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April 12, 2009

Bluntly, there is no other way to express where I have been the past six months besides the words: “I screwed up.”

In a nutshell, I suddenly abandoned my healthy readership, and disappeared into my supposed alibi consisting of sad excuses of overloading homework and events. I took a break, fiddled with a possible culturedecoded.com, and ended up less than I started with. And although I understand that most likely some of you — my readers — may not read my work again, I want to apologize for my naive pause from blogging and come back just as I left Culture Deocded. 

An overwhelming amount of events have occurred in the political world as I have left, and I want to discuss them as soon as possible. A President Barack Obama has taken countless actions to bring the free world back to where it once was, some of which I disagree with and some of which I agree with. Iraq has remained a focal point in the middle east, and there is still question in the air over when american troops will really pull out. Somalian pirates have put a fixture in the previously quiet Gulf of Aden, and America is torn over what actions should be taken. The president has purchased a long awaited dog, and Vice President Biden has taken swings at Karl Rove, and the press is taking sides.

As far as the status of the blog, I encourage all of you visiting and returning to leave comments on what you think about the issue at hand. A successful blog is not just written by the author, but by its readers, and if you contribute, there will be very interesting conversations for a long time. 

So without further ado, I will continue where I left off, and work as hard as possible to initiate political discussions that will benefit everyone.

– pacer521

What Is Up With the Polls?

September 14, 2008

A well hidden Sarah Palin recently broke her hide-from-the-press tactic and agreed to her first interview with seemingly safe outlet ABC and their Charles Gibson.

The interview, in my (humble) opinion, came to me as Palin attempting to convince Gibson that she was ready, painfully reminiscent of that faithful day of having to sit down with my father and plead for him to take off my training wheels. But what more?

At seemingly the same time, the Obama camp released two consecutive attack ads (here and here), followed by the New York Times, who published three editorials in one day, all critical of Palin. And on top of that, liberal researchers dug out what looked like a gem from Alaska, putting together a factual claim that Palin governed Alaska from the center, far from her extremely-right political status today.

Then, nonetheless, the nationwide polls, which earlier this month flew up and down like the stock market, barely jerked to either side. 

So why? Why, with all these attacks from both sides, Palin’s interview, the New York Times, and both Presidential and Vice Presidential debates coming up, haven’t the polls moved? Certainly more independents have taken note of Palin’s weaknesses and strategy and shifted to Obama. And likewise, surely the Independents and Republicans have taken note of the “bitter” attacks from the left and gained more of a lead? 

Maybe they were paying too much attention to Ike.

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Recently returned from South America, I checked up on a local news source that I visited in Argentina (I’d link but its all in Spanish), only to alarm myself with the news of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and his threat to America via expelling our ambassador and threatening to shut off oil supply. As an average American, I took it seriously, but was very appalled by the fact that it was not even noticeable in the New York Times or on CNN. In my opinion, this is serious news that should put a halt to the elections, for at least a few hours if not for the day.

After two weeks in South America, daily reminders that I’ve been spoiled keep presenting themselves. But I had always thought that the skiing would be different. Trust me, after all that time I spent on vallenevado.com, many assuring thoughts entered my mind. The pictures on the site described not a resort, but a huge central lodge surrounded by mountains on all sides blanketed with powder, much like a volcano inside out (if you remember your 6th grade geometry). But after a rather frightening one and a half hour drive, which had more traverses than the Yankees have pennants, I was getting a bit skeptical. So as far as the actual skiing: I’ll quote Andy Roddick here: “It was horrible, it sucked. Otherwise it was great.” 

My point is the skiing here is not an exception to my spoiled points. The snow quality wasn’t great (I ski in Utah so that’s another world in itself), there was only one high speed lift, and to top it off it was extremely overcast which probably got me into a bad mood. But besides that, it was great. 

What I mean by this is the resort itself has great potential. First off, let me say Valle Nevado has a lot of terrain. South American ski resorts have a different mentality than the ones in the States and Canada — there are no rope lines. Everything out of the groomed runs are at your own risk, and that’s great. You don’t get your lift passes clipped from you, and most of the non-groomers end up at a lift, plus its a ghost town anywhere away from a groomed slope. But it’s not like you should stay away from the off-piste though, its amazing. Sadly we came too late (3 days after the storm) so we only found patches of the untracked stuff left. Here’s the video — bare with me on the on music…

But if you get bored with all the huge area that Valle Nevado offers, don’t worry — you have access to two other great resorts: La Parva and El Colorado — which border Nevado on both sides. So with a clear day and powder, you can have the day of your life here. And hopefully that’s what I am going to get in a matter of days — the weather man is calling for a meter of fresh snow. By that time I will be skiing in the famous Portillo resort, entirely in another direction. And hopefully then I will be able to see beyond a few feet in front of me. Well, we’re excited — I am writing this in the car smack dab in the center of Santiago our two hour pilgrimage to Portillo.

