Category Archives: Mexico

Speak Softly And Carry A Big Heating Object

Puebla gold church Popo and Iz

I have moved once again. I moved back to the US. Pause not. Actually, I moved to Puebla, Puebla last Wednesday because a better opportunity presented itself here than in Villahermosa. Last Monday, my mom found out that one of her cousins lives in here. I knew that Puebla had a UVM campus on it, it was more of a college city, it had more job opportunities, and my uncle, who also worked for the Secretary of Education, said I could live with him as long as I needed to. I decided to take the 12:10 pm- 8/11/10 bus to Puebla, but before I could leave; I had to do two things: get a refund on my UVM admission fee, and take back the $700 peso Frigidaire microwave that I had bought the week before from Chedraui. The former was easy, but the latter was ridiculous.

It was only Tuesday morning on the 10th, I hadn’t slept in almost a day, but I had to get both of these errands done. I went to Chedraui thinking I could get my money back on the microwave because they stamped my receipt and told me I had money-back guarantee on it till the 17th. They told me that they never give refunds. The guarantee was only for malfunctions, but they still wouldn’t refund the money (I would later find out that Mexico doesn’t do refunds. They may replace items, but if you buy something, it’s assumed that you’re going to keep it.) I asked if there was a pawn shop nearby because I wanted to get some money back since I couldn’t take the dang machine on the bus with me. “One block away, just go left. It’s the PrendaMex.” As I nearing the store’s exit, I asked a female employee if she wanted to buy the microwave from me for $350. I told her that the microwave would make her hotter than any man or woman she has ever been with or seen. She laughed, but then she asked me to leave.

I found the PrendaMex, but my microwave was rejected because they only accept gold. However, I was told that if I walked another five blocks, I would reach a main street and there are a lot of pawn shops there. So here I am…walking five blocks while awkwardly carrying a 40-pound microwave in its wonderfully artistic box (My fingers couldn’t completely go in the side; it was too big to hold from underneath; and it was too wide to grasp. Heck, this microwave box was hung like a horse.) It was also almost noon, and it was about 95 degrees and very humid. There was a point where a cop stopped his car and got out, and I thought that he was going to taze me because he thought I was stealing a microwave. Mexicans—and some—like it hot, you know? After stopping a few times to rest like the girly man I am, I finally made it to the main street called Gregorio Mendez. I looked up and saw a PrendaMex billboard attached to a building. It had pictures of a TV, DVD player, laptop, cell phone, and a microwave on it, so I knew I had made it. But no, I was told that that sign is for their franchise in general, but I could walk five blocks down the street and there would be a Super PrendaMex. I couldn’t believe it. My fingers were about to fall off. I eventually I gave them the microwave and the woman behind the counter took an hour to process everything. I was also asked to show my Passport, and she confirmed it on the computer. Apparently, in Mexico, pawn shops are a serious business. I was also given a contract for the microwave in case I wanted it back. What happened to just evaluating the product, then making an offer you can’t refuse? My arms and hands were sore for two days after that.

On the bus ride to Puebla, we stopped at a checkpoint and someone from the Mexican Army stepped onto our bus and scanned everyone with a metal detector. Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster that my titanium dildo is immune to metal detectors. Three other things that I found hilarious on the highways were: all the iguanas on the street or under bridges; a sign that said, “VIBRADORES EN 150 M”. Yes, that literally translates to “VIBRATORS IN 150 M”. I asked my 50-year-old neighboring passenger, Jesus, what the sign meant, and he told me that it’s those things on the road that slow cars down. I told him that I was thinking of the second meaning, and he started crying from laughter; and lastly, there was a woman who bought a neck cushion and the company that makes the cushion is called Pimp. I asked Jesus what else the company makes and he told me that they also make pillows, cushions, and a soda. I realized that people are putting their heads down on pimps every night, people are sleeping with pimps every night, and people are putting their lips on pimps every day.

At the bus station, my uncle, Nahum, picked me up. He’s the guy in my Facebook pictures about Puebla. He’s about 5’10’’, thin, glasses, and he looks like he’s in his 30’s, but he’s actually in his mid-40’s. He lives near the center of the city in a two-bedroom apartment by himself. He’s been living in Puebla for about twenty years now as he moved here right after he graduated from a university in a state north of here. He’s a really funny guy and a bad driver, but he started calling me his co-piloto in the car.

I also fell in love with Puebla’s weather. It was late Wednesday night, and even though it rained, the air felt cooler. In the summer, there are only a few days when it gets higher than 80 degrees here, and in the winter, the lowest it’ll get is 45 for a few days. I found it hilarious that I saw some people wearing sweaters some nights and people telling me that it was hot outside during the day. I told them I was living in Tabasco for a while though, and someone told me, “It feels like hell in Tabasco. Thank goodness you left.”

The city is known as a World Heritage Site since the 1980’s, and downtown Puebla is completely beautiful, colonial architecture. There is a lot of tourism here and I even saw some gringas. They were either on vacation or studying abroad, but I did miss seeing pale skin. There are also thousands of gorgeous churches in this city that I hope to take pictures of over the next two years. There was one that was glowing in the dark when I arrived. It was on top of a hill, and it can be visited during the day. I put a picture of it at the top with a volcano in the background.

