Monday, March 31, 2008

In Quito, When it Rains, You Drive Faster

We had a good stretch of nice weather the past few days, minus the evening rainstorm (or "aguacero" as they say here). But, as we have learned, you really can´t count on two weeks straight of good weather here: today is miserable, cold, rainy, and pooptacular. I spent the morning in the Banco Central library again, coming up a little shorter than before, but still short: no dice on "la clase media" in the two largest dailies here.

I´m waiting out the rain here at FLACSO, and probably going to catch a taxi back to Guápulo. That is, if the bastards don´t try to keep overcharging me. Last night might have been the last straw...

Typically when I´m out in the evening with my friends, I go to Greg´s apartment where he calls Taxiamigo, a taxi service. Taxiamigo uses private cars with plug-in taxi meters (or "taximetros"), which are supposed to be activated even during night calls, which makes them theoretically cheaper than taking a yellow cab off the street (which aren´t obligated to use the taximetro after 9pm, which leads to some absurd prices).

Anyway, these Taxiamigo guys can be sneaky bastards. Many of them put a cloth over the meter, pulling it away only to turn it off [!] or stick it under their seats. Either way, the customer can´t see the meter working. Typically, you can ask them to show you the meter when your trip is done. The problem is, some of them simply key in a price, after, of course, leaving the meter off for the trip.

The first few times I used Taximetro, the drivers were doing what they were supposed to do:: using the meter. The past few times, though, they´ve been calling out prices without even looking -- and the one time I asked to see the meter, he just keyed in a price.

Now, having been back and forth across this great city many times now, I have a very good sense of how much the average ride should cost. Note that from Los Shyris to Guápulo is $2 with the meter on. A shorter trip -- from Greg´s at Colón and 6 de Diciembre -- should be significantly less, especially since there are hardly any stoplights on Colón up to González Suárez. Note as well that from Guápulo, through La Floresta and to FLACSO in the morning with average traffic is around $2 (and if the dudes would go up the hill instead of down it, $1.50). The post-9pm (unfortunately which often starts at 7pm instead) "fixed price" cost of a yellow taxi from the FLACSO area to Guápulo is $3.

Imagine my surprise when I was charged $4 last night from Greg´s back to Guápulo. I let loose on the dude and met him halfway at $3, but I was still so incensed that I took the licence plate number of the car and called up Taxiamigo and made a complaint to the dispatcher. The dispatcher agreed that $4 was too much and said she´d tell the driver that "no se hace" ("you don´t do that," roughly). I have no idea to what degree that castigation will improve their business practices, but I guess I needed to feel like I tried.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bigger Dots

In the "Only Fun For Me" Department, my ClustrMaps map in the corner of the blog shows me that I´ve reached a milestone: over 100 individual visits from the Tri-State area to Your Daily Fix, which have ballooned that dot to a nifty size. Also, apparently I´ve gotten more than ten or so views from Chicago and that strange dot somewhere near Rochester (I think).

As the Ill-Informed once rapped in their hit (only to Patrick, Brad, and I) "Hold Me Back," "I rep that."

Rain and/or Shine

Last night, Lisa, Greg, and I went to what the FB´s call "The [corporate] office", better known as Uncle Ho´s, for one of the co-owner´s birthdays. I had taken a nap beforehand to recover from the 80s party and put on a white shirt because I felt very "clean", then decided to walk slowly up the hill and catch the Ecovia.

Of course, it had to start raining while I was heading up the hill -- at first a gentle drizzle, appropriate for my "feeling refreshed" feeling. But then, it started to pour. By the time I got up to González Suárez, the rain was coming down pretty hard, of course not hard enough to deter the brave souls from waiting in line for Los Hot Dogs de González Suárez. I saw a middle-aged man and his two teenage sons run across the street in the rain to get to their car and thought, "must be mom´s night out."

I decided to wait for a taxi instead of heading down the hill to the bus, but after a couple passed me by (empty ones at that) I decided that it´d be best that I just keep moving. Apparently though I wasn´t moving fast enough, as a few passing taxis kicked up some standing water on the street onto me. I got wet. A lot.

As soon as we got to Uncle Ho´s, of course it stopped raining. And it was cold. Hooray.

ENOUGH COMPLAINING, I LIKE COMPLAINING
So I´ve got a couple days before I head back home for a bit. Remember that I was supposed to permanently leave Ecuador in a few days, so I could be more stressed out. Luckily, I´m not, though I think I made up for it by spending two days to get that dang ticket ticketed. I still do have to pack though, and I think it a good time to list the crap I have to bring home:

- Library books from Brown which I´ll have to ship back
- All the souveniers I bought for peeps back home
- Clothes that work here because it can get cold, but not in Caracas where, well, it´s not so cold
- What´s left of my old computer

And then there´s all the stuff I have to do when I get back:

- Buy running shoes
- Haircut, get a
- Download a poopload of software onto my new computer
- Get a Visa for Venezuela
- Mail aforementioned books back to Brown
- Call people. A lot of people.

