Monthly Archives: January 2013

Residency in Chile

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After a student visa, a contract visa, a professional visa and nearly four years in Chile, I have just gotten notice of my new permanent residency status! Why is this exciting? Life just gets easier. It doesn’t mean I can stay here forever necessarily, but for five years I can do anything any other Chilean does without having to jump through any special hoops. Bank account – no problem. I can use my new ID card to travel within South America without paying the US citizen entry tax. This reciprocal tax is usually equivalent to what we in the States charge others to enter. Maybe on the face of it, this seems fair, but in reality it is said that the money just lines the pockets of whoever is working that day at the airport. For budget travelers, this can add up to a lot of dough.

For anyone considering coming to Chile, it’s easy to arrive and simply obtain a tourist visa that lasts for 90 days at the airport and is renewable for another 90 days. The entry fee for those coming from the US is about 131$, which is the same price as a student visa. If you in fact obtain a student visa before arriving, and have already paid your visa fee, this will cover you at the airport. If you arrive on a tourist visa and decide you’d like to stay and work, there are many jobs for English speakers who know grammar, how to teach and hold either a language related Bachelor’s degree or a TEFL [Teaching English as a Foreign Language] certificate. The English institute or University or whatever institution that may offer you a job opening in your field would give you a contract. With this you could apply and easily acquire a visa sujeto a contrato, or a ‘contract visa’. These visas last for one year and are renewable. After two years on a contract visa at the same job, you can apply for residency.

Overall, for English teachers this is not a difficult process, and your Spanish skills need not be advanced. Be aware though that if you don’t speak the language, it will be easier to take advantage of you. One place jumps to mind. They advertise that they will offer you a contract before you step foot in Chile, and prefer that you do not speak Spanish. It is run by a man who left the US over 30 years ago and has never returned. That sounds a little suspicious to me. If you have questions on institutions, I have worked for a handful and most of my friends have experience with the rest. I could give you tips if you’re interested or let you know what is fair pay for this kind of work.

I chose to nix my contract early on because I like the ability to fire a client when need be. I switched from a contract to professional, which means I can send out boletas, or monthly invoices to each client – be it a student, translation, University, interpretation or whatever, and the 10% tax comes directly out (you get this money back if you’re not going to stay here, and Chile and the US have an accord that any money earned while in Chile is exempt from taxation up to $85,000 US per year). In order to have this type of visa one has to bring their university diploma that has been ‘legalized’ by the issuing secretary of state and then legalized again once in Chile. After one year of this visa you can apply for residency.

The other visa types are linked to having family here – not me – or having a whole bunch of money – definitely not me – so I can’t give any information there.

¡Vivan las fronteras! Just kidding.

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Santiago Schwarma!

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There are plenty of places to find falafel and schwarma sandwiches in Santiago. The Patronato area (to the immediate west of Bellavista) is a busy bee bustling area full of retail and wholesale clothing shops, but it also has plenty of Middle Eastern, Korean, Chinese, Peruvian and Chilean food. The best hands down? [GO HERE] Schwarma El Gringo. I don’t like the word either. There is a large, pasty faced man handling the money, which may be why they named it so. They offer sandwich sizes from mini to super at reasonable prices. The food is excellent and the garlic-yogurt sauce is fan-freakin-tastic! The address is Antonia López de Bello 364-a. Open Mon-Fri 9 AM to 8PM, Sat 9Am to 5 PM; Closed on Sundays (most of Patronato is).

Another Arab joint I like is Mikhail Delivery. [GO HERE] You can dine-in as well. They have plenty of tables outside. The falafel is perfectly fine, although nothing to holler about. What they do really well is all the rolls and fried things, like stuffed grape leaves, yellow spicy peppers and potatoes or the dips such as hummus or baba ganoush. They have a large open kitchen with a lot of older, very smiley women working on banquet sized meals. Their delivery area is rather wide. They are on the street at Antonio Varias 1366, local 2 set off of Bilbao Ave. and on the web here.

