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Thursday, April 25, 2013

My first year in Colombia ( I survived!) :)

Well today is the one year anniversary of my time here in Colombia and I have at least one more year to go. My how the time has gone fast! I can't believe I was landing here in Bogota a year ago already. So much has happened since then. I certainly have had my ups and my down's but, overall a really good time. At this moment the only thing I can complain about is the traffic and the rain ;) I have learned A LOT of Spanish in one year but I am far from perfect and need to practice hard if I want to continue towards my goal of being a translator/interpreter. Of course by now, I can generally get everything I need on a daily basis without any problems and I can even hold long semi complicated conversations totally in Spanish. There is many word's I don't know but I do know how to get my point across even if I say it wrong or don't know the correct words.  As I said in my earlier Facebook status, I have not been harmed in any way (other than having my wallet pick pocketed which could happen anywhere) I have not been forced into the drug trade,sold into sexual slavery,kidnapped,held hostage or any of the other crazy things the American Media typically says about Colombia. I honestly enjoy my life here and want to stay here until I learn Spanish fluently.

Of course this is not a perfect country and there is many things that are not good and things that frustrate me but, nowhere is perfect, certainly not America at the moment. Even if I am not living in America I am still a proud American. People are nice and friendly here and overall I have had a very positive experience here and would recommend Colombia to any travelers. Do not expect it to be like your home country though, Colombia is completely different than anywhere else in the world and it is still an "emerging economy" so you will find that some things are not yet up to "first world" standards. If this is a problem for you then you might have a little bit of a rough time but, if you are capable of handle new challenges and realizing that just because something is different than your home doesn't make it bad then Colombia is for you!

I look forward to what the next year has in store for me! Yours,Tyler

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My likes and dislikes after one year here

You know, now that I have been living in an “emerging economy” for a year now I figured I would take the time to give you my list of likes and dislikes and things I miss from back home. First I will start with the things I like and dislike about Colombia and then I will do the same for Texas (or the USA in general) life has become pretty routine for me here, I go to work and do “normal” things just like you only I choose to do it outside of my home country. There is some major differences though, that is for sure.

First off, I really like that I can eat and live here in Colombia fairly cheaply. Most things are much cheaper here than they would be back home. Fresh good food is really cheap. Just one example, I just recently bought 1 kilo (2.2 pounds) of carrots, 3 kilos (5 pounds) of potatoes and one head of cauliflower all for the equivalent of three USD (US Dollars). Back home that would be impossible. Here in Colombia they almost force you to eat healthy because it is cheap and eating “unhealthy” such as McDonald’s or any “fast food”, is very expensive. I think this is a good thing and it has forced me to learn how to cook and eat healthier. In the States it is almost the exact opposite hence our obesity problem back home. If I do choose to eat out, I can have a regular lunch for $2.50 USD and that includes everything. If I want to go to a sit down restaurant $25 USD for two people would be an expensive place here. So food is very cheap. I do really like most Colombian foods, but I sure do miss ground black pepper.

I share a beautiful 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment in a great neighborhood, with my roommate and my share of the rent is only $300 USD a month. It would be almost impossible to live in a comparable neighborhood back home for the same price. But, Colombian's attention to details in general can be lacking sometimes. For example when we moved in here they told us everything would be ready in 2 weeks and it took them over a month to finish remodeling this place. Once we actually moved in there was no handles on the drawers and things like that. It is just the little things that do matter which they sometimes don't care about. Also, the pace is of life is just so much slower here. Even living in “The New York of South America” I find that people just don't rush around and get so busy as they do back home. They really take time to enjoy life here. There is “Tiempo Colombiano” and “Tiempo Americano” trust me, there is a big difference in the concept of time between the two. Sometimes it can be a good thing and sometimes a bad thing.

The cost of human labor here is extremely cheap. For example if I need my watch fixed I can get it fixed here for one or two dollars. Back home it would be much more expensive to get my watch fixed (or any human labor) I also like that I have the option of public transportation here. (Which is good because I don't have a car here) The public transportation can be both good and bad but it is just nice that here they offer a viable option for it, if you want to use it. Here it is nice that I live in a city that is large enough that I can do pretty much whatever I feel like, whenever I feel like it. Almost everything activity or hobby wise is available here.

