Thursday, July 9, 2009

My Solid Plan For Making It Big In Chile, or "Where Have All The Oreos Gone?"

If you've ever traveled, you know that one of the most exciting things to see in foreign places is the food selection. A country's most famous dishes are often the hallmark of its culture. Peking Duck probably tastes better if eaten in Peking. Tacos are best eaten on the streets of Tijuana* (for those brave enough to try them), and Pisco Sours are positively delightful (albeit strong and completely dangerous) in Chile.

I just noticed that the three foods I just mentioned are quite likely to give a person diarrhea. Or perhaps just me. Oops.

But this isn't really my point.

What I want to talk more specifically about is a country's "native" snack foods. I find this infinitely more interesting than restaurant fare, especially now living in another country. Chips, cookies, candies, sodas. This is my area of study. Walking into a supermarket in Chile to me is like walking into a treasure trove of cultural relics. I feel like an anthropologist from the future, scanning the aisles of a long since forgotten civilization. Except that I am very much not alone. Stores in Santiago are usually teeming with people at every hour of the day. But you at least you understand where my head is at.

Each time I visit, which seems to be somewhat frequently, I try to choose something somewhat exotic. A box of foreign cereal on Monday, a package of foreign yogurt on Tuesday, a Bag-O-Olives on Wednesday. Just looking at the labels on soda cans gets me going. With everything written in Spanish, it's like a game of Grocery Roulette - "Will this strange looking marmalde kill me, or eliminate my body odor?"** The real fun is in not knowing.

Although, amongst all the funny looking pre-packaged goodies, I have noticed one huge void - both the subject of this entry and the path by which I shall become a gazillionaire - and that is: The Oreo Cookie.

America, you may be surprised to hear this, but no, there are no Oreo cookies here in Chile. If they are here, they are at least hard to find. Why? I have NO idea! Why is this blessed little cookie, this tiny black and white gift from God not present in this country? It's cheap enough to make, it's got to be cheap enough to ship, and I'm sure it would be cheap enough to buy on any one of a million street vendor's carts. But alas, it is nowhere to be found.

Upon noticing this today - it takes longer to notice what is NOT there, versus what IS there - I felt almost moved to find the phone number for Nabisco Foods, call their CEO, and demand an answer for this horrible infraction. Do they not know that South America exists? Or are they choosing to ignore its presence and miss out on this incredible investment opportunity?

What's your DEAL, Makers of the Oreo?

If teaching English doesn't work out, I'm not going to worry too much. The simple, and most obvious remedy is to have my family ship me a box full of single wrapped Oreos. I will then walk the sidewalks of Santiago passing out my little galletas (guess what that means) raising awareness about this mass-made marvel of a confection. Surely once every super market manager has tasted for himself the irreplacable flavor of the Oreo, crowds will rush to their stores faster than you can say "Yummy." Hell, knowing the odd way things work around here, they'll probably quit their jobs and open up a chain of stores featuring the following merchandise: Oreos.

With the Chilean population newly addicted to Oreo cookies, I will offer up this exciting business opportunity to Nabisco to the tune of a hundred million dollars, and I will be crazy rich. And you will feel stupid for not doing this yourself.

Of course this is only one of a hundred different business opportunities I've scouted out. Others include: A Clothing Store for Women Over 5 Feet Tall, A Shoe Store For Women With Large Feet, A 24-Hour Plumbing Service, A Pernament Hair Removal Salon, and Champagne. If I gave it more time, I'm sure the list would be longer. But that's the idea.

So, if you're stuck in your bomb-shelter back at home, waiting out the awfulness of the U.S. economy, consider a continental shift. Come to Chile, and get rich quick.

And bring me a case of Oreos.

*This is likely untrue, seeing as Tijuana is a complete shit hole. I bet the tacos are probably good in all of Mexico.

