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Journals from Semester abroad in Quito, Ecuador

2008-01-30 Japanese people, ice cream, politics, and that horrible punctuality

Success! I found Japanese people in Ecuador! Yes, that's right, in the plural. THREE! I ran into the first one on Monday afternoon at la universidad after class. There are hardly any Asian people here, so when I saw a girl who looked like she could possibly be from somewhere near Japan, I just walked up and tapped her on the shoulder. In Spanish, I said, "Um, excuse me, where are you from?" She gave me a confused look and answered in perfectly pronounced Spanish, "Japan, why?" I grinned and jumped into my limited Japanese: "Really? Good! I speak a little bit of Japanese." She smiled, surprised, and said in Japanese, "Where did you learn?" I explained, still in Japanese, that I study it in the U.S. but can't here in Ecuador because there aren't any Japanese classes, so I'm forgetting a lot and I'd like to practice. The rest of the conversation was a mix of Spanish and Japanese (Spanish whenever I got confused, which unfortunately happened kind of a lot), and we decided to meet for lunch on Thursdays to talk in Espaongo, or whatever you would call a mix between Spanish (espaol) and Japanese (nihongo). She doesn't really speak any English, which is great because then I won't be tempted to cheat when asking for vocabulary and grammar explanations. The other two Japanese people I haven't met in person yet, but Franco (the program director in Quito for Oregon exchange students) gave me the phone number and e-mail of an American student named Matt whose dad is Japanese. I guess Matt just had an operation on his leg because of a basketball injury, so he's stuck at home and was happy to hear about the opportunity for a conversation partner. He's already been here for a semester, so he speaks Spanish fluently and I can't really help him with anything, but he seems willing enough to be patient with my broken Japanese. When I called him just now, he was actually with a friend of his who also speaks Japanese, but since I really don't understand Japanese on the phone very well yet, we talked mostly in Spanish. Then the call got cut off because the card on my prepaid phone ran out, so we never figured out when or where to meet. I'll have to go buy another card tomorrow Speaking of buying things, I've hardly spent any money so far. I haven't done any traveling yet (though in the next couple of weeks I plan to), so that's probably why, but really I think my biggest consistent expense has been cereal! As my family and my roommate are well aware, in the U.S. cereal is my main food group. I eat it for breakfast, and whenever I feel the need to snack. Here, it's really expensive. One regular-sized (as in non-Costco-sized) box of cereal costs almost $5, because it's all imported. Just for those of you budgeting for next year in Ecuador, I'll give a quick overview. Keep in mind that because I pack lunch every day, go places mostly with my host family, and don't go out on the town much, I spend a lot less money than most of the other exchange students. I only buy my own cereal because I'm the only one in the family who eats it, and I'd feel bad asking for them to add the extra expense. Funny note about lunch, though: during my first week here my host mom pulled peanut butter and jelly out of the fridge and said, "You guys eat a lot of this, right?" I grinned, said yes, and I've packed myself a PB and J with an apple for lunch every day since. On to expenses: Other than my $5 a week in cereal, I had a few initial costs during my first week here ($50 for a cell phone, $20 or so in visa costs, and about $40 total in books for five classes). I've gone out to eat a couple times (which was very cheap), and I've picked up a few toiletries (which were very expensive). Lunch at a restaurant in downtown Quito, which included a berry smoothie, a thick potato, avocado, and cheese soup, a huge ham and cheese sandwich, and a big fresh fruit salad with whipped cream and strawberry syrup, cost a total of about $7. Oh, and I've bought a couple of notebooks. The paper here is longer (I guess it's about 8 by 11 or 12 instead of 8 by 11), so it doesnt fit conveniently in the notebooks I brought from the U.S., which leaves the top inch of all of my papers all crinkled and annoys me to no end. Anyway, total, I've probably spent about $200 in my first three and a half weeks here. About once every week and a half I've gone to the bank with someone from my host family to take out $50, where the ATM charges me $1 per transaction. I always bring someone with me to watch my back, and I never go at night, because I've heard that people (especially Americans) tend to get robbed walking away from ATMs. I spend about two dollars a week on bus rides ($0.25 each), and $1.50 a week on the wonderful $0.50 mini ice cream cones in a little store half a block from the college. Profesor Gmez (one of my Spanish professors at Linfield) suggested becoming a regular customer somewhere to make some connections and start conversation, and it has definitely been helpful, though I suppose I could have picked a store that sold healthier food But hey, I firmly believe that the occasional ice cream cone is good for the soul. The people who work there are very friendly, and I buy one of the mini cones every day that I have class (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday). Last week the guy who works behind the counter (who probably weighs about 130 pounds in spite of being a good 5'11"), said to the girl scooping the ice cream, "This nice girl comes in every day, give her a double scoop!" I laughed and thanked him, though I also said, "I know, I eat way too much of this wonderful ice cream, and now with a double scoop I'm really going to gain weight!" He grinned and did a little turn with his arms out to the side. "Ice cream doesnt make you fatsee?" Skinny little guy, I don't know how he does it. If I worked there I'd have doubled in size by now. The ice cream here is delicious, because