In the Barrio Universitario near Yungay and on Providencia 1457, just east of Manuel Montt there are pretty delicious Doner Houses [GO HERE] to be found with Turkish owners. Pita & Co on Merced is bad, as is Kebab at Bandera 417. [DON’T GO HERE] The former features over-priced, poorly prepared sandwiches, yet made with fresh ingredients. The latter is inexpensive, well-prepared and somewhat fresh, if just a little bland. It seems tourists and the ill-informed keep those places struggling along.

Chile Wants Your Biz-nass!

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And by that, I mean the government wants to make it super easy for new businesses to get their start inside of Chile. From their own website:

“Start-Up Chile is a program created by the Chilean Government, executed by Corfo via InnovaChile, that seeks to attract early stage, high-potential entrepreneurs to bootstrap their startups in Chile, using it as a platform to go global. The end goal of the accelerator program is to convert Chile into the definitive innovation and entrepreneurial hub of Latin America; this is a mission shared by the Government of Chile and is a primary focus of the Ministry of Economy.”

It goes on to tell the history of the concept over the last few years, government agencies that support the project and there is information on all of the project’s that have been accepted and brought to fruition. I myself haven’t applied, but I have several friends who have, and the seed money was not hard to come by [with a decent proposal / concept, of course]. The site is in English and Spanish, although the proposals are only accepted in English.

Here is a link to their summary on the ease of doing business here, although I have to say I saw some recent Tweets about a new law making it possible to incorporate for free and within one day. That’s nuts. I have to find the details on that…

Presidents, Birthday Gifts and MLK

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January 21st 2013 was the second inauguration of the charismatic President Obama to lead my country, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and my birthday; a lovely trio. Although I spend most of the year outside of my home in the Midwest U.S., I truly love where I am from. Watching the inauguration speech makes me love it just a bit more. I met President Obama while volunteering in Chicago nearly ten years ago quite by surprise. He tried to shake my hand, but sadly, they were covered in bicycle grease. So I showed him my dirty palms, gave him a sideways smile and said, “It’s lovely to meet you.” The U.S. is full or wonderful and diverse people – as is Chile.

Having lived in Santiago for just about four years now, I sometimes make qualified remarks about what I have noticed about the place in my personal experience. I recognize that I do not “know” the whole country from a lack of having seen it all as well as not having been born Chilean. People ask me my opinion frequently. As an outsider, that type of curiosity makes sense. It would be fun and illuminating to be able to see all kinds of things with another person’s eyes. Very few things can be stripped down to gross generalities, and it seems to me that it’s important to be careful with words when making such types of statements. I try my best.

What I can say from the bottom of my heart is that I feel extremely indignant when someone who has never been to the U.S. feels they “know” it, its people, issues and problems. “Oh, Americans are stupid.” “They are fake nice.” “They are all rich.” I could go on, but you get my point. Not everyone says inane shit like that, but there isn’t a lack of folk who do. One cannot learn about a place or its people by watching a Hollywood movie, a couple of YouTube videos or posts on the CrackBook. Real life is much deeper than that.

Santiago Sushi?

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Sushi landed in Santiago about a decade back. Now most everyone at least knows what it is, even if they don’t partake. It’s quite popular to make it at home for parties, with plenty of cream cheese thrown into the rolls for good measure. I have had very good – not exceptional – to mediocre Japanese food over the years in Santiago. I usually wait to get back to my favorite Kamehachi in Chicago, but sometimes the urge strikes. I had been intending to go to “Japan: Santiago’s oldest Japanese Restaurant” for some time. I know, not a very inventive name. Anyhow, I recently checked it out with a few friends and we all agreed it’s the worst so far that any of us have had here. The menu is in picture format and in Japanese. It is very expensive compared to everywhere else, and the service was horrific. It seems it may only have business because their clientele don’t know any better. They just equate cost with quality, and therefore feel fancy. No way José. The design inside is cute, but the whole place is extremely well lit. This made it really easy for me to see when they poured my sake into a flute from a cardboard box sitting on the floor. Seriously? At least stash it behind a curtain. There is no music either, so one can overhear private conversations coming from all sides. And the food? Blech. The fish inside most of the rolls was cooked and dry, and the rice could have been made better by a five year old – no joke. This place to watch out for and run screaming from sits just off of Vicuña MacKenna near Plaza Italia. Be forewarned.