Speaking of volcanoes, Nahum took me to Cerro de la Paz (Peace Hill) last weekend and that is where we took a few pictures. In my new Facebook album, you can see the picture of a volcano, called Popocatepetl, which is emitting a lot of smoke. However, there is a volcano, Iztaccihuatl, to its right which is not in the picture, which is also nicknamed “La Mujer Dormida”. The legend of La Mujer Durmida (The Sleeping Woman) says that hundreds of years ago, before the Spanish came to Mexico, the Aztecs and Tlaxcaltecas shared this territory. The Aztecs were the rulers though, and they asked other natives to pay tributes to the Gods. However, the Tlaxcaltecas were tired of sacrificing their people to their oppressors, so the Chief of the Tlaxcalteca decided that it was time to finally for his people’s freedom, and a war between the Aztecs and the Tlaxcaltecans ensued. Princess Iztaccihuatl, a beautiful, young woman, was the Chief’s daughter, and she was very much in love with the leader of the Tlaxcaltecan army, Popocatepetl. Their love for each other remained in secrecy, but before Popocatepetl left for war, he asked the Chief for his daughter’s hand in marriage upon returning. The Chief gave Popocatepetl his blessing, and Popocatepetl went off to war and led to Tlaxcaltecans to victory years of fighting. When he returned, the Chief told Popocatepetl that Iztaccihuatl had passed away while he was gone. Popocatepetl was enraged, and then he took his beloved in his arms and carried her up the mountains. Upon reaching the sky, he laid down his love at the peak, and he kneeled beside her with a smoking torch in his hands. The snow eventually covered them both and formed the two volcanoes that are now seen in the horizon. I think the real reason she is sleeping is she’s bored. Her boyfriend keeps teasing her, but won’t explode. On a serious note, that is a wonderful legend, and Puebla has hundreds of them due to its rich history, and I hope to read or hear more soon.

Puebla is a very proud city, and my uncle told me that people here are sometimes stuck-up. It’s hard to enter an established circle, and even more so if you’re an outsider. It may even be worse for me because I’m going to an Ivy League school in Mexico, so all the people here have either fantastic scholarships or their family has a lot of money. My uncle’s close friend, Mauricio, said that I’ll likely be looked down upon for not showing up in a car, and when I make friends, they’ll all want to go shop for brand name clothes and will think I’m odd when I want to go to Wal-Mart. My uncle also added that if I just ignore all the possibly mocking, people will eventually be drawn to me because I’m simply different than everyone else. And because I speak English, so they’ll want help on their English homework. Time to become a bloody English pimp.

I actually applied for a part-time job as an English teacher here on Monday at Ingles Individual. You must go to their website,http://www.inglesindividual.com, and listen to their action-packed theme song. Right after my interview, something that I hadn’t seen in a long time entered the building…something that I thought I had escaped the reach of when I left the United States…an African-American. Yes, he could be from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, etc. But I could tell he was an African-American. If Arizona is allowed to racial profile, then so am I. He was the next interviewee, and my confidence in getting the job immediately declined. How am I supposed to compete with someone who is quadlingual (Spanish, English, Ghetto, and Jive)!?! Please forgive my dark sense of humor.

A few differences between here and the US that I have forgotten to mention are how there are these trucks that go around playing a song, and then they yell something obnoxious that sounds like, “DOS!!!!”. For a few days, I had no idea what it was. I figured it must be some kind of ice cream truck offering a two-for-one discount on jalapeño ice cream (That flavor doesn’t actually exist. I made it up. I figure that some of you actually may have believed me. Racists.), but I was eventually told that the trucks are yelling, “GAS!!!” because people buy gas tanks off trucks here and they are usually set in a secure spot on the top floor of a building or a roof. I thought Mexicans already had enough gas after all they beans the ate. I was wrong.

There are also no garage sales in Mexico. This relates to what I said about refunds. When people buy anything here, they are going to keep it and use it until it is completely consumed. That’s why stores assume you won’t return anything and don’t bother with a good policy. When it comes to clothes, people will wear them or use them until they have no use for the clothing anymore or the clothes are damaged. When it comes to buying appliances, such as microwaves–ugh–, people don’t have the money to buy another one, if their original one breaks. You better still have a warranty, or you’re going to fix it yourself, and if you can’t…well, there’s no use in crying over spilled milk.

Most people also have their pilot turned off in their house. When someone is going to cook, they take a lighter and put it near the burner. I have been practicing this custom for hours and my uncle laughed at me because most Mexican kids know how to use a lighter to turn on the stove by the time they are four. Now I am afraid of even looking any little kids in the eye due to the fear of getting burned—verbally and literally. I suppose if I was lit on fire and started smoking; I may magically turn into a volcano. Heck, I wouldn’t mind carrying my beloved up the mountains. I’ve already had to carry a microwave 10 blocks.

 

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Some May Have More Cash Than You, Others Take A Different View

future in hands

There’s a lizard in my room. No, I’m not making an allusion to Toy Story, or one of my typical sexual innuendos. There is an actual lizard in my room, and it has scurried along two of my four bedroom walls. There was a moment when it stopped right over my air conditioner, which is on the wall across from my bed; it tilted its head up and our eyes locked with a flash of electricity like in the movies. I waited a few moments, then I turned toward my cabinet to grab something to slaughter Godzilla with, but I realized that I only have two pairs of shoes, and I don’t want cold blood on them. Paper was not strong enough to squash it with, and I don’t have any books. I turned my head back toward the lizard, but it was gone…like a black guy in the middle of the night. I had him! The outcome was in my hands, but I waited too long. I presume Godzilla settled himself on top of the air conditioner because it’s hot in Mexico. I suppose this encounter was a rite of passage for Mexicans. Bienvenidos a Mexico!

My landlord’s router is far away from my room and his wireless internet is one of the worst connections I’ve ever experienced. It actually reminds me of the last month or two of most relationships: there’s a strong distance; a little bit of play every once in a while, which you prolong as much as possible because you know there won’t be too many more of those; and there are moments when you feel things may work out for the long haul, then comes the expected, but still sudden disconnect, which brings an ending at the most inconvenient time possible. Of course, I can’t change how the internet connection feels about me, and I’m sure it’ll find happiness with someone else. Probably more than one person at once, as it does get around.

