Ruta Maya

I’ve been a terrible blogger the past few weeks – sorry guys! And I am going to continue to be a bad blogger because I am going on a very exciting and very long trip. I will be completing part of the Mayan trail, visiting the southern Mexican states of Chiapas, Campeche, Yucatan, and Quintana Roo over the next two weeks. I’ll try and post some cell phone updates, but I don’t know how trustworthy that will be. Wish me luck and I’ll be back soon!

Tips

An infographic from the study abroad office at my college appeared on my newsfeed this week caught my eye. It detailed the customs of tipping in different parts of the world. Although by now I think I have Mexican tipping etiquette down, I wanted to confirm what I have learned over these nearly three months. The trickiest tipping situation I have encountered thus far pertained to valet parking. Since most students studying abroad don’t have cars, this section was understandably missing, however, an infographic for grown-ups (or people who feel grown-up) should have included it. I have never used valet parking in the U.S., and I can honestly say that I have no idea how much it would cost, $10? $15? Plus tip? But since parking is at a premium here and I don’t know the streets of surrounding areas well enough to know where else to park, I have left my car at valet once or twice. Valet parking is common here, once I left my car with the valet at a Starbucks. The tricky part was that I didn’t know how much to tip since the valet itself was free. I texted my cousin, my mother, and asked the person I was meeting at the Starbucks and they all gave me different responses, the range was between 10 and 25 pesos. I ended up giving him 20 pesos, but still felt that it wasn’t that much. Then I saw that he parked my car right next to the coffee shop, in a space I probably could have parked myself, and then I felt less bad.

Another tipping phenomenon in which I have only seen in Mexico is that of the men who help you get into or out of a parking spot. Referred to as the viene vienes (because they say viene or “come” to direct you into a spot) or franeleros (the rags they swing to motion a spot to you are called franelas), they are usually older men, although I have seen a few sassy young boys who act like they own every sidewalk and tree in a neighborhood they definitely do not live in. Sometimes the franeleros are helpful, like when you are in a short car and the car next to you is a huge truck and you can’t see anything, or when you have to reverse out of your parking space directly into traffic (the one time I did this, they were nowhere to be seen), but most of the time they are a hassle and you could have gotten out of the space just fine without them helping you. For their “service” you’re supposed to give them about five pesos, any more is up to your discretion. I usually try to evade their vision, or park far away from the main entrance of supermarkets or malls so that I can avoid them.

One last monetary situation I encounter often is that of guys washing my windshield at stop lights. I cannot stand it. It infuriates me to no end when they surprise attack me waiting at a stop light with a water bottle filled with soapy water and their rags. Some point their bottle at your windshield to ask permission, but most just ambush you and before you have a chance to say no your windshield is a soapy mess and you can’t do anything about it. Since they provided you with a “service” you’re supposed to pay them. I begrudgingly lower my window and give them three or five pesos, depending on what I have on me and how much I actually needed to clean my windshield. One day they ambushed me and I didn’t have any change. I pleaded with them to not clean my windshield, and motioned with my hands that I didn’t have any change. They completed the job and told me that I could pay next time. Thankfully, I am rarely at that intersection during the time of day they are there, although I doubt they would recognize me and demand that I pay my three peso debt.  

Fiestas de Octubre

20131015-115536.jpg

During the month of October, a fair sets up on the outskirts of Guadalajara. Essentially a county fair, there are agricultural events, rides, games, concerts, food, and cockfights. This weekend two fellow Fulbrighters were visiting from Mexico City so we decided to check it out.

Before heading to the fair, we went to see a play which was part of the theater showcase sponsored by Jalisco’s department of culture. It was called “La Muerte Alegre” and it was bizarre. Near the end, a small child behind us asked their mother when it was going to be over, we all asked ourselves the same thing.

We took a bus to the Fiestas, but foolishly assumed that just because the bus had the words “Fiestas de Octubre” on it, that it was going in the right direction. We ended up going about 20 mins out of the way when we asked the driver how much longer and he responded that we were going in the wrong direction. We got off, crossed the street and got on another bus which would take us to our destination.

20131015-115838.jpg

Once at the fair, we rode the Ferris wheel, watched some of the stereophonics concert, rode the mechanical bull and wandered around the fiesta.

20131015-120720.jpg

The next day we headed to Tlaquepaque. Once it’s own separate city, it now seems like an extension of Guadalajara. However, it is still it’s own city with its own official. They are even creating their own climate action plan!

