Monthly Archives: December 2013

Colored Briefs and Other NYE Traditions

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Without yellow underwear, you shall have no love! Chileans have a lot of superstitions and traditions surrounding New Year’s. One of them is to wear yellow drawers or “calzones amarillos” to ensure you find a mate in  the upcoming year. Many of them involve midnight, of course. As the clock strikes twelve, there is the usual affection. Everyone hugs and there are lots of kisses going around. After that one must eat either 12 grapes or 12 spoonfuls of lentils representing each month of the year in order to ensure abundance and luck. Some people put a clove of garlic in the wallet or make sure to have cash in hand as the New Year rings in to guarantee sufficient wealth. It is considered lucky if you receive a kilogram of salt as a gift and store it throughout the year. Theoretically this brings abundance. Some people like to dance to Tommy Rey’s song Un Año Más [One More Year] as well. I’m sure there are others, so if you know of another or if you have a good one from your country, please share.

Now what I don’t know is the origin of some of these [garlic – vampires?], which I’m going to try to find out. I’m heading off to La Serena and the Valle de Elqui for the New Year’s week, so I’ll see you in next month.

One more thing, if you’re in Santiago, don’t forget to check out Santiago a Mil going on all over the city in January.

Bachelet Next Prez

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Michelle Bachelet is going to be the next president of Chile, and it’s no big surprise. [FYI: The ‘let’ part of her name is fully pronounced here, L-E-T not like French. They pronounce Pinochet the same way, too.] This may explain the low voter turnout for the runoff election on Sunday between the two blonde women. Most people expected her to handily beat Evelyn Mattei, as she left her last term in office hugely popular. The election rules were recently changed to make voting voluntary; it used to be mandatory. No one has to register because they are included in the registry using their national ID numbers, and it’s mandatory to have an ID card. She has parliamentary majority and although she is theoretically from the Socialist Party, la Nueva Mayoría, or ‘New Majority’ is really a coalition of all center-left parties including the Christian Democrats, regular [my word] Democrats, Leftists and Communists. The socialist label here seems to say “I’m not right wing, but I’m not an extreme lefty either.” This country will never be socialist. The right wing coalition did damage to itself throughout this race with a lot of internal issues. It is my opinion that low voter turnout was due in part to new voluntary voting, another part due to lazy Sundays around here, as well as full expectations that she would win. Anyone speculating she doesn’t have a clear mandate is just looking to pick a fight.

The race was quite interesting to watch though, because many candidates had a wide range of ideas on offer. This is something that I find lacking in the US. Here, ALL candidates participate in the radio and televised debates if they wish to. Roxana Miranda even participated, a woman of humble means and background ran under the Partido de Igualdad [Equality Party] which wants to reform capitalism and promote workers’ rights. Would we ever see someone who is essentially anti-capitalist on the news networks of the US? There are pigs flying outside my window. Marco Enríquez-Ominami and others are for gay marriage and even adoption by LGBT couples, something I didn’t see much support for in the last election four years ago. Things are definitely changing here.

The news always makes a big deal about showing images on election day, some of which were highly entertaining. Elections are on Sundays when almost everyone has the day off. Of course, transportation on Sundays is also limited. There are people who can’t get to their polling places by car and many travel by horse, boat or even via zip line cage. People also get randomly selected to monitor and assist at the polling places. Some of them dress up in costumes. My favorite was the ‘Hombre Avestruz’ or Ostrich Man who showed up to vote.

What I am particularly interested in is what will happen with the new constitution, education and inclusive marriage. One of Bachelet’s campaign promises is to re-write it, something that many Chileans have been demanding for years as it was written while under the Pinochet dictatorship, and she plans to introduce state-funded education like Argentina and much of Europe have. Education here is extremely expensive, and not only higher education. Good schools for children are private and cost many parents from hundreds up to thousands of dollars a month. Yep, I said month. The public schools are barely funded and children who are not well-off get a total junk education. How will this deeply entrenched class system in one of the most well-off yet unfair societies in Latin America ever change if all the people get is more of the same? I found this article in Forbes wondering if the end of the Chilean economic miracle is at hand with these lefties in power. What a simplistic, one-sided piece of trash. Have they not recognized that the economy was going along swimmingly when Bachelet was president the first time? Here is a succinct summary of her record from a recent Time article:

“She presided over one of the most successful, stable economies in Latin America, passed several popular pieces of social legislation and left office with an 84% approval rate.”

The economy is very good when looking at the overall picture, but wealth is extremely concentrated. There is a lot of poverty in Chile and almost no class mobility whatsoever. If all children could get a decent education, the future will only be better for everyone whose lives they touch. Big fat duh. Forbes also forgot to mention that an important cause for the dire situation in 1973 was partially fabricated and exaggerated; one example of the “shock doctrine”. Calling the coup, dictatorship and economic so-called miracle an example of the “free” market is a fallacy. The regime change was planned. So now education, retirement and nearly everything else here have been privatized and its a making certain folks filthy, stinking rich. Many higher institutions have been losing their accreditation over the last few years, as the money paid through exorbitant school fees goes into the directors pockets. I could go on, but that’d be another article.

Cohabitation: The Chilean government has been debating the AVP for years and recently approved it in a special senate commission. Now it has to be passed by the full senate, and the right wing UDI party just asked to postpone the vote to continue discussing it. I’m not sure what the big deal is. It’s not marriage, not even civil partnership. It consists of a few things that will benefit any couple of any persuasion that is not married, and a lot of couples don’t get married here. One more weird contradiction in this supposedly Catholic country. Divorce only recently arrived, so what did people do instead? Just not get married. This couple partnership or cohabitation would recognize rights such as inheritance, health benefits and being able to apply for a mortgage together. The “couple” in question could even just be friends. It’s a lot more cost-effective here to purchase a property. Why can’t two BFFs do it together? Without the AVP, only legally married couples can apply for a mortgage using both incomes.