Over a week ago, I took the EXUBI, which is an English exam that UVM requires every incoming student to take, so they will be placed in their “level”. It is 150 questions and you are given 150 minutes to finish the exam. I finished it in 20. The exam mostly made me laugh as the fifth level had situations about Tom Cruise on Oprah. Also, the last few questions had me cringing because of how ridiculous they were. Most of the questions are fill-in-the-blank with conjugated verbs, end the sentence, and the exam required that you follow and understand situations. The situation for the last five questions involved a young man, Jeff, who was in a motorcycle accident. He was taken to the hospital and his mom arrived and had a conversation with the Chief of Surgery.

The mom asked if her son was going to be alright and the doctor replied, “I heard he is almost done in surgery and you have to wait out here.”

Mom: “If only he had been driving slower, he could’ve avoided this accident!”

Doctor: “There is no use in ¬________.”

Possible answers:

A) being happy
B) sleeping in a hotel
C) crying over spilled milk
D) time heals all wounds

Now, the only one that grammatically, and—somewhat—realistically makes sense is C. But what doctor in their right mind would say that? A Chief of Surgery? Not even House would use a lame phrase like that! Also, are they actually teaching these uplifting, corny phrases to kids here? How many of us still say, “There is no use in crying over spilled milk.”? You can’t take someone that uses that phrase seriously. It’s something that I still hear on TV shows or movies. All of them being comedies. I didn’t want to believe this question. It’s obvious that the Mexican education system is using the American image that the media spits out to educate their kids. I picked C and I found out that C is the correct answer to this question. Whatever, I have moved on now. There is not use crying over spilled milk.

While I was waiting for my results, I started talking to this guy named Enrique, who was also waiting for his results. He’s an incoming freshman that is studying Biology, and he is about half an inch shorter than me with dark hair and dark eyes. The typical Mexican. Although, he is skinnier than any guy I have ever met in my life, he has a head that looks sharp, and he looks like he weighs about 130 lbs. If he was around during the era of Mayan rule, then the Mayans would probably use him as a spear. We talked about where we’re from (I tell people here that I’m from Nuevo Laredo and because I grew up next to the border of the US; I learned English easily and watched a lot of American films, read books in English, listened to American music, etc.) for about fifteen minutes, then he asked for my email. Later that day, he messaged me on Windows Live and he invited me to a party—I’ll get to it later– on Saturday.

There are so many differences between here and the US. Some of them I knew a bit about, others I had no idea, and some I knew a bit about, but I didn’t understand until I saw it with my own eyes. Here are a few:

1. The Greeting and Goodbye: Woman-to-Woman and Man-to-Woman. They all greet each other with a kiss to the cheek and kiss each other’s cheek when they say goodbye. This also happens upon first being introduced to someone through a friend or an acquaintance. I had seen this a lot growing up within my own family, but I hardly ever saw it happen with Mexicans outside of their family. When I was picked up at the airport, Michelle tilted her cheek toward me for a kiss, as well as her sister afterward. This has happened for a bunch of girls that I have met through acquaintances here whether it was at a party walking around campus with a friend. It’s just a custom. I’ll say that since I’ve been here I’ve kissed and been kissed on the cheek by approximately 20 girls. It was odd at first, but I’ve gotten used to it, and I’ve bought plenty of Chapstick. No Mexican I know, including myself, has ever gotten Mono. After experiencing this custom, which has been going on for a long, long time; I have developed a theory that Mexicans kissed each other so much over time that their bodies developed immunity to Mono. We’re awesome.

2. Animal Rights: If you’re an animal lover, then I’m probably going to make you cry. But if you’re an animal hater, or you could care less, then come on down to Mexico! It’s hunting season on any animal! All year long! Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen approximately fifty stray dogs or cats on the street as I’ve walked around. There is no animal control here. I also haven’t seen any pet stores other than the typical Pet Section in retail stores. If you want a pet, just pick one up off the street and nurture it just like Sandra Bullock took care of that guy in The Blind Side. Take it to a veterinarian for its vaccinations and you’re set! No one will care, and if you accidentally steal someone’s lost pet, then it sucks for them. Of course, you can also shoot a dog in the face and no one will do anything about it either. Dogfighting is illegal though, so they have one thing going for them. I’m also pretty sure that all of those animals in those ASPCA commercials, the ones with Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” playing in the background, are from Mexico. Until Sarah McLachlan came into their life and saved them, those animals had no reason to believe in angels. If dogs went to Hell, instead of Heaven, they’d probably be sent to Mexico.

3. Punctuality: People here are often late. That is not because they don’t care for you. It’s because most people here are people-oriented unlike many of us time-oriented Americans. People here stop and talk to their friends and have a face-to-face conversation even when they have other prior and immediate engagements. It’s also normal to ask a newly met acquaintance a lot of questions about their family, job, and their life in general without you sounding nosy. It’s sometimes rude to not ask enough questions about their life before you get to the point. I’m sure in people are not as people-oriented in business, but in just talking with people; you feel more acknowledged that you do in the US. I’m sure you’ve had the situation where you were walking to class on campus and you see a friend about 20 feet away that is walking in your opposite direction. You make eye contact, the space between each of you closes, then you have this conversation:

Person X: “What’s up?”

Person Y: “Not much! Life is pretty good; I’m just going to get some food! What about you?”

Person X: “I’m going to class in Capen.”

Person Y: “See you later then! Maybe dinner later?”

Person X: “Definitely! Bye!”

All of this happens in a few seconds, while you’re surrounded by other people, and the latter half of the conversation happens with your backs to each other because both of you never stopped walking.