There are a few places I would definitely recommend, but I have to go back to them all since I have no idea what they are called. Coming soon…

Parque Bustamante en Santiago, Chile

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Todo tipo de humanidad pasa por ese parque. Tanto como se puede encontrarse con un vagabundo, una mujer de negocios, jóvenes practicando las artes circenses hasta abuelos conversando de política o de sus nietos. Se llama Parque Bustamante y está ubicado en el nexo de varios vecindarios centralizados de Santiago, incluso el centro donde se encuentra los edificios mas antiguos de la ciudad y el distrito financiero. Al norte, está situado Bellavista, el lugar bohemio y artístico con los barrios de familia – Nuñoa y Providencia – alrededor. Se llega fácilmente en el trén metro con el mismo nombre del parque.

Empezando con el sector norte, vemos la Plaza Italia donde comienzan muchas fiestas y marchas por la ciudad en toda época de la historia de la nación. Por ejemplo, el desfile de los Zombis o la marcha de orgullo donde cada año más y más gente participa en la lucha de derechos homo – bi – trans sexuales, con los espectadores por las veredas dando su apoyo. También es el sitio de otros luchas mas violentas, donde los carabineros traen los camiones lacrimógenos (guanacos, por su nombre callejero) para dispersar las multitudes desde la dictadura hasta las marchas contemporáneas pidiendo equidad en el sistema educativo.

Caminamos hacia el sur donde está ubicado el Café Literario, un edificio de arquitectura moderno y limpio; la mitad biblioteca, un tercio café y el resto taller de arte. En el segundo piso afuera desde el balcón, un visitante mira hacia una piscina. A veces hay familias jugando una regata con botes diminutivos o un equipo de publicidad grabando un comercial con chicas vestidas en trajes de baño bailando debajo paraguas de tamaño exagerado con una banda en vivo.

Un poquito más al sur, vemos un espacio que da hospedaje a varios festivales. Un fin de semana hay una muestra de jardines y flores, una feria de literatura juvenil o de varias culturas, como árabe o chino. Muchos grandes músicos hacen conciertos gratis para miles personas, por ejemplo, Santiago a Mil. Esto es un festival de obras de teatro, música, tocatas en la calle e incluso obras callejeras en varios parques y calles de Santiago y otras ciudades en Chile. El festival Santiago a Mil se realiza cada enero.

Alrededor del parque hay una pista para trotar, y otra para andar en bici con ellas disponibles para alquiler. Siempre hay gente leyendo, parejas regaloneando, y grupos de amigos riéndose, todo con el fondo de la cordillera, que se ve especialmente lindo después de la lluvia con nieve espolvoreada en las cimas. Al lado del parque hay un estudio de actuación, otro de danza flamenco y un taller de cerámica. Hay muchos hostales, cafés, restaurantes y casas.

Santiago es una ciudad grande, con 6 millones de personas y abarca un espacio amplio. Pero a sentarse en Parque Bustamante no parece tan grande, aunque hay varias personas distintas. A mí me parece como un pueblo chico, pero igual, interesante. Día tras día cambia mucho. Sin trasladarse de mucha distancia del centro, simplemente toma asiento a ver la humanidad que pasa. Si tienes las ganas, empieza una conversación. Algo te interesará.

Street permormance is very popular in Santiago

Street performance is quite popular in Santiago

Weekend in Tongoy, Chile – Vamos a la Playa!

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A bathtub of pisco, a truckload of animal parts for the grill, and Cumbia or Electrónica played at skull-rattling volume are the few essentials to a successful beach asado, or BBQ, in Chile. Of course you must add copious amounts of family and friends, and tuck in for a waist expanding good time. Hundreds of thousands of Santiaguinos bust out of the hazy capital during the hot summer months. A dusty beach town is highly recommended. The chillaxed feel of a slow-moving place makes a reveler feel not only invited, but expected to have a few brews, kicking a pelota around the sand. ¡No es para mí – es para el calor! (It’s not for me, it’s for the heat!)