20131015-121254.jpg

Tlaquepaque has a few streets with stores and restaurants which have a traditional Mexican feel. We went to a tequila store and sampled some flavored tequila. After from wandering we went to have a traditional lunch at El Albajeño, complete with mariachi.

20131015-121611.jpg

After lunch, we went to get some
nieve de garrafa, which I think counts as sorbet and is traditional here.

20131015-121813.jpg

We attempted to watch the Chivas game at a restaurant on Chapultepec, but they weren’t showing it since it was a pay per view game. Instead, we stayed there and chatted until it was time for our friends to head back to Mexico City on their overnight bus.

Academic honesty

Since the sample size of my classroom varies between 6 and 12 any given day, I can’t make too many generalizations about the differences between Mexican students and American students. However, I have noticed some major dissimilarities between my classroom experience in the States and here in Mexico. The main difference I have found here is how honest students are with teachers, even when the honesty is to their detriment. Here are a few examples to illustrate:

1. On Monday the teacher asked a student why she wasn’t in class on Monday. The student explained that she stayed home in order to study for another exam that she had on Monday. The teacher found this to be a somewhat acceptable excuse and probably marked her for an unexcused absence since she didn’t have a slip from anyone excusing her absence. I was shocked that she would tell her teacher that she stayed home to study for another class, which was basically like telling her that French class was a lower priority class, which could be true, but I would never tell a teacher that! In my experience, an American student probably would have lied and said they were sick or something else. Or the teacher wouldn’t have even asked.

Phone use is also more in the open during class than in the U.S. In my classrooms in the U.S., students are a little more sneaky or covert about their phone usage, usually hiding the phone under their desk or even inside their backpack to hide the glow of the screen. Here, some students openly have their phones on their desks and text during class. Sometimes the teacher says something about it, and other times it goes unnoticed. 

2. In one instance, a student had his cell phone out in plain view and was responding to a message. The teacher asked him to put his phone away and he said that his friend had woken up late and was going to miss an exam they had in their next class. The teacher found this to be an acceptable explanation and even sounded like she felt sorry for the student who was going to miss his exam. I was baffled that he would have explained the situation to the teacher, an apology for having his phone out and putting it back in his bag would have sufficed. However, by telling the story he received sympathy instead of a reprimand, so it worked in his favor. 

3. In another instance of phone use, one girl checked the time on her phone and the teacher asked her to put her phone away. This student has a particularly busy schedule and didn’t have much time to get to her next class and we were in danger of going over time (side note- I still don’t know what time class is supposed to end. Sometimes it’s 10:50, sometimes 10:55, usually sometime between the two). The teacher asked her if she was anxious or nervous (rude), and she responded that yes and she was checking the time. The teacher nicely told her to calm down and continued the lesson.

Maybe I’m with a bunch of kids who don’t represent the average Mexican college student, but they all seem to act in a similar manner. 

Tomorrow is my first French exam and I’m not really sure what’s going to be on it. My teacher often forgets what she actually teaches us versus what is on the lesson plan. We are four weeks in and we don’t have a syllabus or homework and today we went through have the alphabet for the first time (we made it to M, after skipping K, and then the teacher was interrupted and abandoned the alphabet). Wish me luck!

Color Run

Image

On Sunday I participated in the international Color Run. It was my first 5K and I wasn’t running for any time objective. I ran with my cousins and my cousin’s kids (small children, who only ran the last kilometer). The Color Run has called itself the “Happiest 5K on the Planet” because around every kilometer volunteered throw colored powder at you with music blasting. It’s really fun! It reminded me of the Indian holiday, Holi, where you throw brightly colored powder at other people in celebration. I celebrated Holi at Claremont and was covered head to toe with colored powder. The powder had some staying power and even though the event was on a Friday, on Monday and Tuesday of that next week you still say some people with color behind their ears. The powder from the Color Run is supposed to be easy to get off, but I still have some green on my elbows and ankles!

Image

 

1382214_10153269949790471_438652444_n

 

Last Friday I went to a soccer game, which could have been the most boring soccer game I have ever been to. The Universidad de Guadalajara Leones played against the Albrijes (sp?) of Oaxaca. The only thing that prevented it from being the most boring game was that there was a singular, good goal by the UdeG. Otherwise, it was more interesting to listen to the chants and eat some tasty potato chips with lime, chile, and a coke.

