m not trying to avoid the sickness anymore. I hope I feel better tomorrow.

Sick Sunday

Our street

jueves, 7 de octubre de 2010

A lot of catching up to do...

Well, I suppose I have a lot of catching up to do in this first blog posting. I think it's been a week to the day since I left San Diego, but it feels like a long time, not because time is moving slowly, but because so much has happened that it feels like it couldn't have taken place over only a week. This is my first time having a blog and I must say I feel a lot like doogie howser M.D. I can hear the computer synthesizer music playing as I write this.

I will explain the name of my blog, "Queso de Tetilla." It's a kind of cheese made in Galicia that is delicious and creamy, but it's called Queso de Tetilla because it's shaped like a booby:

As I said, so much has happened in the past week and I hope I remember the good stuff, but if I forget to put it in this post, I'll start another. Let me just jot a few things down before I forget:

  • My horribly exhausting and problematic time in transit
  • The first few days in Pontevedra (Meeting Celia)
  • The apartment search
  • My school and the teachers 
Getting here:

Initially, the plan was for Victor and I to fly via US Airways to Madrid with a stop over in Philly on Sept. 28th and then we would arrive in Madrid on September 29th and then take another flight into Galicia. However, much to my dismay the air traffic controllers decided to strike on September 29th. I heard about this about 5 days before my flight and tried to call US Airways to see if I could change my flight to the day before but US Airways said they didn't have anything in their system about a strike. So, I waited a few days and then Victor called them 2 days before we were supposed to leave and apparently they had changed our flight to October 4th without telling us because of the strike. So, long story short we had to go through a lot of BS, 1-800 numbers, being on hold, etc. and because that Victor had to leave 2 days before me and I had to fly into Portugal on the 29th. So Victor went to days before me and it was all good, but when I arrived at  LAX at 6am to fly US airways my flight to Philly was delayed an hour which meant that I would miss the connection to portugal. So, they transferred me to a flight at 2:50 on Lufthansa and I was at LAX waiting for 8 hours. Fun!

I flew directly into Frankfurt, then waited a few hours, then flew to Lisbon, Portugal. My plan was to take a train from Portugal to Galicia, but I wasn't sure if the train would be running in Spain because of the strike. So, when I got to Lisbon I took a 4 hour train to Porto which is closer to Spain, but by the time I got there it was around 8 or 9 and there weren't anymore trains to Spain and I was sooo exhausted from travelling. I had been in transit for over 24 hours straight at this point, so I had to stay in Porto for the night. I left the train station and asked a taxi driver for a cheap hostel around 20 Euros, but he was pretty sketchy and took me to a place that just looked like his friend's apartment and said I could stay there for 20 Euros and I said "no no no no no, hotel hotel" So, we got back in the car and was saying "you said you wanted cheap, that was a hostel, if you go to hotel it's more expensive" I said, "That's fine." At that point I was sketched out and just wanted to go somewhere else and not sleep in a random dudes apartment and stop carrying around a 2 suitcases and a backpack.

He took me to a regular hotel that was 50 euros a night and I was bummed that it was so expensive for me, but at the same time I just wanted to sleep. So, I called victor at that point to see if maybe he could find a cheaper place for me on the internet, but when I called him and told him what happened he said "just stay at that hotel! I just want you to be safe and get some sleep, please check into that hotel, i will pay you to check into that hotel!" So I did.

The next morning I took a 2 hour bus to Vigo, Spain and from there a 30 min bus to Pontevedra. Victor met me at the bus station and we went to the house in which we were staying. Ay yay yay! Retelling that whole experience was exhausting!

First few days:

Emma, Victor and I found a local person to stay with on couchsurfing.com. If you don't already know about it, it's a website where travellers offer their couch for other travellers to stay on, or where you can find a couch to crash on. We found Celia. Celia is awesome.

Celia lives very close to the city of Pontevedra (about 10 mins. walking) in a town called Poio

The day after I arrived I had orientation at my school. My school is called CEIP lourido and it's an elementary school. It's in a small part of Poio called Campelo. On my first day the director Manolo showed me around and I met the English teacher with whom I will be in class with. Her name is Elisa and I like her a lot. I was sort of expecting a matronly stereotypical teacher type, but she's quite the opposite. So I sat in the class for 20 minutes that day and all the kids were so excited that I was there. When it was time to go, Elisa offered to take me home (to Celia's house). 

She asked me "where are you staying?" 
I said, "At a friend's house in Poio"
"Oh good" She said, "I live in Poio too. Which street does your friend live on?"
"Oitaven? I live on Oitaven too! What number?"
"7" I said.
"7?! That's my building! I live in the same building!"
"Who are you staying with?"
"Oh! Celia, i know her. I live one floor above her"

So, I thought that was pretty funny and also a prime example of how small this town is, this kind of stuff has happened quite a few times so far. Anyway, my teacher Elisa is so nice and so helpful and accommodating. When she drove me home she said, "if you need a place to stay come to my house, you can stay as long as you want while you look for an apartment." Then she showed me her house and said that we should go out for drinks sometime because her boyfriend's brother owns an irish pub in Pontevedra.

By the time I arrived in Pontevedra Emma had already found an apartment to share with a Galician couple named Sabela and Alejo. They are very nice and fun to hang out with. The day Emma moved in we went over and had beers and they made a tortilla. In Spain a tortilla is nothing like a mexican tortilla, it's much more delicious. Its like a crustless pie made with potatos and egg, it's delicious and they have it at a lot of restaurauntes as a tapas dish. 

View of the river from Ponte do Barca (The bridge that we live next to)

 Apartment Search: 

After Emma found her apartment we were anxious to find one too. We looked at a few that I didnt like very much. Finally we found one that was perfect, It just on the other side of Ponte do Barca (a bridge that goes from Poio to Pontevedra). It's close to where we need to be to get rides to our school and just across a bridge from Pontevedra, about a 3-5 min walk into the city. It's also just on the other side of the bridge from Emma's house, so it's convenient all around. It has two bedrooms, for those who want to come visit! It's also right next to Carrefour which is like a spanish wal-mart and it is awesome. I'll post more pictures soon. 

First dinner in our new apartment

The School:

As I said my school is called CEIP Lourido and so far I've gone 3 times, so I've mostly been watching the class before I participate, but the kids are really funny and really excited to have me in the class. There are kids from ages 3 to 12 in my school and I am in one of the English classes with each grade each week. This week in all the classes we have been playing a detective game in which the students have to ask me questions in English to find out who I am. For example they will ask: whats your name, where are you from, how old are you, etc. and then the teacher will show them a map of california. I also showed pictures of San Francisco and it was so funny to see their reactions. I would show a picture of Lombard street and the entire class would erupt into oooohs and ahhhhs. All the kids were so excited to ask me questions. They asked my favorite color, my favorite food, what kind of music i like, etc. Each answer would cause another round of chitter chatter and excitement. I feel like a celebrity. I overheard 2 of the boys in the 5th grade class whisper "esta guapa." Today after the 5th grade class a group of girl in the class asked me if I could watch their dance routine and we went into another class room while they showed me their choreographed dance to a Shakira song. It's been pretty fun so far. 

Anyway, I think that's it for me today. I'm glad to finally have the internet so I can keep everyone updated and finally call home.