Ah the mundane. All worth telling here on this blog, since by and large, my life is just that boring.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A Week Worth Forgetting; A Crisis of Change in Ecuador

As implied by the title of this post, I think I´d rather enjoy a little mind-wiping of this week off my brain cells. I think I´m finally caught up, with an estimated three days worth of mild-to-heavy partying to relieve my stress, which, I should say, piled upon itself, reproduced, had billions of offspring, then incestuously begat another hellspawn of stress. So tender will my recollections of this week be not, that if they´re not washed away in sweat and alchohol this weekend, then consider me to have aged an extra year in biological terms.

Instead of recounting how it took two days to book a flight, or how I haven´t found anything in the archives, or how my phone has been off, or how many e-mails one person can send another before the other one blows up, or how to not get a grant, I will map out this weekend´s social calendar and then discuss a disturbing trend in the shops and restaurants of Quito.

First, this evening is the FB´s 80s party, replete with 80s dress and 80s music. Sadly, no 80s food, but that´s good enough, no? I went with a couple of the FB´s a couple days ago to find a get-up for the shindig in Quito´s numerous "Chinese Almacenes". I found a hooded sweatshirt that looked promising and had this conversation with the saleslady:

"So, is this for men or for women,¨I asked.

"Um, for men, because women don´t buy it," she said. Then she laughed because of how strange that sounded. So did I.

Anyway, I took it home and cut the sleeves off. My costume isn´t as thematically-coherent as my "Lead Vocals" getup from Halloween nearly three years ago, but it´s still 80s (sort of): said sleeveless hoodie, black jeans, black belt, black headband, and black tank top. In other words: American Ninja. Or, so badass looking that no one on the streets of Quito will want to tangle with me.

Afterwards, we´re planning on going to an 80s club here called Flash Back. The question still remains: do you go in 80s dress to an 80s club?

Tomorrow is the birthday of one of the co-owners of Uncle Ho´s, a Vietnamese joint in La Mariscal. So, he´s celebrating. Note that he´s Irish, not Vietnamese. Also note that Uncle Ho´s new tagline is "Do You Like Ho´s?".

Sunday, the Fulbrighters from the Andean region will descend upon Quito at very specific times (10:13 and 1:10, to be exact), and my FB´s are planning on taking them out to dinner. Next week is the fabled "Fulbright Conference", filled with what seems to be boredom, except for the parts when my FB´s will do a cumbia dance with personalized t-shirt and then go to a resort. But Sunday -- a day free of such exacting strictures -- we´re going to Coffee Bean for dinner. Why "we"? Well because I´m either officially known as the "Fulbright Liason" (to what, I have no idea) or the "Fulbright Parasite" (which makes more sense). Either way, my title has ¨Fulbright" in it -- all the fun of the grant, plus more money and no monthly reports.

GIMME A DAMN DOLLA BILL!
The past two weeks have been strange here in Quito: many, many of my friends have been receiving whole rolls of coins instead of bills for change. Not odd to get coins back in change you say? You know not this land: remember awhile back when I talked about how checkout people always ask for extra change so they can hand your change in a round number? Well it looks like all that asking for change has caused some sort of strange paper money crisis here in the city and now we´re just getting lots of coins back instead. Right now in my pocket I have nine dollars: one $5 bill, a Sacagawea dollar (ever wondered where they went? Rest stops and Ecuador), two fifty-cent pieces, four quarters, and ten dimes. I got the ten dimes back today as change. Last week, I got a $2 roll of nickels, perfect for weighing down the offertory basket at church.

Gimme dollar bills, ya´ll.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Frustration Sets In

Well, making my trip to Venezuela work seems to be beyond my capacity to deal with right now. Not only can´t I start the trip in SF (too many stopovers for the system to handle), but the flights that work can´t get processed since the FLACSO internet is too slow. To top it off, a taxi driver charged me $3 to go to Guapulo from beyond FLACSO. I got out. I´m going to punch a puppy.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

´supdate

The economists across the cubicle wall are working on an econometric equation while listening to Tina Turner´s "Private Dancer¨. Now it´s Roy Orbison.

Also, I managed to WinRAR my copy of "Trials and Tribulations". Wikipedia calls Phoenix Wright a "adventure/visual novel", so that means I´m reading fiction -- but fiction you can shout OBJECTION to.