More Buenos Aires

August 6, 2008

After a full day here in Argentina, you could say I got more of a feel for the city. One of the things I mistaked from the posh hotels and grand avenues is that when you get deep into the city, it gets more and more Western. As I surfed the sidewalk with my family for a SIM card for my dad´s hacked iPhones, I discovered many things about Buenos Aires. During the day, a thick mist smothers the street. Pollution is not new to me (I live in Los Angeles), but I didn´t notice this the night before, and I always imangined Buenos Aires and Santiago to be very clean. And another thing that was new to me is the different cars. The only American car I could find was a rare Chevy, but besides that, they were all very European cars like Fiat. There was also one car that I had never seen before, the logo on the gril looked like this — /// — (picure coming soon).

As far as technology, you can say that South America is part of the Windows kingdom. This became known as soon as soon as I exited the boat, with all the security and airport computers being Windows 98. Then 30 seconds after we left the airport, a Microsoft skyscraper came into view. There is little hope here for die-hards mac geeks like me and faroZ01

So after one day in Buenos Aires, a lot has changed in my opinion, but all for the better.

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Although they are only separated by a river, Buenos Aires and Montevideo are like New York and South Africa. Compared to Montevideo, Buenos Aires is much larger and more modern, with a very European feel to it. There are a lot more English speaking people and directions, so that is always a good sign. But even though the city is huge and spacious — and cluttered with gigantic skyscrapers — it still has a very Spanish feel to it. My point? If you took a picture of one of the streets here and gave it to anyone, they would guess it was somewhere in Spain.

We are staying at the Alvear hotel, and I think it means posh in Spanish. I would conclude that this hotel is like the Four Seasons, with diamond studs falling off of it. My room has a bright red floor, two bathrooms (thats intense), posh couches, three high-definition televisions (one above the bathtub), and the most comfortable bed in the universe (besides mine at home). And don’t think we just picked the coolest hotel we could find — on the drive from the airport, I didn’t see one hotel on the way that wasn’t a skyscraper. 

We are staying in Buenos Aires for about five days, and we have plenty to do here. My mom (the master scheduler) has set up a lot of cool things to do. These include some tennis for me (I am a tournament player that hasn’t played since I left) on the famous Argentine red clay, a sports event (probably a soccer game) and a few museums, which I can live with if I can bring my computer. 

Although I must admit I am most looking forward to Chile because of my love for the Mountains, you could say I am not getting the full Argentine experience because we aren’t exploring outside of Buenos Aires, which is basically on the Eastern edge of Argentina. I will almost be back here when I ski in Portillo, Chile in a week, (it is almost on the border) but besides that I will be missing the “Argentina Andes” experience. I bet the rest of Argentina is awesome and much different that this Barcelona-like city, but I guess you can’t cover South America entirely in two weeks, so I don’t feel too bad about it.

I’m excited to be here in Buenos Aires and I’ll keep posting as long as interesting stuff keeps happening (which it has a habit to do).

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 Tourism is a sport. You can win and you can lose.

Everyone is part of the game, whether you’re being interrogated in Cuba, or you are relaxing in the South of France. You just have to be away from home. As a frequent flier myself, I have been many places in my life, most with my family of five. And although we all have the time of our lives on our vacations, I must admit we are the losers of the sport. Awkward moments are almost guaranteed to occur where ever we travel, especially if we travel somewhere where many do not speak English.

So what have we done? The first thing is being a tourist does not give you the credentials to act like you’re five years old. A lot of people believe that. One time my mom took the bull by the horns and blew off that golden rule, in one of the worst places to break it – a gift shop in Germany. She was actually buying sports gear for me, and she wanted to know if an Under Armour garment was supposed to be worn next to the skin or over an undershirt.  Instead of just buying it and asking me, she decided to take the matter in her own hands, even though she hasn’t spoken German since college. So she took the shirt, poked at it, and in the most German accent that she could think of from Television, she said (in English) “UNDER? UNDER?” It was more like “UN-DAR!” and obviously the woman at the counter didn’t know what the she was saying. Either she thought my mom was lost and needed directions, or she needed to call security. And fast. Thankfully, I had the satisfaction not to be in Germany at that moment, but my sister was. 

So what can we learn from this? When you are in a situation that is obvious you can’t solve, like this one, save yourself the embarrassment and just don’t do it — in this case, don’t buy it. Everything from her German to her hand motions obviously didn’t fare very well in this situation.