**Let it be known I absolutely never have body odor.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Kind Of Missing Michael, or "Paying a King (of Pop's) Ransom For a Ticket To A Funeral Is Just Plain Stupid"

So I must admit something. It's not easy to say, and in fact as an American I feel kind of bad about it, but...

I don't miss Michael Jackson that much.

It's a very sad thing that he died. It truly is. I think that with our medical system, when some passes before the age of 75, there's a feeling that remains of things undone, life unlived. There's tragedy to be felt in the sense of someone's time cut short. No doubt, I sense this for Michael Jackson. He was and is a human being, a sacred existence, and for this reason I have profound respect for him in the wake of his death and I would hate for my thoughts to be misconstrued. That said, I also sense a sort of gross exaggeration regarding the world-wide impact of his death. I take major issue with this, and with the overblown display of grief that took place today at the Staples' Center in LA.

First of all, I can't stand the Staples Center, because it costs so much to park there, even for a Clippers game. So just starting out, I've got some bad feelings about all this.

Second, a wise friend made the point that for all intents and purposes, Michael Jackson died 20 years ago, and only now are we mourning him. For the last 20 some-odd years (at least the whole of the 90s), this man has been a walking spectacle that the media has made a fortnue off of, simply for his strange and really disturbing antics. Even if he wasn't all that famous, this guy would still make headlines. He was weird.

From his troubled youth in the spotlight, to his inexplicable transformation into a white man, to his get-me-the-hell-out-of Neverland Ranch, to his inappropriate friendship with McCauley Kulkin, to his uncomfortably over-sexualized marriage to Lisa Marie Presley, to his multiple molestation trials, to his holding a babychild over the balcony of a hotel... this man has been a living, breathing, tabloid cover. A hott-mess, some would say. I mean, the guy was a freak of nature. Both his talent and his ability to like, be decent at life, are off the charts out of this world. But in different directions.

No lucid American (or Chilean for that matter) over the age of 10 can say they don't know of Michael Jackson. And of that group, I'd hedge my bet that 98% of them remember all the weird shit that he did, brought to us in our living rooms in the form of "News." But was any of that remembered today? Absolutely not. Because posthumously, one's inherent crazy-freaking-nuttiness is apparently forgotten. He was arguably the best entertainer of the 20th century, and perhaps, since Entertainment is a relatively new phenomenon, the best of all time. This is without question. But guys, MJ was a whack-job. He just was, you can't tell me he wasn't.

I guess being a whack-job earns you a big fancy-ass funeral with Bono in attendance, and regards from Nelson Mandela, and a Father Of The Year award. All you have to do is change the way people listen to music.

This is almost absurd. Except for that it's Michael Jackson, and by now absurdity is to be expected.

And another thing that sort of bugs me about all this fussing over this one man (keep in mind, he is ONE MAN) - people that couldn't have possibly known him all that well were performing at his funeral. This is what bothers me about people in that ridiculous industry. They just want attention.

Case in point: Jennifer Hudson.

Ok, so Jennifer Hudson is a talented singer. She's also African American.* SO WHAT?! Does this qualify her to be singing the Free Willy Song at MJ's funeral? I seriously doubt it! Guys - she was a contestant on American Idol. After she LOST, she somehow landed a part in "Dream Girls," and the rest is history. Did you catch that? SHE DIDN'T EVEN WIN, and she's singing the Free Willy Song. At Michael Jackson's funeral. This is the man who, at age 5, was singing "ABC" and "I Want You Back," and that's all I can think of. The Free Willy Song is epic. Epic! And yet, somehow, by some stroke of fate, Jennifer Hudson - the worst actress in the "Sex and the City" movie (and that's pretty bad) - sang the Free Willy Song. At Michael Jackson's funeral.

I can't express more fully my confusion and anger that this was allowed to happen.

To make a shorter point, I think all this blabbing about Michael Jackson's passing is kind of a lot of bunk. His music is awesome. His dancing is awesome. His strange sense of fashion is at the very least memorable.