It is nice that there is a lot of holidays here (and I do mean a lot) so I have time to go and explore Colombia and have time for myself. I really enjoy getting out of Bogota when I can so I can see more of this beautiful country. Colombia has everything, mountains,oceans,jungles,plains,hot,cold,wet,dry whatever you are into you can find it here. Colombia actually has one of the largest ecosystems in the whole world (Including the most poisonous animal on the planet, a frog). Every part of Colombia is different so I enjoy being able to see different things and there is also very large regional accents here.

I have a true passion for the Spanish language and have really come to love speaking it and learning it. I am far from perfect but (almost) everyone here is very friendly and receptive to helping me practice my Spanish and correct my mistakes. Spanish is a very expressive language so I love learning all the different new words that we don't have in English. For the most part Colombians and very proud of their country (as they should be) and they really want to get rid of the negative stereotypes and help increase tourism here. Generally speaking almost all Colombians will go out of their way to help me when I need it or show me something new, take the time to make sure I have everything I need.
I enjoy living in a city that pays very good wages for a very in demand skill (teaching English) and I enjoy living in Colombia now. I am still living in the “raw” Colombia. It is not overrun by tourists here and I get a very authentic feel here. That is changing though, I see more and more iphones and technology here everyday. Colombians love to have technology just as much as Americans do, it is just not as prevalent because of the high cost but it is getting cheaper by the day here. Just a quick addition here, In Colombia you are only charged in you make a phone not if someone calls you. I like the fact that you can talk for free if you are the “receiver” of the call.

I really like that in Bogota you can buy food (or almost anything you want) on the street. Bogota is also very progressive in the fact that for over thirty years they have had “Ciclovia” every Sunday. Between 7am and 3pm they close off large parts of the city to vehicle traffic and only allow bikes,walking,roller blader's etc. It is really quite healthy. Another good thing Bogota does is prohibits by law certain cars from driving on certain days (depending on your license plate number) to try and cut down on pollution. This of course overloads the public transportation system since people can't always drive their cars but still it is a good thing.

As for my dislikes, I hate the weather of Bogota. All of Colombia doesn't share the same weather. There is every climate you could ever want, in this country. Unfortunately for me I chose Bogota without exploring my options first. There really is no seasons here in Bogota. I have never been to Seattle but I would imagine it is very similar to Bogota. I never gets truly “hot” here and it rains often. So really the only variances in the days if it will be raining from one day or the next. In general, it is warm during the day and cold at night. You don't want to leave the house without a jacket or an umbrella though. My “normal outfit” is a short (or long sleeve) shirt and jeans. Of course I always bring my jacket and umbrella no matter the weather because here it can change completely in a span of 15 minutes. I do miss wearing my shorts and sandals that is impossible in Bogota (but not on the coast or other warmer cities in Bogota). The bad weather depresses me, it is by far my biggest complaint here.

Next up would be the traffic. In a city of 9 million people of course traffic is going to be bad but, here it is horrible. I spend hours of my life jammed into buses, sometimes crammed in like an animal and because of the bad condition of some of the roads it can take forever to get anywhere. Also they do not have one unified bus system The Transmelinio (The Metro Bus System) goes to some parts of the city but not all (and you have three different rider cards depending on which part of the city you want to go too) then there is Collectivos (small buses always jammed packed full of people and it will stop anywhere that you press the “stop” button) so between the two bus systems (The Collectivos have no map system or “stops” they just have written destinations so you have to know where you are and where you want to go.)

My biggest complaint about the collectivos besides all the constant stopping and crazy drivers, is that they allow “Sellers” to come onto the buses and hawk their various fares or beg or money or do some terrible rap song on these horribly overcrowded buses (sometimes I cant even sit down and I have to stand up) and when I just want to ride the bus home in peace I get harassed by these people with their long drawn out sales pitches and they don't even pay to ride the bus! In a year of living here in Bogota I have not once bought anything from these people, that should give you an indication of the quality of their stuff. Taxis are another story, they are usually pretty good (and quite cheap) but if it is raining hard they usually refuse to pick you up because they don't want to get the inside of their taxi wet (but of course this is when you need them most!) a ride almost all the way across the city will cost you roughly 10 USD.