4. Banter Between Friends/Parties: When I went to a party with Enrique and his friends (Doris, Grecia, Pati, and Jesus), I was surprised by their playful and very affectionate conversations when compared to friendships in the US. The guys and girls often referred to each other as “Mi Amor” as well as hugs and kisses and hand holding abound one second, then completely insulted each other with biting sarcasm and sexual jokes the next. I noticed that all of the singles in groups of friends at parties did this and if this happened in the US within a group of friends, people might say, “Wow! (Insert Guy’s name) and (Insert Girl’s Name) probably secretly love each other. They look great together!” or “Wow! That girl is a whore! Look at her flirting with all of those guys.” You could still tell who the couples were as they kept to themselves a bit more, but friends here are generally more expressive of their love of their friendship for each other. It puts Vitamin C to shame.

Enrique told me that this party was calmer than others, but there was still drinking, dancing, food, etc. The differences are that parties are usually held partly inside of a house and outside. As long as you’re on your property, you can be as obnoxious as you want and the police can’t do anything. People often bring chairs and tables out onto the street and hang out there too. Also, parents are often in the house away from the party, or even grilling carne asada, al pastor, etc. for everyone and they don’t what their children are doing. This is likely due to the legal drinking age being set at 18 in Mexico. By the time you’re 18, you’ve already gone through the rebellious phase were you get crunk, and get wild without your parents knowing. Everyone at a party is usually friendly with each other because the reason you’re invited is because you’re a friend of a friend, and that makes you familia. There is hardly any chance of brawls breaking out at even the wildest parties here.

I rode a minibus about two days ago because I couldn’t get a taxi. It crossed a bridge and went into a part of a city that I had never been to before. It was a district called “La Selva” (The Jungle). I thought I had seen the poor part of this city, but this was unlike anything poor neighborhood I had seen in my entire life. Most streets weren’t paved, and there were houses without roofs, abandoned cars, and dry blood on the walls of some buildings. But throughout all of this, there were still people walking around with smiles on their faces as they headed to a nearby restaurant or store, neighbors still met outside for a conversation, and the sound of a children’s laughter still filled the air as they played with their parents or played futbol with their friends on the street.

It reminded me again of “The Progress Paradox”, but it mostly just made me what truly makes someone happy in life. Even though the media portrays Mexico as a corrupt country consumed with violence, crime, (People here steal for just two pesos) and poverty; many Mexicans do still live happily down here. As long as they have their family, and the essentials for survival, then they don’t need anything else. Mexico isn’t even considered a third-world country—more like second-world–, and I thought about how critical the situation in Africa looks, and I remember watching interviews of Africans and reading articles on how Africa is the most religious and happiest continent on the planet. Why would they be more faithful to an invisible sky daddy, and happier than other people who have more luxuries and conveniences in other countries? When you’ve grown up with so much and been handed the world on a silver platter, you start to think you don’t need anything else in your life. So why would you need a higher power? I’m not religious and I hardly pray and almost never go to church…but as I see so many people be so happy even though they do not have the luxuries I grew up with and still have…I feel ashamed for ever being unhappy.

I wish that the symbolic, shared illusion of money didn’t exist. Within the past decade, many of family members who live in the U.S. began to resent each other over money issues. Sometimes it was jealousy that someone had a bigger house or car than the other one. We used to be so close and now those family reunions in Rockford of 100+ family members are now a once-a-year-event rather than once a weekend.

But just because I’m thinking this, it doesn’t mean I’m going to live a life like The Grizzly Man who left everything behind because he was tired of his materialistic way of life, and ended up as the dinner for the family of bears, which the guy thought were his family. My parents sacrificed so much to put my future in my hands, and I won’t throw it away.

As with anyone, you’re either used to luxuries and opportunities and you never want to lose them, or you don’t have them, but you want them or you want your children to have them. You see your child smile while they tell you that they want to be an astronaut, a superhero, a Power Ranger, a prince, a king, a princess, or a queen, and you know that they probably won’t be those things, but you want them to at least have the opportunity to be whoever they want to be.

You have this opportunity. Who do you want to be and what are you waiting for?

 

 

You Can Run, You Can Hide, But You Can’t Escape

01-mexico-tabasco-villahermosa-12665315648263Chedraui

 

Leaving my family was so hard to do and those three hugs (dad, brother, and my mom) were the longest of my life. We had to wait about an hour before I could head through security, so we took some pictures together. At the moment that I finally had to leave and embrace my parents for the last time in a long time, I suddenly started to cry a bit. I could still see my family from a distance as I went through security, and right before I could no longer see them, I yelled, “Los quiero mucho!” (I love you so much!). A lot of people did look at me because I yelled, but I didn’t care. I kept looking back as long as I could, then I went to the lobby and waited to board.

The liftoff felt great, and as we ascended, I looked out my window and saw Chicago and all of its lights. It was a gorgeous sight and it made me understand why tall monsters act like badasses. If I was as big as Godzilla, that ridiculous Cloverfield monster, or the villain at the end of a Power Rangers’ episode, I would feel like I own the place as I’m walking around the place and putting my tail where it doesn’t belong.

We arrived in Mexico International Airport in Mexico City around 6:30 am, by the way every time I will mention is in Central time, and the first thing I noticed as we were told we were about to land is that it was as dark as Dark City. I had known about Mexico City’s pollution for a long time, but I still didn’t want to believe what I was seeing. In Illinois, sunrise is about 6 am, but here it was still dark and the sun didn’t rise until about 7:30 am. I called my parents from the airport to let them know I was alright, and then I waited about two hours to board my flight at 9:30 am.

Our plane was set to leave at 10:15 am, and it had made the turn onto the runway and was starting to accelerate, when it suddenly stopped, turned around, and for some reason we had to wait another hour before the pilot could get it up. What a tease!