In other news, I´d like some juice. Down to the cafeteria I go!

Sorta Friday

I have an equation for you: lazy dude+early weekend=easily-assimilated into local work customs regarding Semana Santa. Yes, today felt like Friday. I guess I should call up the FB´s and see what´s up.

I tried to DL the 3rd Phoenix Wright game today, and, well, I dl´ed it, but I don´t have WinRAR on my FLACSO comp. Hooray.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Resounding Snore

A trip today to the biblioteca of the Banco Central proved one thing: while in the Philippines, it´s easy to search for key words, but no one wants to give you the actual newspapers; in Ecuador, everyone gives you everything they´ve got, but it´s so disorganized that you might as well become a librarian.

Anyway, I did hit a little snag yesterday too. Before I left for here, I talked to Eduardo from PoliSci about his time doing research in Ecuador. He hooked me up with a few names to call, one specifically for El Comercio, the major daily here. Since they had digitized their articles at least until ´94, but charge 50 cents a copy, I figured the smart thing to do would be to search their system for "la clase media" and then go to the Banco Central to photograph the hardcopies. Turns out there must have been a change in policy since Eduardo went down: instead of simply making an appointment with the documentarian, I have to now fax a request to some lady, who will them vet me, and then I have to make an appointment with the documentarian. Apparently that´s even more multilayered than what people at FLACSO are used to. I love it when people don´t want to share information.

In other news, I saw a hot chick at Crepes and Waffles today, but unfortunately she did nothing to dispel my attraction to short, curvy blonds. Great.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Short Week, Sunny Day

So I made it through the weekend and for my troubles, Quito has decided to have nice weather for the first time in awhile. Usually when I look out my window in FLACSO, it´s pretty overcast, at least grey, and mostly boring. Today, you can see to the top of the mountains closeby, with the clouds casting spot shadows on the houses on the hill. It´s pretty out. I have the mind to walk up the street about a mile and a half to visit this kid-colored building that looks like it´s made of pastel street chalk; I´m not quite sure what it is.

The work week here ends on Wednesday (probably very early on Wednesday) since it´s Holy Week, or, Semana Santa, if you´re so inclined. Thursday and Friday are no-work days and I bet that a good portion of the city of Quito will be off to ¨the provinces¨as they say in the Philippines, leaving us imported types the run of a dead town. On Holy Thursday, the whole Centro Historico will be shut down, and the Municipalidad will be opening up all the churches. I´m gonna hit that shit up with the rest of my FB´s.

But, with no work that can be done at all, I was thinking of convening the "Semana Santa Sports Spectacular" -- because in Spanish, it sounds terrible (Holy Week Espectacular Deportivo). Actually, it´s another one of my "bright ideas" that starts with a name or a concept that requires some filling in of the blanks, so to speak. I talked with a few FB´s yesterday and I volunteered to buy the soccer ball for Ecuavolley (don´t ask, it doesn´t quite make sense to us, either). The beauty of the soccer ball in Ecuador is that you can play up to two sports or more with it -- so efficient!

Anyhoo, I forgot nearly everything I needed to bring with me today. So off I go.

UPDATE: My new red laptop shipped today. It should be resting comfortably in its box in Pacifica by the end of the week, ready for me to oogle at it and d/l OpenOffice, CoX, and Cakewalk when I get back at the end of the month.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Done.

I finally finished that "paper" I was working on -- if you can call it that. I just uploaded it and realized how little sleep I've had and how far Guapulo is from here. My wrists hurt, which I guess any way you imagine it, is bad. I can now, however, look forward to seeing my new computator when I go back home (and my family too). I bought it the other night, finally, and it's red and probably faster than the comp I'm planning to build in the Fall.

I attribute my finishing to watching bad Ecuadorian cumbia on TV, which I'll be able to watch all the time once I get my comp b/c I also purchased a TV tuner with it. I think I could be a cumbia star, I just gotta sing flat, sorta dance, and talk about how sad I am, but in happy major chords. If I don't ever come back, now you know why.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Pushing Early Generates Good Results?

I´m here at FLACSO, and it´s about 8pm. I decided last night that I´d push hard to finish my paper in an all-night paper writing extravaganzatacular (or, an "all-nighter"). I debated whether or not I´d pull a typical me and sleep at my desk at FLACSO (if I were weak-willed), and decided that doing the sleeping-at-the-office thing really only works when you know you could go home easily and that the walk back isn´t so dangerous. Given that Quito at night isn´t safe unless you´re surrounded by Fulbrighters to take the blunt of the mugger´s attacks (or as accomplices for the now well-known Plan Celso), I decided to call up Lisa and ask her if I could "borrow" her computer from 10pm to 5am.