Firstly, the culinary delicacy of an asado is not difficult to master. Inside of a rusty kettle drum, sawed in half, place a roll of confort, toilet paper that is. Let ‘er burn in order to spark up the carbón. When the coals are seared through and spewing stifling smoke, it’s hot enough to add the parts. Lamb or cow parts work best. Ribs, butt steak, strip steak and more. Simply season with plenty of coarse sea salt and you’re a chef! Pull off the grill and tear with your teeth. You can slap it on a bun and slather in mayo if you insist on being civilized. It doesn’t hurt to have a chela in your hand, chilling on a sunny patio overlooking a seaside town, such as Tongoy. (Asados run the gamut from a super relaxed situation to a high maintenance affair, depending on with whom you choose to associate.)

Pelicans Chilling on Fishing Boats

Pelicans Chilling on Fishing Boats

The town of Tongoy in the Coquimbo area is small enough for the appropriate vibe, and sits on a plaza with plenty of liquor stores, and dozens of mom and pop restaurants about one block north, lining one side of the petite peninsula. Each has its own special seafood empanadas (fried, filled turnovers). I ate one shrimp and cheese empanada at a nameless place hidden in the town center, which kicked off a three day tour of testing, let’s call it. Eleven shrimp and cheese empanadas later, and they each hold a special place in my heart. The pale peach shrimp; I can’t say no. Plus fresh pebre (Chilean salsa), mozzarella goo gobs and the perfectly flaky, heaven on a fork type crust seal the deal. Next time, maybe I’ll start at La Pink, if not for its prominent location, then for its very suggestive sign looming above, complete with a pink, taco-shaped empanada. From there, methodically I’ll move one by one and try every marisco empanada I can get my greasy hands on, followed by some Tums.

After sampling both fruits of the land and fruits of the fryer, fruits of the sea lie just a bit further along the coast. Inside wooden restaurants and small kiosks are smatterings of fresh whole fish, mussells, clams, sea urchins and oysters para servir (table service) or para llevar (to go). Plenty of styles of ceviche can be had to snack on while you wait for a sun leathered seaman to wrap up a selection; from feathery chunks of whitefish swirling in harmony with lemon, garlic and cilantro or the seafood cornucopia dressed in a red sauce – both dishes of the central region of Chile. If you’d rather the full service of polite accomodation, there are many clean and classic tables to choose from. The harbor view provides plenty of yellow wooden boats festooned with a dozen pelicans each. Comparing the painted names on the wooden sides such as El Neurótico provides pre-snack entertainment. Nothing more taxing than that.

The pristine, south peninsula beach beckons for sand napping where bird calls mixed with laughter float listlessly towards your ears, bumping lightly up against the edge of consciousness. To snap back into it, jump in the cool, Pacific waters. Or up north a bit from the harbor, remnants of an old foundry beg investigation. Hundreds of meters are blanketed in minerals and volcanic deposits that were spit up from the ocean. Chile’s Pacific coast stretches 6,435 Km, all of it on the Ring of Fire. 36 historically active volcanoes make this country 5th in world rank. I found one particularly interesting chunk of rock streaked through with iron and oxidized copper, a vibrant shade of blue. The giant algae covered rocks lining the shore are home to a variety of sea life suctioned to their sides. Upon close inspection red sea spiders can be seen, no bigger than a millimeter.

I drifted back to the veranda above, overlooking this unassuming beach town. The grill was sparked back up for the newly arrived guests. Caipiroskas were in the making. A few people were trying to perform the national dance, the Cueca, with dish towels standing in for the delicate handkerchief. The sun gave way and hundreds of stars took over, challenging the nocturnal scene of any big city. It was time to get out of sandy clothes and into dancewear, in order to shake it all night long at the local pub, where the pisco is cheap and the live cumbia band is in full effect.