Bogota is laid out in a grid like system (very similar to New York) except here there is carreras and calles. So you really don't need a map. You just need to know what carrera and calle you need to go to and then you are done. Carrerras run in one direction and calle intersect in the other direction. In Theory. Bogota is so massive and built over so many different years and the system doesn't always work. They have streets A-G and transversals,diagonals and it can be very complicated but once you learn the system it is actually quite easy. So for me this kind of numerical only mapping system is both a positive and a negative.

Another chief complaint of mine would be the pollution. Obviously in a city of 9 million people this is unavoidable, but, Bogota is inside a mountain valley so all the pollution just gets trapped and hangs around. The Collectivos and cars and other things sometimes are not the most modern so they just spew pollution. It is almost impossible to exercise outside (due both to the pollution and the altitude) Breathing in the air just feels unhealthy and it has caused me all sorts of various health issues since being here. Nothing super serious but more annoying, like throat problems,eye problems,coughing etc. all due to the pollution of course. I cant imagine living in this city for my entire life. The pollution is certainly not as bad as China or India but it is pretty bad and a big problem.

My next “dislike” would be about the social behavior of Colombians in general. Almost always, all Colombians are very nice,caring honest people and I have zero problems with them except in two situations. On public transportation people turn into animals and can be very rude and pushy and that forces me to use animalistic behavior and be rude just so that I can get where I am going. Otherwise people will just push you around, walk right over you and you will never get anywhere! The other situation is any circumstance where you have to be in a line. Most especially in any kind of government or insurance office. People will shamelessly cut in front of you,disrespect the line totally (even if you have a number!) and it is just plain rude but it is just part of the culture here. In almost every other circumstance you can think of though, Colombians are very nice,giving,caring people. There is an enormous gap between the rich and the poor here and I really dislike that but no matter their social class people are really rude in lines, (not everyone of course just a generalization)

Along the same vein, the wait times at any kind of insurance or government office are horrendous. It can easily take hours or days to accomplish the simplest of tasks. You can plan a half day or an entire work day easily in one or two government offices or insurance offices because it takes them that long to see you. An example, when I went to receive my Colombian National ID I waited almost an entire workday and then they finally got everything taken care of and told me to come pick it up in ten days. Well I came back in ten days and they told me it wasn't ready. Well due to various governmental changes etc, it took them nine months to get it to me! If you need any kind of service here in Colombia, refunds almost never exist and be prepared to wait and wait to get what you need. It is truly who you know here, and not what you know. The nationalized healthcare system here is good for basic things and other than some wait time for basic stuff I have no problem with it. It is cheap and the quality is decent but, if you need anything “serious” taken care of, it is much better to pay for private care it is better and faster.

Anything that can be considered “imported” or “processed can be very very expensive here. This annoys me because sometimes I just want some peanut butter or Frosted Flakes but they are prohibitively expensive here. Technology is also very expensive here. Anything electronic will cost a lot here. You know most of the road work here is done manually with men using pick axes because it is actually cheaper to pay them than for the company to buy one jack hammer! Some of the roads in Colombia are pretty terrible. The “old district” of Bogota was settled in 1538 so obviously some of the roads are really old. They can be full of trash and not leveled correctly. So when it rains it is like walking through the ocean (only with trash in it.) Bogota has tried to clean up it's image (literally) here in the past few years but, people still litter constantly and there is a serious lack of trash cans and cultural training. But, this is not unique to Colombia. Most third world countries or “emerging economies” are exactly the same. I haven't been able to pin down a true reason. I think people here care about the environment and such I guess it is just lack of enforceable laws and lack of personal responsibility coupled with the lack of trash cans that makes littering such a bad problem.

Ok, that ends my likes and dislikes for Colombia. Now I will tell you my likes and dislikes about Texas (and the USA in general). First off, I love the weather of Texas. It is perfect for me. I really enjoy the hot weather. It it is just so great that I can wear shorts and sandals (almost) all year long. I enjoy being able to go to the lake or the pool and go swimming almost all year long. I miss the long Texas summers and long days.

I miss Texas food. (Fried okra specifically) more than any other food. I miss good Texas steak and my mother's cooking. I miss Bluebell ice cream and good Mexican food. I miss Black pepper and Asian food. I miss pop-tarts and American junk food. I miss Whataburger and Wendy’s and any restaurant with a drive thru. I miss rice and gravy and good baked or mashed potatoes. Basically anything you can think of, food wise I miss it. I miss ground black pepper. I miss donuts and cinnamon rolls and biscuits and gravy. I miss my mom's homemade chicken noodle soup.