1377086_10153270080260471_171778969_n

A night at the opera

Last week our trip to the lucha libre served as our cultural activity, but this week our cultural activity was a little bit more high brow. I went with my fellow Fulbrighters to the free music performance at the beautiful Teatro Degollado in downtown Guadalajara. The show for the night included a piano performance and then an opera presentation by the Opera Choir of Jalisco. Before heading to the performance, we went to dinner at El Sacromonte, a Mexican restaurant with exotic dishes like quesadillas con pétalos de rosa (yes, rose petal quesadillas) and chicken with different types of mole (a sauce made of different spices, chiles, nuts and sometimes chocolate depending on the region of Mexico). I had a chicken stuffed with vegetables, while the other girls had chiles en nogada, a traditional dish for this time of year which consists of a green pepper stuffed with meat, nuts, and dried fruit, covered in a white sauce with nuts and covered in pomegranate seeds, to represent the green, white, and red of the Mexican flag. 

Image

Image

 

ImageImage

 

This is the cathedral, the two points are a symbol of Guadalajara often seen along with the Minerva in ads for travel to Guadalajara.  

Let there be light! And appropriately priced Facebook ads!

Due to a problem during a construction project, the humanities building where I take my French class didn’t have electricity, and neither did the chemical engineering or business buildings nor the cafeteria and the bookstore. For our classrooms, all this meant was having class in the semi-dark and not being able to play the CD player for listening activities. However, lack of electricity made the already complicated process of enrolling in a language class even more difficult. 

Two weeks ago now, back when there was electricity, I began the overly complicated process of enrolling in a language class. Since all students at the UAG must demonstrate proficiency in English before being allowed to take another language, the only classes with schedules were English classes. All other courses had paper lists with all possible times of class where you would sign up and they would let you know if the class opened with the minimum of 8 students. I signed up for 3 possible French classes, at 8 am, 9 am, and 5 pm. The secretary told me they would call me if any of those classes opened within a few days.

After a few days and without a phone call I was concerned and went to the language center to ask if the classes had opened, sure enough they had and had already begun classes. When I asked if I could take those classes they said they had only opened for business students and I would have to pick another time. I chose 10 am, which was already 2 classes in, but that I could go and try the class the next week. She then gave me a form to fill out so that I could get a discount on the tuition. I went and paid for my course and was told to make a copy of the receipt and to show it on the first day of class to prove that I had paid. 

That Tuesday (Monday was Independence Day), I showed up to class and there was no electricity. That was fine for class, but when I had to buy my book, the bookstore could only take cash and couldn’t print receipts. At first I thought the book was pretty expensive, (700 pesos = about 56 USD), but then after seeing that it was actually a textbook and a workbook, plus three CDs and it would work for 3 semesters of French, it didn’t seem like that much. I brought enough cash the next day and they gave me a handwritten proof of purchase which I was able to make a copy of in the library, since I also needed to turn this in to the Professor. 

Side story – last Friday I went to the bookstore to buy a card and had to go behind the register to look at them. After I had picked my card a flickering light caught my eye and I saw the back office was being illuminated by candles. Although I know that it is typical to have candles available in homes for when the lights go out, it seemed silly to me that the office of a private university’s bookstore wouldn’t have some other sort of lighting, like a battery powered light, after four days of not having electricity. It looked like something out of the Middle Ages, but at least they were being eco-friendly!

That was the end of the process on my end, but all of the students in my class also needed a memo from the head of their respective departments allowing them to take a semester of French, which they couldn’t get until this week because there was no electricity. So after about two weeks of the class being in session, most everyone has turned in their paperwork and is officially enrolled in the class. 

Luckily the electricity issues didn’t affect the Centro de Sustentabilidad y Energía Renovable, so word proceeded as usual. The director of the Centro called me into his office and asked me what I knew about Facebook. As someone who completely admits her addiction to Facebook I said I knew a lot. The Centro has a Facebook page (here!), and the director had recently bought some ads to promote the page. Thinking the ads were only 30 pesos, he bought a few and was happy to see that there had been 28,000 new page views from around the world. When his credit card bill arrived he was surprised to see he was being charged over 700 pesos and cancelled the charge before it could go through. Facebook then cut off his access to the page and told him how much he owed, in US dollars. Turns out that the 30 pesos were actually 30 dollars. He showed me the page where you can buy the ads and it said simply “$30,00” which is confusing because in Mexico whenever something is from an international company and the payment is ambiguous, it usually says “MXN” for pesos or “USD” for dollars. I would have made the same mistake, especially with the comma in place of a period to mark decimal places. The director has sent several emails detailing the confusion, that have gone without response. The director has paid the full price of the ads but still cannot post anything new on the page. Hopefully Facebook will realize and correct this issue so it is clear how much they are charging in foreign countries. 

