Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Zona Cafetera

Well, it goes without saying that Zona Cafetera is pretty much awesome. I flew into Peirera (30 min, NNW of Bogota) on Friday night and met Diana at a restaurant. She had a meeting with some doctors and the dinner was part of the show. We left Peirera in the morning and drove to the middle of the Coffee Region, near Armenia, another smallish city. The weather was incredible, the mountains breathtaking, and the air perfectly fresh.

We stayed in a resort style hotel with 3 swimming pools, two restaurants, and all the trimmings. But, I didn't really stay there. After lunch on Saturday, I left and went to an amusement park called Panaca. I say "amusement park", but it's really more of a "farm" amusement park. It doesn't have rides or anything like that. Instead, you walk through the "farm" and go to different "stations" and see shows or read information about animals and/or pet the animals (the llama wasn't totally friendly when he discovered I had no food, but most of the other animals were pretty legit). I saw a pig race (yes, pigs raced, it was funny as hell) and a dog show (not terribly impressive because those bastards left the Weimeraner in the cage!).

I didn't see any of the other shows, but the place was great. Totally relaxing. Plus, it had the extra benefit of offering food related to each "station". So, at the Pig station, they had pork ribs and chicharron (deep fried pig skin, more or less), at the chicken station they had Sancocho de Pollo (the most delicious chicken soup available on the planet), and at the Dog station they had...perros caliente (hot dogs). Gotta love the Colombian sense of humor.

Sunday, Diana was free, so we went to the Cafe Park. It's essentially a Coffee theme park with all the trimmings - traditional museums, displays, and models of the coffee production process plus roller coasters and log plumes. Good fun, although it was hot as George Bush's afterlife will be (if you believe in that whole fiery damnation sort of thing).

We flew back to Bogota on Sunday night from Peirera. All in all, a great trip. I really enjoyed myself there and when they finish the tunnel connecting Bogota and Peirera, we can drive there in only 3 hours (as compared to 6+ now - mountains are a bitch).

Gotta' learn to crawl befo' you can walk

Learning Spanish, I must say, is without a doubt one of the most frustrating activities I've undertaken in recent memory (excluding driving in Bogota). I know that learning a language is a process and I know that I'm a bit impatient, but I'm seriously growing frustrated as this process continues. Part of the problem is that I really detest it when I receive insufficient explanations for things. That is complicated by the fact that the teachers never explain anything in English - philosophically they don't believe in it at the intermediate/advanced level. But, this just pisses me off because they can't really explain it in Spanish in words that I understand in under 15 minutes.

Today is a good example. We're focusing on personal pronouns this week and to a native English speaker, well, it doesn't make a lick of sense. And sometimes, you just need a simple explanation: this is the rule, follow it. But, after becoming progressively irritated with my teacher (she's a Costena - enough said (because they talk fast and never listen)), I finally asked my question. Fifteen minutes later, a VERY simple explanation was revealed. All she had to do was explain the rule, in either language, and I would have got it. Instead, 15 minutes of rapid fire Spanish with a lot of vocabulary I didn't understand only served to piss me off.

I know it isn't easy to teach a language. I teach English and sometimes I screw things up. But this is a pattern. My previous teacher had this problem, one of my new teachers has the same problem. It's totally annoying, wasteful, and only serves to tune me out.

Fundamentally, I feel that these problems manifest themselves for several reasons. For one, a lot of teachers are inexperienced, don't speak English and thus can't understand our difficulty, just aren't very good teachers, or some combination of all three. But more than that, the problem is compounded because when they introduce complicated concepts, their adamant refusal to explain said concept in English only prolongs the confusion. My Spanish verbs book, which is totally awesome, explains things in English, with examples in both languages. So I can see what a certain tense is in English instead of having to guess by a longwinded and often incoherent explanation.

It's totally irritating to me that I've essentially taught myself a lot of the rules and methods of speaking - at least at a comprehension basis. This course is very good on repetition - i.e., having us speak and write in certain tenses and then doing enough exercises that we remember it. It excels in that department. But, once again, it's lacking in a key area - which is explaining the fundamentals in a way that the students actually understand. I'm not the only one with this concern.

Of course, I'm also a bit peeved because I'm used to being very good at things and I don't feel particularly good about my Spanish at the moment. I know I'm doing very well, but I set the bar pretty high and I'm not where I need to be. So there's some ego on the line, but also, I'm feeling real, self-imposed pressure to improve faster because I have a legitimate and compelling desire to STOP teaching English and START working in my field. I'm 31 years old for F's sake and I have yet to meaningfully contribute in any way in my chosen profession. Galling.

At any rate, I'm very concerned that it is going to take MUCH longer for me to feel ready to work down here. Speaking conversational Spanish is one thing, using it in a job setting is totally different. I don't have any real solutions here. I work very hard every day and I don't have much more time to spare. So hopefully things will start clicking soon.

Riding around town with the riffraff

I had the unfortunate incident of encountering some of Bogota's worst this morning. I was sitting on a bus on the way to Javeriana when two undesirables got one. One only had to glance at them to see that they were up to no good. One sat next to me, while the other stood and started scoping the bus for easy marks (why they didn't look at me, the gringo, I don't know). Spotting a young lad with an IPod, they started jabbering at each other in a language I can only refer to as "shit" (it certainly was no form of intelligable Spanish). The aforementioned lad, being wise to such obvious scoping, immediately secured his IPod in his pocket AND put his hand in the pocket. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum were not deterred. They still made a play at it when the young man got off the bus. Shockingly, they were unable to steal the IPod.

Normally when that sort of thing happens, everyone sees it and no one says a damn thing. You never know who might have a knife or whatnot. But today, one fairly burly fellow in a business suit said something to the would be thief (equivalent to "knock that shit off"). That was the beginning of what I was sure to be fisticuffs. As they were jawing at each other, I saw that I was close to Javeriana, so I hopped up, punched the stop button and got off the bus (being sure to secure my belongings on the way out).

I never found out what happened after that, but it leaves an impression. Had my wallet been in my back pocket, I have no doubts it would be gone. I doubt that the confrontation led to anything. For one, the burly objector would likely have pummelled both thieves with little trouble, but for another, the bus had a driver and two "bouncers" and it sounded like they were going to kick the would be thieves off the bus anyway (bad for business).

But still, I was left with the very strong desire that those two nobnockers encounter some class A pugilism, hopefully involving a variety of lasting impressions on their faces and bodies. I'm not normally a vengeful person, but I seriously hate people like that and, yes, I wish debilitating violence on them. Perhaps it's my experience in South London last September that left such an impression or perhaps it's a sense of just how wrong that type of behavior is. I don't know.

I guess the point is, my wife wasn't kidding about securing your things here in Bogota. We were in a very posh mall one time and witnessed a "nice" looking family, collectively, attempt to pocketsurf the crowd. And now this, directly (as in 1 foot) in front of me. On the whole, I find this manifestation completely distasteful and a bit souring.

The bus. Gotta love it.


Blogger Kyle said...

hey there-
I saw your blog about learning spanish at Javeriana. I am moving to Bogota on December 4th and enrolling in classes at Javeriana. Can you tell me more what it is like? Is there anything out of the ordinary I should bring to Colombia. Are you living with a host family then or your own apartment? What are other students usually doing for living? How much to do you spend a month on food and transport costs? Bud, any information would be much a appreciated. Thanks


2:03 PM  

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