We left Bangkok in late April, a few days after Songkran, Thai New Year, had ended. The Red Shirts had been protesting for at least a month when we left, and the situation was just starting to become strained. In one of our last days, we walked too close to the protestors and felt tear gas in our eyes. That was the night of the first deadly interaction between the troops and Red Shirts when a Japanese journalist was killed. The public transportation had been cut in certain sections of the city and the main shopping malls were closed.
Songkran was the perfect respite from the rising tensions. For three days, the protesters and military stopped everything and celebrated the new year and the traditional festivities including water fights and smudging strangers’ faces with wet clay. The holiday is encouraged by the city government who ensures that families receive enough water to use in the festivities. Years ago, water was used to give the elderly a blessing in the new year. The transition has transformed into dumping buckets of water over everyone as a gesture of goodwill and mischief.
Photo Credit: Wyndham
Our landlords drove us in their pickup truck around the Silom and Sathorn districts where we threw buckets of water at people on the street. In return, the eager participants threw water at us and shot us with water pistols. Thais would run up to the truck and smash our cheeks and foreheads with wet clay and laugh. I don’t remember the last time I laughed that hard. The most painful were the revelers who had prepared ice water to throw at drive-by participants. I will never forget the feeling of an unexpected bullet of ice water down my back. The event was so fun–it evoked the summer days running through the sprinkler as a child. And so many people–young and old–were involved. It was impossible to walk around the streets and not be a participant, especially as a farang–foreigner.
A must-see attraction for Cape Town visitors is the view from the top of Table Mountain. On a clear day, you can see 360 degrees, the coasts and the city. There are a number of trail options to climb up the mountain; however, we decided to take the cable car to save time.
Margaret at Cachando Chile wrote a great piece on her first experiences in Chile. She’s been here for 18 years now. Since she invited others to share their impressions, I thought it would be a good opportunity to write a less structured post than I usually write. Perhaps a more open post since I’m typically not a candid writer on the blog. These were my thoughts in the first month in Chile after arriving at the end of December, 2008.
E. and I arrived in Santiago after crossing the Andes by bus. About the moment we crossed into the Chilean side of the mountains, I started experiencing post nasal drip which by the time we arrived in Santiago turned into a full blown sinus infection. I knew to expect more pollution in Santiago, but I wasn’t expecting to get sick so quickly! (I have to admit to inheriting a poor excuse for sinuses.)
The first couple months, my lungs hurt certain days. This has stopped, which is probably a bad sign. My body has succumbed to the pollution.
Photo Credit: Gustavo Brazzalle
The Tango Buenos Aires Festival begins on August 15 and offers concerts, classes, movies, documentaries, and competitions–many of which are free. If you are a beginner to tango, take advantage of the free “clases para principiantes.” (Enrollment on the official site is required for classes.) The main location for events is at the old Harrod’s building in the Microcentro. You can find a comprehensive program of events here.
The jazz pianist Fernando Otero’s concert looks interesting on August 20. His music is a tango and jazz fusion.
The official Festival Web site is available here.
Update: I stopped by the festival and found that there is an open dance floor and vendors positioned in the Harrod’s location–877 Florida. The open floor is active when concerts are not in session. It’s a great location to dance or people watch, especially if you have a few extra minutes downtown. The festival is worth a visit, even if you don’t consider yourself a dancer.
Photo Credit: Mahadeva
I have been very satisfied with the three classes I’ve taken at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), if you are interested in taking spanish classes in BA. If you are self motivated and speak up in class, you should do well. I consider the price to be reasonable, especially because the price lowers for returning students. Eight week or sixteen week classes are offered.
On the day of registration, when you arrive, queue up in a long line starting in the entryway. A professor will give you a form to fill out and send you into a larger room to your right to take a placement test. There is a cafeteria there if you want an espresso or cafe con leche. After you finish the test, you can give it to the instructors at the center table, and one of them will grade the exam and talk to you to measure your proficiency.
To get out of the Buenos Aires and forget the cloying city life and traffic, I recommend visiting the Reserva Ecologica on the Rio de la Plata. You can leisurely walk along the river bed or ride a bicycle through the paths. It’s possible to rent a bicycle outside the park for six pesos.
We visited the reserve at the cusp of autumn. It felt like we had been transported. Pumping the pedals of my red bicycle, I became a child again.
At the start of the trails, there is a bird sanctuary with hawks and other native birds, including at least one owl. We found green parakeets in the trees, eating giant yellow berries and chattering away in the sun.
When you go, check out the brightly colored, independent parilla stands outside the park with others selling handmade crafts and cakes. One stand offered a marionette show. Across the street from the reserve are a larger number of stands selling artisanal crafts and tea.
On Wednesday late evening, I looked out my window and saw smoke. The city never ceases to surprise me. I thought I was imagining things, to see a thick and sulpherous cloud in the courtyard, but it’s just pollution. Farmers are burning off their fields outside the city for bovine grazing. We get to experience the burn-off first hand.
Before my classes, I buy a small cup of coffee from a senora on Avenida 25 de Mayo. She sells medialunas and coffee from thermoses of questionable origin.
“What do you think of the smoke?” she asked. “I feel sorry for the babies–the ninos,” she told me, “This can’t be good for anyone’s respiratory system.”
Guardian.co.uk site states:
“This is the largest fire of this kind we’ve ever seen,” said the interior minister, Florencio Randazzo. “It was started by farmers clearing land for cattle grazing, driven by greed for profit and with total disregard for human life.”
This quote should be considered in the context of the recent campo protests over tax hikes for farmers. The government has not come to an agreement with the farmers; thus, they may be using this situation to place the farmers in a negative light.
I went to open my patio door today to enjoy the moderate weather and realized the smoke was filling my lungs. So much for enjoying the last scraps of summer.
Photo courtesy of NASA’s Earth Observatory http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/shownh.php3?img_id=14789