Inclusive marriage. Now that would be a real kick in the pants. The good kind. I could marry my fiancée and not have to worry about what to do when my residency expires. We could buy a house together! Better stop me before I get too excited. A few years ago, this would have been unthinkable, but opinions have changed a great deal. The BBC reported that a majority of Chileans are still against gay marriage, but according to my sources that is not true. A recent survey put the figures at 54.9% in favor and about 40% against. I even saw a special the other night on regular TV about gay couples in Chile adopting and the legal uncertainties they face. My jaw dropped to see this on the boob tube here. Still, I think it will be either a long time or a real fight before these changes become reality.

Can Bachelet deliver on her promises; re-write the constitution, improve education, fix the pathetic pension system and pass gay marriage while keeping the economy going strong? I gotta say I’m keeping the faith.

Ferias Navideñas

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For a northerner, December really doesn’t feel like Christmas time in Santiago while wearing sundresses and sandals. I need copious amounts of snow. The way I can tell around here is ferias and festivals showcasing arts, crafts and handmade gifts absolutely everywhere. You’ll just be walking down the street and temporary outdoor shelters pop up right in front of your eyes in every neighborhood. It’s also time for Hecho en Casa, or Homemade when artists create works throughout the city made for the outdoors. They host events that people can participate in, too. We happened upon a painter in a crane cradle painting away the side of a building with quite a crowd watching him work. The two paintings are of Ekekos, which are miniature people saddled with items that represent abundance – car, kids, house, friends, food and fun. It’s an Andean tradition. They make great house-warming gifts. These are outside of the Bellas Artes subway station if you want to see them in person. They are masked, which I presume has a political significance. Voices silenced?2013-12-08_20-10-50_742013-12-08_20-12-51_576

We also stumbled upon a Comic Festival with live music in the central plaza of Barrio Brasil, a plaza where there is always a ton of stuff at the sidewalk sale. I was quite impressed with the dozens of comics publishers there.

2013-12-08_18-56-01_259 2013-12-08_18-43-06_933There was also the Arte Accesible concert / sale at Bar El Clinic – if you’re a Spanish speaker and familiar with Chilean politics, you have to go there and read the walls. They’re hilarious, especially the Piñericosas. Soon there will be the first Mr. Leather Chile. Ha! I remember one day in Chicago at Roscoe’s trying to get brunch during IML weekend [International Male Leather] in Boystown, and the butch bear of a host at the door with the voice of a diva says, “I’ve just had THOUSANDS of gays descend upon me! It’s going to be quite a wait.” He then let forth a shriek. I shouldn’t laugh at how flustered he was, but it was so dramatic and he took it so personally that I’ll never forget it. He made my day.

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Companies I Avoid in Chile

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I don’t usually get on here to bitch, but I think of this as consumer advice. The short of it: avoid Entel, Movistar and Banco Santander. They all have poor reputations for a reason. Oh, and if you use a foreign debit card in a cash machine, they will all charge you between five and seven dollars EXCEPT Banco Estado. They don’t charge any fee at all. I think they should all be free, considering it is illegal to charge fees on Chilean bank cards at any ATMs nationwide.

Without going into too much detail, last year I had nearly three months of almost no cell phone service with Entel. I had to visit locations at least 19 times, write letters, try to talk to supervisors, send emails, wait in line, get ignored and finally file a formal complaint with the telecommunication regulatory agency. Did I mention that most people who were tasked with “helping” me at Entel had no idea what the H. E. double hockey sticks they were talking about? I had to get this resolved with them because this is the phone number everyone has for me, former and current clients, etc. In the end, they have been giving me a few dollars a month free as compensation. Woo-hoo!

I just lost my phone the other day, and the woman who answered my phone when I called it told me it was too much of a pain to drop my phone off at the corner gas station half a block away. Yeah. Real nice. So she took the cheap circa 1989 cell phone with her instead of leaving it where she found it. I called to block the number and Entel told me that I have a late payment charge on my rental phone (you know, the fee people pay monthly to buy something super fancy) and my account was also overdue. I explained quite clearly and succinctly that I bought this phone outright for 20 bucks and I’ve never had a contract. She kept insisting that I have a contract and then asked if she could speak with someone else who could understand her. Someone should invent a device to wring necks over the phone line. Virgin Mobile arrived here not too long ago, and you can now take your cell phone number with you to a new company. Prepaid, no-contract is my style. I’m just waiting for my new double chip phone to arrive to finally tell Entel they can kiss my pale backside.

Movistar. Ugh. I hate that company. Unfortunately at the precise coordinates where I live I cannot get any other company for internet service. They called to offer us cable the other day. I don’t give two hoots about TV but Marcela wanted the offer. After she convinced me, she called back to accept the triple pack plan, and curiously it was no longer on the table. That’s just the most recent annoyance with them. They provide consistent problems. I’m moving in a few months so they can also get in line for a pale-butt pucker-up.

Banco Santander. Double frickin’ ugh. They charge for absolutely everything. They charged me for a notary fee on a document THEY had to get signed and stamped when I opened my account. They charge from 6 to 20 dollars each and every month to simply have a line of credit. Checking accounts here include credit. It’s automatic, and total shite. My debit card, credit card and online pay card all had problems with them when I opened the account, requiring my presence at the bank in lines several more times. They didn’t even get my email address right. I tried to access my account online once, and got access to someone ELSE’s account! I couldn’t believe it. The only reason I have a damn checking account is because my landlord requires checks; won’t take a bank transfer. After I move I no longer need checks for anything. You guessed it. They will receive the pleasure as well. My ass is gonna get used to all this kissing.