it's made of Ecuadorian fruits. So far mango ice cream is my favorite, but I've tried banana, peach, coconut, unidentified berry, and a few other flavors. Yummmm. In other news, I saw the president again. I took a tour of the historical center of Quito on Sunday, and when I was walking along with four other gringas and our program director several police cars passed by. Then we saw another fancy black car, and this time the president had the window all the way rolled down. He looked right at us and waved, and we waved back. He's not a bad-looking fellow, we decided. He has a persuasive smile, which I suppose could be dangerous. He's a controversial character, el presidente Rafael Correa. Last Thursday the mayor of Guayaquil, which is Ecuador's biggest city, led a huge march against the central government. I don't entirely understand all of the reasons for it, but I think the Coast region in general feels that Quito, the capital, tends to look out only for itself and the rest of the Sierra (mountain) region, ignoring the social and economic interests of other parts of the country. Within Quito itself, as far as I can gather, the upper class doesn't like Correa because he has raised their taxes substantially to help the lower classes, but they tolerate him because he's the least corrupt president they've had in decades. Imagine the mayor of New York City leading a highly publicized march against the president, on national television. It would never happen in the U.S., but Ecuadorians are very active in politics and are experts in protests. If they don't like what their president is doing, they are quite skilled at getting a new one, though it seems like usually they end up kicking him out too. We'll see how this goes I don't have very much new vocabulary for you, but I would like to share a few signs and quotes that I've seen and heard recently: Perfeccin de porcelana: CLARIFIQUE (Porcelain perfection: CLARIFY) This one was on a Billboard for Ebel Paris make-up. It really demonstrates how much Ecuadorians value pale skin: the "clarify" was at least as much about lightening pigment as about avoiding pimples. The three gorgeous women on the sign could all have passed for Northern European. + bicis " autos = OK (that one is pretty self-explanatory) There is some serious pollution in Quito, and an environmentalist movement is slowly growing. Still, at the end of the day my eyes are usually a little red from the dirty air, and the clean, green smell of the forest in El Parque Metropolitano is quite a relief. Juan seguro viva mucho tiempo (Literally, safe John lived a long time. Basically, better safe than sorry) My host mom likes to say this, though her driving doesn't particularly reflect it She's a very nice lady but an enthusiastic lane changer, let's just put it that way. Carla, on the other hand, is very timid about changing lanes. Since no one here will let you in just because you signal, and she prefers not to cut people off, in slow traffic she occasionally rolls down the window and politely asks the driver in the next lane, "Excuse me, could you please let me in when the light changes?" And they always do, every time. She's the only person I've ever seen do that. She's even had me ask a few times, it's a lot of fun. Qu horrible la puntualidad! (Punctuality is so horrible!) One morning on the bus an Ecuadorian girl who also has a 7am class at la USFQ sat next to me. We got to the college at about 7:02 because of traffic, and as she walked at top speed she complained to her friend about this terrible professor who not only arrives on time for class, but actually has the audacity to come five or ten minutes early. Unheard of. Ridiculous. The nerve! (Just as a reference point, the professor for my 7am class rarely arrives less than 10 minutes late, and most of my other professors are exactly on time or two or three minutes late.) [picture of a phone] Apguelo. Para hablar con Dios no lo necesita. (Turn it off. To talk to God, you don't need it.) This one was taped to the entrance of one of the many beautiful cathedrals we saw on our city tour on Sunday. This particular church was built in about the seventeenth century, and the ancient, prestigious architecture provided quite a contrast with the modernly dressed folks inside celebrating mass. We also climbed the many flights of stairs all the way to the top of the bell tower of La Baslica, a Gothic-style cathedral. From the bell tower we could see all of Quito, and get a close-up view of the unique Ecuadorian gargoyles. Instead of your run-of-the-mill monster gargoyles, La Baslica has blue-footed boobies, turtles, and other animals native to the Galpagos and Ecuador. The inside of the bell tower was covered in graffiti from generations of tourists and couples, and on one wall someone had written in Spanish, "Oscar was here," right next to a heart with "Lili+Edgar, forever" written inside. What a coincidence! I don't know who this Edgar fellow is, but I would like it on the record that the date next to the heart indicated that this was written before I actually arrived in Ecuador. The churches in general were covered in intricate carvings and paintings that were centuries old. One church had several paintings of political events in the Spanish conquest of Ecuador, which was interesting because in that same church a substantial number of worshippers were dressed in traditional indigenous clothing. One short, round, devoutly Catholic, older indigenous woman jumped about a foot when her top-of-the line cell phone rang just as she was leaving the church. Modernity and tradition certainly do co-exist here. I've never been in a city this old, with so much history, yet it's filled with modern technology and American imports and fast-food joints. El profe nos tom un examen (Literally, the professor took us a test, but here apparently that's how they say the professor gave us a test) Very strange. Well, I think that's all I've got for today. I'm off to sleep! Ciao, I hope everyone is doing well, Lily

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