But the dude was a little bonkers, and I just think we should all take a moment of silence and remember that.

*She's totally playing the race card here, so don't get all butt-hurt at me for mentioning it.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Birthday America, or "It's The 4th Of July, But Not Really In Chile"

To all of you Americans out there, Happy Independence Day!

To all of you non-Americans, Happy 4th of July! This day means nothing to you other than that 233 years ago, the homogenizing force that is The United States began its upward ascent toward (practically) worldwide cultural and nuclear domination. But if firepower and military transcendence isn't significant enough to make you raise your glass, consider it the "Pre-Birth" of such miracles as Britney Spears*, the Automobile, Electricity, and the late Michael Jackson. R.I.P.

July 4th, 1776 is the day our nation started owning yours. You should be celebrating.

That sounds awfully rude, I'm sorry - but I had nothing to do with it! I was merely a random collection of genes roaming the hillsides of England, Germany, and Scotland. I was an allele riding sidesaddle on a camel's back somewhere in the Middle East; just a twinkle in some Arab Nomad's eye. Little idea did I have that I’d someday be symbolically part of a future empire.

If anything, I hate the fact that America has somehow become the dominant player in worldwide culture-making. It frightens me to think that we all might end up listening to the same music, while wearing the same clothes, while drinking he same Starbucks latte. I fear that the fat people in “Wall-E” who ride around in personal hovercrafts drinking mind-corroding Jammer Juice (or whatever it’s called) aren’t so very far off the mark.

But it's a strange dichotomy, this mind of mine. Allow me to explain:

Since moving to Chile, my appreciation for things like Starbucks, Facebook, and the music of Jon Bon Jovi has only increased. Firstly, because there is very little good, accessible coffee in this city. Most readily available is Nescafe – and drinking is like craving a decadent piece of chocolate cake and being offered a stale gumball. Secondly, because Facebook has allowed me to both stay connected to old friends and make new ones. Thirdly, because the two times I’ve been out at dance clubs the abundance American 80s hits makes me feel so very much at home. Song after song, I revel in memories of sloppy nights in shitty karaoke bars. These things are decidedly American innovations, and I am glad they’re here. Never before have I felt so happy living on a prayer.

But simultaneously, it is unbelievably refreshing to be thousands of miles away from strip malls, Hummers, and The Real Housewives of New Jersey. I hate these things with a red, fiery passion. They are pit-stains on an otherwise perfectly good t-shirt that mark my homeland as a place full of gas-guzzling, over-indulgent consumers. But nevertheless, these things are real. So it makes me happy to be experiencing the best (and at some point, the worst) of another place.

With that, I’ve chosen to celebrate not the things that America makes, but rather the things that make me American. And today, the day my country became a country, it is Independence. It’s a quality to be proud of, and this July 4th, my first ever away from home, has been an exercise of such independence. There is something significant, I believe, to knowing there is a BBQ four thousand miles away with my name on it, and a big tub full of ice cold beers, and a tacky midway I could be strolling down somewhere, yet choosing to step out alone into the great big world…and hoping it all goes OK.

I miss my BBQ very dearly and hope to soon encounter one here in Chile, but it’s hardly what makes America, America.* I hope you’ve been able to drink a lot of beer, and eat a burger, and win some corny stuffed animals at a fair. I’m glad to be celebrating in my own little way.

And I’m glad to be doing it here.

*Actually, Britney Spears is more like a nasty, bloody sludge of cultural After-birth.

**I think it has something to do with McDonalds.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Adventure Continues, or "Some Funny Shit Happened Today And You Should Know About It"

Another day, another litany of cultural differences I find endlessly amusing. The weather here has continued to suck some serious ballage, but as events unfold, I sorta kinda don’t really notice. I feel like a doe-eyed little kid in a candy store staring all googly-like at everything and everyone that passes me by. Only, I’m a kid who’s worried my shit’s gonna get stolen. I’m a ghetto kid.