Thankfully, she agreed, so today I packed a gym bag full of books and papers and comfy socks to write, well, admittedly, a placeholder paper for the deadline.

Right now, I´m on my "dinner break" which consists of (1) dinner -- a strangely-made but tasty teriyaki chicken pita with french fries,* (2) trying to buy my new Dell (fail), and (3) blogging.

*Note: not an attempt to redefine the concept of "dinner"

Monday, March 10, 2008

New, Impossible Dots?

My ClustrMap for Your Daily Fix continues its stalktasticness. Apparently, blogger is banned in China, but I have a red dot right in the middle of of the Middle Kingdom, which, I guess must be Mike (hope they don´t take your comp away for this!).

Also, there´s a large cluster now near the NY-NE cluster that looks centered around western New York state, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. I´m not exactly sure why there´d be that many people reading my blog in Ohio -- it must be its populist pandering against NAFTA... Well, Ohioians, I loves ya.

Working Away All My Troubles (My Troubles Are Work)

I hired a research assistant last week, and she finished her data collection task early for me, so now I´m looking at Ecuador´s wonderfully (read: woefully) incomplete statistical data for occupation and income. Strangely, while it´s easier to get stuff here, the Philippines has a far more complete statistical accounting of itself. Actually, I have to say, the Philippine statistical service was the least cumbersome of any of the government agencies I ever had to deal with there, so I guess they were just on the ball.

I´ve still got that paper due on Thursday, but I´m much less stressed out, I have to say thanks to a long bout of Lunar Knights that I recounted awhile back and the Fulbrighters. In fact, it hadn´t crossed my mind until one of my FB´s suggested it,* but I´m working on staying here in Ecuador for another month, and then flying to Venezuela from here. If it all works out, I´d be back in the states for about 7-10 days at the beginning of April, then back here collectin´stuffs. I´d be staying at my aunt´s place still, so nothing´d really change, other than me not being so stressed out and also having an RA in my employ.

Staying makes sense, since I spent four months in the Philippines, and will spend four months in Vz, and as it seems like now, three months is not nearly enough for this sort of work (not counting the fact that I´ll probably have to go back to the Phils to get shit I missed the first time through). Also, who can resist the apparently horrible month of April in Ecuador when it gets unbearably cold and rains every day (hey, like now, but worse!) I know I can´t (can). But I think my work will benefit from it.

So, I asked my aunt if she´d be fine with me staying for an extra month and she said it´d be fine. Then, I headed to the Dirección Nacional de Migración to get a visa extension (since I needed one anyway). Of course, two things had to happen: (1) rain and (2) apparently I´ve got to go to another office out near Rio Coca (the last stop to the North for the Ecovia) to get an extension stamp. I think I can predict where my next stress pimple will erupt from this.

WEATHER WEATHER ´LANG YAN
In other news, it´s so foggy outside my 8th floor window here at FLACSO that I can´t see anything outside. The weather´s playing tricks on us -- it was fine this morning, sunny for about 30 minutes at lunch, then drizzle, then nothing, then rain when I was at the Migration Directorate, and then now the first thick fog I´ve seen here. Yesterday, we had a simliar pattern, and I managed to wash my socks while it was sunny out and the hang them out to dry under a canopy near my room to avoid the inevitable rain.

If my stay-for-another-month plan works out, I´ve got a small, middle-class conundrum: Caracas is about (give or take) sixty to seventy billion degrees warmer than Quito, which means I´d have to do a clothing exchange at home for my Philippines clothes during that week I go back to the States, meaning, of course, that I´d probably have to go shiver for warmth for April, that cruelest of months.

I´ve also been thinking about how the weather might be this weekend, since Greg suggested we head down to Guayaquil and to nearby beachesthis upcoming weekend, and some of the other FB´s are maybe going to Papallacta. If the weather keeps on being sucktastic, I might only predict limited shirtless time, which, is a loss for all parties involved.

*I think I´m gonna start calling the Fulbrighters "My FB´s", ´cause it´s that (un)sexy tongue-in-cheek innuendo that is so in vogue with the nerds (me) these days. It´s kinda like my life in general, since tongues -- mine especially -- usually don´t go anywhere besides their own cheeks these days anyway.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Well...

I´m doing pretty well for a dude who´s jodido. I de-angrified myself yesterday by spending too much time on my DS, but the button-mashing and tornado-drawing helped me chill out a bit. I took it real slow this morning, and then headed down to a bank to cash the check I got for my comp.