Villahermosa, Tabasco was a sight to behold from above. There were lakes, vegetation, crops, trees, etc, everywhere. Villahermosa is called La Esmeralda del Sureste, which means The Emerald of the Southeast, and the name barely does it justice. After I picked up my luggage in International Pick-Up, I was asked by a young woman who worked for immigration, “How long were you in the United States?” “Twenty years,” I said. The woman’s jaw dropped, then she let me go. What was she going to do? Deport me to the US?

My advisor, Michelle, and her sister, Lydia, picked me up and I had forgotten about the Mexican custom of women kissing other women or men on the cheek upon meeting each other, but I just went with the flow. As soon as we stepped out of the airport, I could feel the heat. The city’s best comparison would be Miami, Florida, so I have essentially have taken my talents to South Beach ;-). Michelle told me that the weather isn’t too bad right now because of the wind, and I did the conversion from Celsius to Fahrenheit in my head and it was approximately 85 degrees. They stopped to get gas and an employee filled the tank for us. In Mexico, you never have to pump your gas anywhere. Anyway, the city was still gorgeous and they showed me some of the city’s landmarks such as Catedral del Señor de Tabasco, which is where the Diocese of Tabasco is. There is a picture of the cathedral at the beginning of the blog.

They took me to the university I will be attending this fall, which is called Universidad del Valle de Mexico (UVM). What I found surprising is that there is a railing surrounding the school and you have to show your university ID to enter the campus. Do any US universities or colleges have a railing protecting the school? At least it wasn’t like that security fence on Lost which uses sound waves or something to incapacitate you and block the Smoke Monster from coming in. Actually, Mexico City could probably use that kind of fence due to all of their damn smog. The buildings have a futuristic atmosphere as most of them are painted silver and they all have automatic doors. It’s a small campus and only about 1,000 students are enrolled.

I was introduced to a few Department Chairs and I was told by a woman in Admissions that I was likely going to have to go to Mexico City to turn in my high school and college transcript. Eff that! What’s the point of the Secretary of Education’s existence and location in every state, if I have to go to Mexico City, which Mexicans also call La D.F. (DE EH-FEH) or Mexico. I still couldn’t pay my initial fees because Associated Bank still wasn’t allowing me to use my debit card even though they were informed that I was going to Mexico, so Michelle and Lydia took me to the Secretary of Education and I was told that the Admissions woman was incorrectomundo.

M and L took me to some restaurant called VIPS, which is the equivalent of an Applebee’s or Chili’s in Mexico. I told M and L that I felt like a Persona muy importante/Very Important Person, but they didn’t get the joke since the acronym isn’t the same. The salsa that is served in the US at most Mexican restaurants is not the same one that is served here. Pico de Gallo and some other delicious, spicy, green salsa are commonly served. After eating a delicious meal of Fried Milanesa with Noodles on the side, I got my check and told myself I would not come here again for a long time after seeing the price of my meal.

I should probably establish the cost of living here versus the US’s. The current currency rate is $12.5 pesos to $1 USD. The minimum wage in Tabasco is $85-$100—depending on the job– pesos per DAY. Most people here make between $7-$8 USD per day. That’s astonishing. It made me appreciate the lifestyle I lived in the US more.

I bought a prepaid cellphone before M and L dropped me off at my hotel for the night. Bellboys still exist at all hotels too, and it felt strange having someone carry my luggage and open my suite door. I just relaxed in the hotel and fell asleep early because I knew I had another big day tomorrow.

7/30/2010

In the morning, I went exploring the area that my hotel was in. I was in the centro of Villahermosa, and it was obviously very busy. I didn’t grow up in a city, so I didn’t know what it was like walking through downtown while being surrounded by hundreds of people. Something that shocked me was that there was a lot of Federal Police standing with their AK-47s at various locations on the street. I felt protected, yet insecure about it as there were often trucks with soldiers driving through the city.

I definitely had to check out the prices on food here and I realized that most places sell two tacos for eight pesos. Very nice! You want something to drink? Pop, lemonade, water? They’re all ten pesos! You want to buy some new release DVDs? 30 pesos each! Well, they’re all pirated, but technology here is expensive and most people can’t afford to spend money on a real DVD.

I picked up Villahermosa’s main newspaper, Tabasco Hoy, and I started looking for apartments or any place I could live. I was thoroughly confused because everything was labeled with Atasta, Aguila, Mario Brown, Palmitas, etc. and I didn’t know what they meant. Whaaaat does this mean!!! The hotel manager clarified that every city, no matter how big or small, in Mexico is divided into colonias/districts and that we were in Centro. She told me what colonias are near UVM and that obviously helped me get started on calling the right landlords.

In the afternoon, M and L picked me up and drove me around colonias near UVM in search of apartment. I ended up calling a man who told me he had a room with a fridge, closet, desk, mirror, bathroom, and gas, water, electricity, air conditioning, and wireless internet all paid for only $3,200 pesos per month, or $258 USD. I set up a meeting with him for Saturday at 10 am, and in the afternoon, M and L took me apartment hunting, but no place was as good as that one.

After we were finished hunting, we picked up one of Michelle’s colleagues at UVM named Erika. She is the Director of UVM Marketing and is recently engaged. She asked us if we don’t mind her smoking in the car, and that it wouldn’t be much of a problem because she doesn’t smoke that much. Within twenty minutes, she had smoked four cigarettes. We picked up another one of Michelle’s friends named Susie, who was recently fired from UVM, and we went Michelle’s house. Besides the obvious the difference in architecture between US and Mexican houses (always colorful, balconies, no basement), the biggest difference is that almost every house has a security fence about ten feet in front of the front door (If someone doesn’t have a doorbell, and their fence isn’t open, then you’re going to have to yell their name to get their attention), back door, and for the garage. I’ve seen so many cars in cages, and it looks as if they’re pets, prisoners, or robot slaves.