Independence/French/Lucha

Tropical storms Ingrid and Manuel have made their presence known here in Mexico. With storms working on both sides of the Mexican coast, many areas are deeply affected by flooding and uncontrollable rain. National disaster relief funds are being depleted with a good chunk of storm season still remaining. Although the rains haven’t been uncontrollable in Guadalajara, there has been a steady stream of rain since this weekend, Independence Day Weekend, which put a damper on a lot of celebrations. I had a relaxed weekend with some good bits snuggled in bed and other bits eating lots of warm sopa de tortilla and quesadillas away from the rain.

There was a brief break in the rain yesterday, which was good because I went to the Lucha Libre to celebrate a fellow Fulbrighter’s birthday. We began the night at a “British” style pub with a meter of beers and then proceeded to the arena in a red London-style double-decker bus (because, as another Fulbrighter pointed out, “every culture is against drunk driving”). We got to the area part of the way into a lucha, but luckily we made it in time for the women’s fight. Although it was obviously very fake fighting, the costumes and acting were so over the top you couldn’t help but have fun and join in on some of the chants.

Image

A meter of beers

Image

Some lucha action, before I was asked to put my phone away. Apparently no pictures allowed?

In addition to doing research at the UAG, I also enrolled in a French class in order to meet some students closer to my age and do something fun. Due to the storms, our classroom hasn’t had electricity for the past two classes, which is a little dreary. Some of my middle school French has been coming back to me, which will be handy.

These past two days have been very busy, so I’ve been lazy with my meals. However, I made the base for a tortilla española over the weekend, so that post will be coming soon!

First post

Hola! I know I’m a little late to the blogging game (considering I’m going to celebrate my 1 month anniversary here in Mexico in a few days) but better late than never right? 

I had so much fun blogging about my experiences abroad in Brazil two years ago that I thought why not keep blogging on this new adventure? I’ve switched platforms (tumblr to wordpress) in an effort to be a little more grown up. But only a little. I also had a brief obsession with food blogs in the spring, so there will probably be a lot of food and recipes in this blog. 

So here it goes:

I’m going to be living in Guadalajara, Mexico for 10 months completing a research project on collaboration between different actors, such as governmental agencies, universities, NGOs, and citizens, in the creation of environmental policy. I am based out of the Centro de Sustentabilidad y Energía Renovable at the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara. So far I have just begun to make contacts and lay the groundwork for my research, but I have been very happy to meet a lot of people who are willing to help me with my project. 

I am living Providencia, a neighborhood characterized by trees, parks, cute cafes, and restaurants. There is a lovely frutería (a small store with produce and some dairy products) a few blocks from me where I purchased some delicious produce to experiment with. I found some Mexican squash which reminded me of one of the classic dishes my Mom makes, calabasitas – literally “little squash.” I also picked up some tomatoes, fresh cilantro, mangoes, and carrots and headed back home to make lunch. 

The mangoes and carrots were set aside for a smoothie later, and I got to work on the tomatoes and squash. Image

Image

First, I sauteed the tomato with some olive oil, salt, and pepper and then added the chopped squash. I then remembered I had an herb mix which I added. I later regretted this because the mix contained fennel seed, which was overpowering at times. 

Image

After the squash started to cook down I added some water and let it simmer for a few minutes until everything was cooked through. At the last moment I added some cilantro for its bright flavor.

Image

 

It’s rather fitting that I would cook calabasitas for my first meal in the apartment, since I mentioned the dish in my personal statement for my Fulbright application. This is a simple recipe that can be changed easily. If I had garlic, I would have sauteed a bit with olive oil before adding the tomatoes. I’ve also had it with sour cream added at the end for some richness. 

Now, I’m headed to the frutería again to see what is fresh and looks tasty. This Monday is Mexican Independence Day, so there will be celebrations all weekend. I hope I can see some fireworks and eat some good food!