I feel a little better about my paper, too. I worked on it a tiny bit today, but I keep telling myself that presentation papers are (1) not so hot most of the time and (2) not nearly as fun as the presentation itself. Still, as long as it´s not done, it´s not done.

And, as it´s getting late, I must head back to Guápulo. More work to be done tomorrow.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Send Me to the Border!

So I sold my laptop to the Dell people here, then had to fight with them to give me my hard drive back. I´m so beyond angry that if President Correa came to FLACSO today and asked me to be to pull a Rambo out on the border, I´d do it. Then again, we´re not sure who´s been in bed with whom -- FARC, Bush, the French, Chavez, Ecuador, etc.

Also, there´s no one to vent to. Without my comp, I´m sorta cut off (did you say phone calls? What is this, the dark ages?), and I don´t exactly have the words to articulate how I feel in Spanish.

I think I´m going to go to a protest today at 6, whose purpose is to protest Colombia, but is being called by the same people who instigated the protests in 2005 that I´m studying.

And to end the short sentences section of this post, my mom suggested I get a Macbook Air instead of a Dell. I´m debating that right now, since I can get a Dell for $400 cheaper with better specs. The world wonders what I will do next.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Boom and it´s Gone

My computer is, well, dead. The motherboard is fried and the battery is deader than dead, according to the Dell people here. It took, however, nearly two and a half hours of chatting with them to produce any favorable results, that is, to have them do a backup of my hard drive, and to discuss the possibility of buying another comp while I´m here.

Here´s the deal: the fried motherboard and the busted battery will cost $800 to fix. The dudes at the Dell place offered to buy what´s left of my computer for $280, and then, if I want, subtract that from the price of a new laptop, which would end up being about $800. I nearly went for it then and there, but I showed up at FLACSO as the work day was ending and "built" a computer on the Dell website. Turns out that a similar base model with slightly better parts will cost me $750 and a comp with better specs than my current laptop would cost around $1300 -- half of what I paid four years ago for this one.

I´m still planning on building a comp when I get back to Providence in September, but I need a laptop for the last leg of my fieldwork. I´m leaning towards waiting until I get back to California to order a new Dell laptop, which would mean that I´d have to slug it out here on the FLACSO computers until the end of the month. That limits my ability to take and to use digital photos (I´d have to buy mulitple cards and then revise them on my camera´s screen) and to just do work since I´d have to "commute" here every day.

The thing is, I have a paper due for the Midwest PoliSci conference on the 14th, and without Brown´s VPN program (it won´t dl correctly onto the FLACSO comp), I have less than half of the journals I´d normally be able to access. Furthermore, I need me more primary source data, and with nine days to go, I might just simply be fucked.

All of that, plus having to renew my visa has put me in a really bad mood. All I want to do is eat Oreos and I´m breaking out like crazy. I got nothing to show for myself, either. Great!

Monday, March 03, 2008

How Many Fulbrighters Does it Take to Spell "Fil...Phil...oh heck!"

I just polished off two whole rolls of Mentos a few minutes ago and washed them down with some water, just like old times. In other news, the Dell people here were still "revising" my laptop, which probably means they hadn´t started to look at it yet. I was advised to pay a visit tomorrow to "see how things are going", or rather, to induce them to start working on it.

I dreamt last night that I was at a party full of Filipinos, and I was the first to notice a TV news item that the Philippines had "People Power´d" (yes, in verb form), but no one cared. I woke up thinking that it had actually happened and that I´d have a job because of it. No dice.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Doin´ Things, Man, Doin´ Things

I ran some errands today and walked through Parque La Carolina from one mall to the other. Along the way, I saw this father monitoring his son in a red Porta phonebooth. At first I thought dude was letting his kid piss in the booth, but then the kid emerged, fully dressed in a superman costume and ran off down a path into the park, with dad trying to keep up.

Still computerless, I´ve had no choice but to either go outside or play SimCity DS. Since SimCity DS has been a bit frustrating as of late (low quality of life...), I´ve been out and about.

Actually though, I´m sort of craving company since the internet keeps me too well connected with folks back home. I´m happy that I´m able to dial up the Fulbrighters and hang out with them -- Friday night we had wine and tapas (and it was a near repeat of the Brown University Department of Sociology Holiday Party of 2007), and on Saturday, Martin, Nick, Greg, and I played basketball in La Carolina and then had dinner with Mama Lisa.

Onto other things though. I´m planning to "reset" my visa and fly to Venezuela in a couple weeks to set up shop. I sort of want to get things going as soon as I land in May (or earlier, perhaps?). We´ll see though: if Ecuador´s gonna deport me, then I´m flying to Miami.