Susie seemed to be fascinated with my story and especially why I would choose Villahermosa—it was the UVM campus with both my majors, it’s close to the Mayan pyramids at Palenque and the beach, it doesn’t have that much American tourism, and it is far from my relatives in Mexico—since she still lives with her parents and the city is so hot. She asked me to teach her English for some money, and I said that for now I would just like to learn the important Mexican slang that I should know to survive, so she, Michelle, Lidia, and Erika started teaching me cuss words. Susie told me that she only knew one American cuss word, so I asked her what it is and she said, “Hassle” with a strong, Mexican accent. I had no idea what she was talking about and explained that she was saying a word for bothering someone (Later that night, when I was in my hotel room, I was saying “Hassle” out loud, when I realized she was trying to say “Asshole”!

After just hanging out with them while they watched their Telenovelas/Mexican Soap Operas, being told about which futbol team I should say I am a fan of so I am not beaten up, and hearing a lot of sex jokes, I was dropped off at my hotel, and I started counting sheep.

7/31/2010

This day was ridiculous as I went to check out the room I found advertised in a newspaper yesterday and it was gorgeous. The only downside is that it doesn’t have a kitchen and it’s about half a mile away from UVM. I told the landlord, Rodrigo, that I would decide by tomorrow at noon. I was still waiting to hear back from a guy, Jesus, one of my advisors referred me to that had an actual apartment for the same price that was three blocks away from UVM.

I went back to my hotel and Enrique Iglesia’s Escape/Escapar was playing in the lobby. I talked to my dad about the apartment a few hours later, and he told me that I should’ve just paid Rodrigo and moved in because I haven’t heard back from Jesus—he had not answered my prayers—and someone else might take the deal. I looked up the nearby Banamex (Mexico’s strongest bank chain) and realized that the bank was closed and that it didn’t open until Monday at 9 am. I called Rodrigo around 4:15 pm, and he told me that someone was going to look at the apartment at 5:00 pm and it was possible I may not get the place since we never came to an agreement. Rodrigo told me that if I just paid him $1,000 pesos, he would give me the key and I could move in. He may have been lying just to get me to pay him, but I couldn’t risk losing this place since Jesus hadn’t called me. The next 45 minutes were some of the most thrilling of my entire life.

I ran out of the hotel and down the street to the Banamex ATM because my dad told me I had over a $1,000 pesos in my account. There were 10 people in line to use one of the four ATMs and two people were struggling with two of the machines. They were saying that the system was malfunctioning. Two of the ones I tried didn’t work, so I sprinted two blocks to a Del Sol (It’s kind of like a Macy’s department store) to try their ATM, but the machine told me that it doesn’t accept foreign cards! The store was crowded and there was a family with kids in front of me, so I had to slowly walk behind them. I got an opening and started running when a 30-year-old, 5’6’’ buff man with dark, spiked hair suddenly walked in front of me and I knocked him down. He yelled at me, I told him I was sorry, but I had to start running. He yelled, “Te voy a matar!/ I’m going to kill you!” I looked back and he was right behind me chasing me down the street. I was praying to Jesus—not the hassle that wasn’t calling me back—that I didn’t knock anyone else down and that the Federal Police didn’t stop me. I kept looking back while running and the guy was still chasing me. I yelled for a taxi—which are very common in this city— and one stopped for me. I practically jumped inside and told the driver that I would give him $25 pesos (all taxi rides are $20 to anywhere in the city) if he just started driving. He started driving, I looked back, and the guy had stopped running after me. I felt like I was in an action movie. It was epic.

I told the driver to just drive in a circle back to the Banamex. I asked him to wait; the ATM worked this time, so I got my money, got back in the taxi, and told him the address. I haven’t talked about the taxis in Villahermosa, and I don’t know what they’re like in Chicago or NYC, but being in a taxi sometimes feels like a rollercoaster here. Since they have a set rate to anywhere in the city, the driver tries to get you to your destination as fast as he can to consume less gas. You almost crash every two or three blocks because of the other taxi drivers. It feels exactly like the game Crazy Taxi. I haven’t seen or been part of an accident yet, but because of so many close-calls; the drivers are either amazing drivers for avoiding so many accidents or terrible drivers for almost getting into one every few blocks. As long as I get to my destination in one piece, I don’t care.

I got to the apartment right around 5 and Rodrigo started asking me for some information as he filled out a receipt. At one point, he said, “If you’re good, you can stay here a long time.” Due to me having been raised on a lot of U.S. fiction and media, I interpreted it as him being a rapist, pedophile, sex deviant, or some other kind of monster who was going to tie me up, torture me, and tell me to be good. I thought about not living there, but I told myself that I’m simply misinterpreting what he said. He gave me the key and the receipt, and I was told I could move in whenever I wanted to. I still had one night at the hotel, so I took advantage of it. Later that night, Jesus would tell me that he wasn’t going to be able to let me rent his apartment. Thank God that I already decided on another one.

8/1/2010

I stayed at, packed my bags, and waited for Michelle to pick me up and drive me to my apartment. She told me that she was going back to live with her family in Veracruz because she didn’t renew her contract with UVM. She dropped me off, we said goodbye, I paid her for all the gas she had spent on driving me everywhere, and I thanked her for everything that she had done for me the past month. I moved in, and I asked Rodrigo where the nearest retail store was located. He told me that there is a Chedraui (Mexico’s most popular retail store and the equivalent of Wal-Mart, but Chedraui is cheaper) about twenty minutes away.