I miss country music and American music in general. I miss American movies and TV in English. I miss being able to get in my car and go wherever I want,whenever I want. America is still the land of the free (for the moment anyway) we do have more civil rights and liberties than many other countries. I miss hanging out with my friends and family. I miss road trips. I miss Shiner Bock and good Texas/American beer. I miss the Texas accent. I also miss speaking English sometimes. I miss my GPS. I miss going to concerts. I miss dollar beer nights and happy hour. I miss Dr. Pepper. I miss beef jerky. Ok I have to stop my food list now, I could go on forever about what I miss food wise.

I miss being able to go to an ATM at night or walk around with my wallet in my back pocket and not have to worry about getting robbed. Colombia has really become MUCH safer than it was in the 90's but you still have to be cautious with your wallet and money. You could easily be pick pocketed in The States as well though. Of course I miss my friends and family even if I don't talk with them as much as I should I am certainly still thinking of them all. I miss just being able to see them whenever I want and just hang out.

Well now I have to tell you my dislikes about Texas and The US in general. I really dislike the pace of the lifestyle back home. People are so focused on their careers or whatever it might be and they are so short sighted. They go through their lives working themselves to death so they can “have fun in retirement” but what is the point of being so single minded? Why work yourself to death so that you can enjoy yourself when you are old, instead why not do it when you are young and able? Americans in general just can sit back and enjoy life like Colombians or other nations can. I get so bored at home doing the same thing day in and day out just to pay off your credit card bills that you have racked up by doing basically nothing! Or maybe take two weeks off every YEAR to go somewhere and you still answer your emails and your phone calls. I really dislike to generally speaking most Americans don't know how to relax and enjoy life.
America almost forces you to be unhealthy. Healthy food is so expensive that people will almost always choose the cheaper less healthy alternative. In Colombia cooking for yourself can cost you less than a dollar per meal if you work it right. A McDonald’s meal can cost over 10 USD. American consumerism and spending is out of control as well. We as a nation are in debt up to our eyeballs,with nothing to show for it except more debt! China almost owns America and we are still trying to be the world police. I really wish that our government as whole would really just honestly try and focus on America helping Americans for the first time in a long long time.

I hate the American Tax System (where everything is taxed after you purchase it) so if something cost $19.99 and I have a $20 I can't even buy it! Here in Colombia tax is included in everything as it should be. I hate the penny. It is worthless and annoying I wish they would get rid of it like Canada did. I hate how focused on America (most) Americans are. I wish people traveled more and realized that this big beautiful world has many cultures,languages,countries and other things to offer. I also hate how America makes it so far for other people to visit or live in America because what ends up happening is those other countries charge me (and other American travelers) “Reciprocal visa fees. Basically I get charged whatever America charges their citizens. I am not advocating that we just let everyone into America willy nilly but relax a little!

America and Americans have been targets and security has been an issue for years now. America is the last remaining “Super Power” I guess. Obviously after all that has happened America has a reason to be concerned about security. Terrorism is no joke and not something to take lightly. But, I think sometimes our American government goes overboard. Going to the airport in America is not even close to an enjoyable experience anymore. Compared to other countries America is much more paranoid about security though. Everyone is really uptight. This is just not enjoyable at all. It really bothers me that America has some ridiculous restrictions on travel (that other countries don't have) like being able to freely travel to Cuba. I dislike that other nations sometimes really dislike Americans just because of our government which I have no control over. Of course I really thank all of the security people and our military trying to keep America safe and for the most part doing a good job but after many recent events back home, it seems that more security is not the answer. We need to rethink our global strategy from the ground up.

When I am in America back home in Texas visiting friends and family I do miss speaking Spanish. I miss Colombia when I am in Texas and sometimes when I am in Colombia I miss Texas. I really dislike the fact that I am all good with being home for two or three weeks and then after that I get bored and unsatisfied, I get itchy feet and want to leave again. I dislike the fact that I bored with my homeland. I dislike the fact that I can't feel truly happy in the land of my birth. I am American and always will be but over these past years I have felt more like a citizen of the world instead of a citizen of America, the country that issued my passport. I am fairly certain that one day I will return home to live in America but I have no idea for how long or what I will do there. I only hope that I can be truly happy when I do chose to return to the good ol US of A. Because regardless of my personal feelings or the feelings of others and regardless of the problems America does have, I truly believe it is still one of the best countries in the world and in much better shape than some other countries in many different respects.

