Thursday, April 27, 2006

The art of looking without looking...

Colombia, by my best evaluation, is as close as a country can get to pure capitalism in this day in age. Any of those right wing economists (ahem Kerpen types) who were genuinely honest, would seek to compare the regulated US system to a country like Colombia just to see what it's really like. I'm sure they'd find their "glorious economic paradise" to be a polluted and at times dangerous place that wouldn't resemble their own ivory tower inflated sense of heaven. Instead, they'd find hard working local and national governments struggling to rein in some of the abuses that deregulation entails, while under tight fiscal constraints. But the rightwingnut-o-sphere will never pursue that type of inquiry because the true nature of ideological politics and pseudoscience is to ignore test cases that dispute your beliefs and trumpet theory when countless case studies indicate your ideology is bankrupt.

Ahem, anyway, one of the manifestations of free market capitalism is that you can literally buy stuff everywhere. If you're walking on the street, you won't go more than 1 block in any direction without the option of purchasing beverages, foodstuff, tobacco, or other consumables in whatever minimum or maximum quantity you desire. At times, it can be quite useful.

Alternatively, if you are driving down the street, you will literally be assaulted by street vendors hawking any number of goods that you may or may not need. Consumables are common, but so are maps, garbage bags, plants, flowers, costumes, cds, and pretty much anything else that one can strap to their body and hawk on the street.

In addition to street vendors, there are a medley of beggars or "entertainers" that may or may not be rude asses, but at the least, are more annoying than anything else. This group is followed closely by the window "washers" that do little more than more dirt around your windshield with an ancient rag. Their scam, not entirely clever, is to launch into a window washing whether you want it or not and then act offended if you don't pay them. They can usually be brushed off with a honk of the horn or some extremely rapid "No, no, no, no"s coupled with hand gestures.

The point is, while these phenomena can be annoying, they can be useful as well. You never know when any given vendor is going to have something you need or want, so it pays to be on your toes. However, staring at the item in question is a definitively bad strategy. First of all, if you're really interested, you don't want the vendor to realize your desire. The art of bargaining demands that one act semi-interested as a means to lower the cost of the good in question. Alternatively, if one is not really interested in making a purchase, but the sale of a particular item brings shock, it does not behoove to stare at the item. The vendor will immediately charge your car and start jabbering in incomprehensible spanish which will leave one's head spinning.

The solution, of course, is to use the corners of your eyes to slyly check out each vendors goods. If you see something you're after, you can begin the bargaining process. Assuming you don't give up your hand, you have the pole position as the vendor wants to make the sale before the light changes and you're gone forever. Alternatively, if you don't see anything you like, at least you spent a few seconds "window shopping" while you waited for the light to change.

The same holds true on the sidewalk. If your need is high (when I needed an umbrella in a deluge, for example) and the vendor knows is (wet hair and face), you are pretty much going to overpay for what you desire. Score one for the street vendor. If, however, you are coy about your desire, it's possible to score excellent goods for a very reasonable price with the added benefit of saving you a trip to the local supermarket - something that can be frustrating in it's own right.

Of course, I'm a total novice when it comes to bargaining - but this is a basis on which I shall build on. I have a long way to go before I can top my wife bargaining down the price of her engagement ring, but I'll get there someday!

Monday, April 24, 2006

What is it like to get married?

Life is getting back to normal, so I'm hoping that I'll be able to post more frequently. Let me say first that I had a really great time with my family and friends before, during, and after my wedding. Definitely a unique experience. I'll discuss the festivities in a bit, but first I want to mention the psychological condition that sets in before getting marraige.

Getting married is stressful. There's no doubt about that. I think that we both spent about a month before the wedding in alternate forms of stress. There's nothing rational about it. Every living and breathing fiber of our collective being screams out loud, "this is the person you're supposed to be with - don't walk, run to the aisle!" But it doesn't matter. You still have nervous thoughts and questions like, "Our entire lives, holy sh*t!" or, "Can we really be sure?"

Other manifestations: When you watch a stupid movie about a couple thinking of divorcing, you say, "holy crap, I hope that's not us in 10 years." It's not rational, but thoughts do spiral through your head uncontrollably.

But it's all a bunch of crap. When you know you know. And we knew. There was no doubting the way we felt. Neither one of us have any second guesses and all irrationality was stamped out when our hands clasped in front of the altar.

Of course, marraige doesn't make things any eaiser. In fact, marraige is really just the beginning. All the confidence and love in the world won't make a relationship grow and thrive. That takes hard work, commitment, and understanding. I know that we have that. I know that we're in this for the long run and neither one of us could be any happier about that. I love that little woman.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Back in for a bit

Well, I was pretty sick last week which is why I didn't post much, but I'm almost back to full health. There's a lot going on right now (obviously) so posts will probably be sporadic for a couple more weeks.

My Spanish is progressing slowly. It's pretty difficult as everything is in Spanish and it can be, at times, pretty frustrating. But, I know that it's working because I'm starting to understand more and speak a little bit.

I encountered something the other day, however, that was totally disturbing. My Spanish teacher, a 40ish woman, showed us pictures of guerrillas and then proceeded to claim that the guerrillas were very poor and had waning strength in the countryside. When I asked about their involvement in cocaine trafficking, she claimed that they were not involved. She was adamant and my ability to explain my point in Spanish was extremely limited, so I let it go.

But I didn't want to. It's entirely problematic to realize that some Colombians think that the FARC is a weak force not involved in narco-trafficking. There can be nothing further from the truth. The guerrillas were weak and turned to coca as a source of income. At first, they "taxed" coca farmers and traffickers; later, they got directly involved in the trade. There are very few people that would disagree with that and they're probably all sympathizers.

I guess my point is that I have quickly realized that Colombians generally have vastly different views of guerrillas, paramilitaries, the US, and the role of their own government. This is a nation that has been involved in some type of violent internal struggle since inception and everyone has a different view of how, who, why, and how much. That's dangerous. It's much more difficult to assign blame, prosecute the guilty, and prevent future violence if the population is essentially totally uneducated about the root causes, the players involved, and what is necessary to stop the violence. That worries me.

My perception of Bogota and Colombia in general is that it's a pretty nice country with wonderful people. There's too much pollution (more on this later) and it definitely has class issues (more on this later too), but generally, Colombia is on the way up. Whether that continues is entirely dependent on the choices of the population. Colombia has all the natural resources, skills, and ambition to be an economic star in South America. But, that sentence could have been written in 1950 and there are no guarantees things will continue as they are. I hope progress continues, but I'm not so confident.

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