As I walked there, I heard, “Baby, Baby, Baby..ooooo” coming from someone’s house. You can’t escape Justin Bieber’s love in any country. When I got to Chedraui, I looked up and saw their logo (Scroll back up and look at it), which I also posted at the beginning of the blog. The first thing that came to my mind was, “Wow. Chedraui’s founder must’ve really hated his dad, or his family liked doing sexual things with each other. Why else would the son be fisting his father? And why is it ‘Cuesta Menos/Low Prices’? Is the act of fisting, and other sexual acts provided for a low price here? Should I go back, but watch my back as I do so?” It is actually a nice store and I bought food, pillows—actual sleeping pillows, not those sexual pillows which Chedraui’s founder must be accustomed to—water, and a few other things. I carried everything back and now I’m completely settled-in.

I do have a balcony and the sliding door that leads to it also has a security fence. There is a basketball court right in front of my apartment, a mom-and-pop clothing store, a Laundromat, a few restaurants, a park, a convenience store, and a public university all within two blocks, and one of the city’s plazas (Plaza Cristal) is within thirty minutes walking distance from my apartment. I’m completely settled in now and all I have to worry about is getting Rodrigo the other $2,200 pesos tomorrow, and getting all my education documents, voting card, military card, and license in order.

I know I said that none of my entries would be as long as my first one, but a lot happened these past few days, so take it or leave it or else I’m going to get Chedraui’s founder to put his fist up your Hassles.

Learning To Fly

This is something I wrote the night before I moved to Mexico.

It was around 9:25 a.m. on Monday morning, and I was waiting at the bus stop at Watterson Towers to catch the bus that would take me to work. An elderly, blind man, with a sharp goatee, was sitting next to me moving his white cane left and right while whistling Amazing Grace with a tone that projected complete embracement of life. A few buses arrived and I stepped onto the Green A. I sat down behind the bus driver, looked out the window, and I noticed that the blind man was slowly walking over to the Green A as well, so I moved to a seat across the aisle and I rolled up in a ball like Sonic the Hedgehog to not take up too much space, in case the blind man decided to sit next to me. Sure enough, he did.

The blind man, Gary, introduced himself to me and the bus driver, whose name I do not remember, then he started talking to the driver about how he sprained his ankle a few days ago and he is still having trouble walking around. Then one of the most inspiring stories I have ever heard was told right in front me in the following exchange between Gary and the bus driver:

Gary: “One of these days, I’m going to tell you how I went blind!”

Bus Driver: “I hope to hear-“

Gary: “It was fifteen years ago! I was so drunk that I walked off the roof of a building! I fell 13 stories! I broke both legs, my right arm, three ribs, had internal bleeding, cracked my skull, and my optic nerve was damaged. Everything healed except the vision. My doctor called me a walking miracle!”

Bus Driver: “Wow. That’s amazing. Most people don’t even survive four or five stories.”

Gary: “I know! God is definitely looking out for me! He gave me another chance to do something. I just have to figure out what that something is. I need to figure out what my purpose is.”

No, I’m not going to lecture or attempt to persuade you on anything related to God or religion, but I do need to talk about what this man’s story made me feel, and how it gave me even more courage to take the risk that I will be taking in approximately 23 hours.

It’s always astonishing to see someone appreciate their life and remain optimistic after they’ve experienced so much misfortune. There have been many times throughout my young life where I have felt unhappy because I did not get a certain job, got accepted to a program, missed out on some new product, lost a friendship, or had a breakup. In hindsight, what did I have to complain about? I had an abundance of great literature and fiction in films and TV shows. I had the wealth of human knowledge at my disposal on the internet. I could go outside and enjoy life and all of the world’s beauty. I could spend time with my friends and we would enjoy our youth. I have access to medical care that didn’t even exist five years ago, let alone 50 years. I have access to vehicles that can take me from one end of the world to the other in less than a day. I have access to communication that sends messages which can be received in less than a second. You get the picture. I, and many other people, actually still have and can do these things. Why is it that we’re unhappy with our lives when it seems much easier and convenient now? This is the Progress Paradox.

The “Progress Paradox”, which states that life gets better as people feel worse, is a term coined by Gregg Easterbrook. If some of your ancestors showed up in our current society, they would all be surprised at all the advances and improvements in daily life. Around the time that trains were first being established and the tracks were being placed, people were afraid that vehicles that move at speeds of 50 mph were too fast and there were warnings that no one should utilize them because moving at that speed would be too much for someone to handle. 50 mph? If you drove at that speed on the highway, then you’d send the driver behind you into road rage. There are also so many diseases that used to kill millions of people every year, such as Smallpox, which have been essentially been eliminated. A hundred years ago, the poor were starving and were thin and weak. Our ancestors would be shocked to see the majority of the poor in our society to be fat and have an abundance of food—though it is cheap.

People have varying reasons on why we have this mindset. It could be that when some problems are solved, others arise. It could be that in such an industrialized society, we are afraid that an economic crash will leave us helpless. Perhaps the media has become some prevalent that they are the main reason we are dissatisfied with our lives. Maybe it is just that consumerism’s nails have dug themselves so deep into our lives that it has become almost impossible to break this addiction. Not only has the United States become physically obese, we’ve become obese from our insatiable desire for meaninglessness. This has now become one of my favorite quotes: “We spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need to create impressions that won’t last on people we don’t care about.”

I’m not trying to say that none of us have any actual problems. That would be arrogant of me to say because it is a matter of perspective. But I do know my reason for why I was sometimes unhappy—I was spoiled, and I still am. My mom, dad, and I flew to the United States in 1990. I was just one-year-old. My dad graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Electronic Engineering in Mexico, but, because he didn’t know English, he had to hold back his pride and worked at a buffet for three years before he got a job working in the Electronics Department at Taylor Freezer. He still was not working as an engineer, but the job was relevant to what he loved doing.