Well there you have it, a long list of my likes and dislikes from both home and abroad. I really have nothing else special to report, I am just working at my new job (still teaching, going great) and doing normal things. But I am back to being happy old me after a few bumps in my personal life. If you read this far, thanks for reading. Til next time,Tyler

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Good news, Bad news

So, I have some good news and some bad news. Which do you want first? Ok I will choose for you haha. It is the good news. The good news is, that here in the next couple of weeks I will be making a big announcement which is still in the planning phases as of now. This is huge because it not only benefits me but, also many many other people in this world. All my life I have always wanted to make an "impact" to leave something behind. It sounds so cliche and many people say they want too but they never do. I want too and I am going too. This is what my announcement will be about. I am so excited! This huge change in my life wont be happening for another 20 months but I am planning now!

Ok the bad news. It seems that as of now we cannot get internet at our apartment. At all, ever. :( Colombia has been very frustrating about this. We have gone through a lot of going to different internet places and calling and just general frustration. Everyone around us has internet but, for whatever reason our actual apartment unit is only able to get internet service from one certain company who is very expensive. So, unless we find an alternative then my internet time will only be at work where it is free. This is a shame because I will miss out on my regular Skype chats.

I heard about the Boston bombings today. I am very sad to hear that some horrible person felt it necessary to cause death and destruction at a running event. It is times like this when I am sad for the world but, also times like this when I know and have faith there is still good people in the world.

On an unrelated side note, my second week at my new job is going really well and I am enjoying this group teaching thing so far. Everything is good here on my end and I can only wish the same for you wherever you are. Take care,Tyler 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I am aliveeeeeeeee!

My Lord it has been a while hasn't it?! I am really sorry I have been so out of touch lately but frustratingly after not blogging for over a month (an eternity for me!) and after living in my new apartment for over a month we STILL don't have internet! Makes it a little hard to blog consistently. I do have a lot to catch you up on huh? I believe my last blog was about my Immigration Hell in Venezuela. Since then I have had a great 10 day public holiday,changed jobs,been on a few more dates and just generally had a pretty good time. So here goes....

Semana Santa (Holy Week) is the week before Easter here in South America. Here in Colombia you get a total of 10 days if you include the weekends. I knew I wanted to leave Bogota for that time so I decided to go visit my friend Adrian (the Irish guy I met in Immigration in Valenzuela) in his city. Originally I wanted to go to another city but tickets were way to expensive. I sure am glad I changed my mind because I had a great time! All of his friends and roommates were really cool and I really enjoyed meeting all of them. I got to climb a mountain, see a castle, go to a really neat Colonial town and eat some great food. The best part was that I could wear shorts and the weather was great! I was one happy man. I really appreciated all his hospitality and putting up with me for a over a week.

After I returned to Bogota I got a new job offer from a friend that guaranteed me more working hours and hence more money. I jumped on the chance to jump ship and start with his company. I am now teaching adults as usual but in a classroom type setup with multiple students and working on a school semester yearly type setup. I have just been working for two days as of today but so far everyone is super nice and I really like all my students. My challenge will be remember all the students name's in all four of my classes! The office we work out of is really awesome as well. Free coffee and hot chocolate all day long! They even have golf on the roof!

Other than that, I have been on a few more days (trying to get back out there slowly since things ended with Viviana) met some cool people, and just trying to enjoy my life and make the best of my time here in Bogota. I am still planning on studying Spanish properly at a University here once I can get my visa questions sorted and figure out a good time schedule for this. I really really have a strong desire to become a translator/interpreter and I love speaking Spanish! I still hate the weather and the traffic in Bogota but if that is all I have to complain about I guess I am doing pretty good. After me being "offline" for so long I bet you expected me to write pages and pages of stuff but right now this is all I have.

P.S. I booked my ticket home for two weeks in June! So plan on seeing me from the 4th of June to the 18th. Get ready!

Yall stay well, til next time- Tyler