Of course paranoia is just the first annoying habit I’ve managed to pick up. My second, and perhaps MORE annoying habit I’ve is the constant need to make comparisons to the United States. Por ejemplo:

Lisa: A Chilean department store! WOW! In the United States WE have department stores. Except we call them Macy*s, or Sears, or Target. Isn’t that cool?

[Insert other nationality here]: Uhhh, si. Muy cool. (Indifferent stare).

Lisa: A Chilean Dog! WOW! In the United States we have dogs, too! Except the stray ones we turn in to animal control and they get shot! Isn’t that cool?

[Other person]: -----And so it goes, with everything from the condition of the rain gutters, to the existence of central heating, to the quality of our produce. In the last three days, I’ve almost never stopped. It’s as if the only thing I have to talk about is Wal-Mart, and all the cheap shit you can buy there. I feel… how to say… very boring.

So in that spirit, some funny shit that happened today that I found quite entertaining only for its US Comparison Value (USCV)*.

1) My experience buying a hairdryer was not unlike that of buying a car. I walked into a Chilean Department Store (WOW!) called Paris, ironically enough, and found the home electronics department. It’s hard to describe, but the best thing I can compare it to is a make-up counter at Nordstrom. A nicely groomed, pretty young woman asked me what I needed, and I proceeded to tell her that I was in desperate need of a hair dryer. Being a curly haired woman in a straight haired world can be difficult, and although after years of therapy coming to grips with my curly-ness, I found it possible to once again have confidence in myself, however I can’t resist the urge to conform.

Ok, no I didn’t say that exactly. But the experience brought this rush of emotions I can only really express in English.

Anyway, she proceeded to then show me different makes, models, and styles of hair dryer. I ended up landing on a package deal. Dryer, flat iron, and curling iron all for the very low price of… fuck if I know. Pesos are confusing. She even brought the thing out of its box, and then demonstrated its three temperatures as well as its ability to blow “ions” and its two-year guarantee. Did I need all this information? No. Will I ever use the ion function on the hair dryer? Probably not. But I sure as shit got a kick out of the thing. Too bad I probably got raped by my credit card company in exchange fees. But I’ll look pretty in the rain!


2) This evening I went to my fist Chilean Gym. Don’t get too excited, it’s almost exactly like our gyms. Same equipment and everything. Lucky for me, I found a spin class and was able to stroll right in. A very friendly instructor-man came and asked me a few questions I barely understood. I primitively communicated to him that I knew what the fuck I was doing, and he pleasantly began class moments later. As he began to give the class instructions, his mannerisms began becoming more and more hilarious. Imagine, if you will, the Latino Lance Armstrong. A very tall, very fit man wearing completely spandex cycling outfit. Now imagine him wearing something resembling a neckerchief. Funny, right? This I could deal with, being that I’m a foreigner in a foreign place. Maybe neckerchiefs are just par for the course in Chilean spin classes. But then the extremely flashy hand signals began. As we were instructed to ascend an invisible hill, he’d shout enthusiastically “Dos minutos!” and jovially throw up a peace sign high above his head. “Cinco minutos!” and a big high-five went up. And as if this didn’t happen often enough, every 15-20 seconds, he made a very distinctive hang loose “shaka” sign. Sometimes he’d shaka with one hand, and then promptly shaka with the other. And then a big high-five. And then a peace sign. And then a thumbs up – I almost forgot. New song, thumbs up. Someone leaves, thumbs up. I wanted so badly to gesticulate in return, but instead remained focused, and tried not to laugh out loud between gasps of air.

USCV: 9.5

So in all, a very good day to compare to my average day in El Dorado Hills. And with all that has happened, I am on my way to being a very fit, straight-haired, wildly gesticulating Chilena.

Muy Buena.

***This is a new rating system I have just created and will probably soon forget about.

**Also Muy Buena: still no assplosions.