I remember the quality of our life improving so much over those first few years here. I remember living in a one-bedroom apartment in a lower-class neighborhood of Rockford, IL when we first arrived. I will never forget the taste of Sausage and Eggs—that’s what she said—because it was one of the few meals we could afford for so long. I remember our beat-up Oldsmobile, which doesn’t even exist anymore. I remember my mom walking me to the bus stop every morning in rain or shine because my dad had to use the car to drive to work. I remember my brother being born. I remember moving a few blocks to a small house in the same-neighborhood after my dad got the job at Taylor.

As I was growing up, I thought my father was the coldest, cruelest person I knew. I remember him yelling at me and calling me stupid for giving up on my homework. I remember him making fun of my weight because I was fat. I remember him chastising me for getting C’s or B’s in class. I remember feeling ignored because he almost never said, “I love you.” or “I’m proud of you.” Two sentences that I would have loved to hear from him my entire childhood. I remember my dad never backing down from an argument with me. I remember my mom telling me that my dad showed love in his own way, but I would not listen. I remember calling my mom a bad mom simply because she got me the wrong thing I wanted from the store because she still struggled with English.

All of this changed when I was 15, by that time we had already moved to a suburban, South Beloit, IL because my dad had gotten promotions at work and saved up enough money for a nice house. I had started to see the world differently. I looked back on my childhood and instead of the negative that I used to see, I began to remember my parents introducing me to books. I remembered my dad turning on the TV and showing me Return of the Jedi, which inspired me to love film the rest of my life. I remembered my dad buying me a used Nintendo console and playing Super Mario Bros. with me. I remembered my mom and dad taking me to the library multiple times per week because I was a voracious reader and avid film watcher. I remembered my dad building patios, benches, sheds, slides, and fixing cars or anything else around the house for our family. I remembered my dad showing me how to ride a bike and not helping me pick myself up after I fell, so I could learn to pick myself up. I remembered my dad playing sports with me. I remembered my mom and dad going to every game I ever had. I remembered all the nights my dad stayed up helping me do my homework until I understood it because he believed in me and didn’t want me to give up on myself. I remembered all the times we went to Chicago and to the museums, parks, stores, etc. I remembered all the vacations we ever took. I remembered all of the family parties we ever attended. I remembered my mom being a stay-at-home mom when I was growing up and doing everything she could for me. I remembered my mom always wondering where I was and telling me she loved me. I remembered my mom getting a job while I was in elementary school as she sacrificed her evenings, when she could see her two sons, because she needed to help my dad with more income. I remember my dad “pushing” me to become a better person. I remembered my dad picking me up and throwing me in the air for a few seconds, so I could feel like I’m flying.

My parents lost their jobs a few weeks ago, and I could no longer afford attending Illinois State University or the apartment that I was renting. I had been blessed with an education, but since I was 15, I had understood that it was a privilege—not a guarantee- to go to school, and especially a university. My dad was going to retire in ten years, but not anymore. We can no longer afford our house, and it has to be sold. Our entire lives are being turned upside down. I realized that I had a decision to make. I could stay here and not go to school, or I could go to Mexico, by myself, where I could afford one of the best universities in the country, and make sure that everything my parents sacrificed in order for my brother and I to have opportunities does not go to waste.

Yes, I’m going to a country that I haven’t been back to since I left and I am ironically going back to Mexico on the first plane I’ve ever taken since I came to the United States. I am essentially going to be a stranger in my motherland. I am going to Villahermosa, Tabasco. It’s a city of 700,000 people about 20 miles away from the Gulf of Mexico and it is near the Yucatan Peninsula. The closest family I have in Mexico lives 15 hours away, so I will be living on my own for the first time in my entire life. I thought about all the downsides to me leaving and the only one is that I will be leaving my family– the only constant in my life–and some close friends.

I’ve been asked how I have the courage to do what I’m doing a few times, but you have a chance at making your dreams a reality, you need to take the leap of faith. I want to realize my goals, and I have a shot at this in Mexico. I want to make sure that eventually any citizen of this Earth has the right to the opportunity to make their dreams come true and reach their full potential just like I was blessed with that opportunity I want that story that I will tell my future kids and they’ll know that their dad took the risks he needed to make his dreams come true. And one day, when my kids have grown up, I want them to know that they can also make their dreams come true, and whatever risk they take, I will support them. I was blessed to have witnessed my parents’ story—Witness that, LeBron!– and whether I succeed or don’t succeed in my endeavor, this will be a valuable, learning experience.

I will miss my mom and dad and I am blessed for everything they gave me and for the love they will continue giving me. My brother, Alex, is the only one I have not talked about much yet, but he is the best brother anyone could ask for. He is only 14-years-old, and he has the same strained relationship with my dad that I had, but I know he will come to understand and appreciate him for everything he does. My brother is talented and hilarious. He’s a natural comedian and an actor. He’s also incredibly intelligent for his age, and I will miss laughing with him about anything and everything. I know he will end up doing great things and I wish I could be near him as he goes through high school, but I know he will be fine. Mom, dad, and Alex, I love you and will miss you.

Some people have asked me why I’m not angry that life gave this “terrible misfortune”. The thing is…I don’t see it that way. Why should you be angry at something you can’t control? One of my favorite scenes in any TV show, or film, is in the Season 4 Finale of House. One of the main characters, Wilson, and his dying girlfriend, Amber, are enjoying their last moments together when, suddenly, Wilson bitterly asks, “Why aren’t you angry?” Amber responds with, “Because that’s not the last feeling I want to feel.”

You need to be able to keep your optimism and maintain a sense of humor during the dark—like my skin– times in life. Never stop appreciating your life and what you’ve been blessed with. I know this has been a long blog, and I promise none of my other blogs will be as long, but I had a lot to start with, and now I ask you to join me on this adventure that I am going to embark on at 2 a.m. tomorrow when my flight leaves.

I remember my dad picking me up and throwing me in the air for a few seconds, so I could feel like I’m flying. And now I am.