Another thing that barely ever works is the tone of voice. I have witnessed many tourists (we’re not still talking about my mom here) talking in English to people who know little to none of it in a voice that they would use when talking either to their dog of 3 year old – whichever is less mature. The people you are talking to may not know be up to your standards in English, but they live on this Earth too, so they will know that tone and not be happy with it. In one occasion, I witnessed a tourist talking to a waiter in France with that tone (at the table next to me) and the waiter simply walked away in disgust. So please don’t do that.

Another problem tourists have is blending in. Just about an hour ago, our tour bus carrying only our family here in Uruguay (where I am typing this from) stopped to look over the ocean. As I walked over to the boardwalk, I noticed a crowd twenty people staring at a huge sea lion who had lazily parked himself on the sidewalk next to two workers who were chopping up fish. He was hungry and wanted a sun tan, which we all thought was really cute. So I whipped out my video camera and ran over to the crowd. I squeezed in-between the people to get a good spot for the film, trying to be as courteous to the fellow Uruguayans as I could be, quietly saying “hola” and “como stas” (look I know how to say it, just not spell it) and answering “muey bien” and “asi asi”  when asked how I was doing. I even lured people over from the sidewalk by yelling: “Mira!” (which means look) like everyone else. By doing this instead of just ignoring them or talking in English like the other nine out of ten Americans would most likely do, I blended in enough that even though people probably figured I was a tourist because of my pitiful Spanish accent, but at least they knew I could at least have a basic conversation with them, which I did. So what is so great about that? First of all, I used my second grade Spanish to my advantage, and I immediately changed my status from: ‘cocky American tourist that just got off a private bus’ to ‘nice American tourist that doesn’t want to make a scene and knows a little Spanish.’ Most tourists would skip mingling part and therefore they were known by those 20 people as the tourists that don’t want to talk. And that’s bad. Below is the video. 

So if you are a good tourist, remember to win, not lose. My top tips? Act like you are a local, speak what you can, but don’t overdo it. Please. And do things with confidence, after all you are on vacation.

 

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As soon as I landed in Uruguay, I knew it was different than the rest. Right after you finish immigration customs, you’re forced to walk through a superstore with over 1,000 perfumes, with everything from a car to tennis rackets on sale. The store was gigantic, somehow reminding me of the gold-lined gambling rooms that you must walk through on the way to your hotel room. But besides the store, the airport was anything but massive. The baggage claim room was packed full of Uruguayans, airport employees, soldiers, and hidden cameras, so I dared not take any pictures. One thing I noticed that proved to separate Uruguay from the rest of South America was the influence on technology. I’ve seen many more mobile phones and computers here in Uruguay than Lima and Santiago combined.

Driving to where we are going to stay for the next three days, I really got a feel from the average streets and marketplaces. It is the equivalent to the USA’s February, so it is about 40 to 50 degrees here. The streets look dark and abandoned from the outside, but once inside a flower store, I was given the full warm  welcome. I’ve been given the impression that because of the season, more people are staying inside. It was beautiful when we passed a long stretch of abandoned beach (in the gallery above) with towering apartments overhead. This place fits the puzzle piece more on your average South American city during the winter, which I didn’t exactly see in Lima and Santiago. The Spanish and Italian influence here is huge, and because of that, I haven’t seen many Americans around. We are here in Montevideo for another two days until we take a boat to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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As a Los Angeles resident for over 13 years now, I have been accustomed to the two alternate worlds of LA: Beverly Hills, and everywhere else. Recently I made a few trips of longer duration to this hub of stars, and while browsing the shops, I noticed two things. First, the prices, and what they were selling. When it comes to Beverly Hills, the myth is definitely true — everything is overpriced. But, being the teen I am, shopping is not exactly my expertise, so I have never before hit up any of the top notch appointment-only stores in the Hills. But when I first entered these stores and took a look at the price tags, I was blown away. As a southern Californian traveler, I have been accustomed some pretty outrageous stuff around here, but nothing like what was going on over in the BH. Highlights of the store that I browsed while I was wandering included $4,000 Italian motorbike jackets, $40,000 dresses, and my favorite — a $450 cotton undershirt. Now I do understand that this clothing they are selling is the real deal, high quality fabrics, comfortable feel, ect. — but the 450 buck undershirt really struck me as something I may have 10 of in my dresser that was bought for under 5 dollars or less at a popular Polo in a Santa Monica shopping mall. So I made two conclusions: people who buy this stuff are either the filthy rich Los Angeles .com billionaires who own the multiple Ferraris and Gallardos outside, or regular income people who just want to look filthy rich. The answer…was neither. 

The second thing I noticed was who was shopping at these stores. Not only did I not see one resident of Southern California in the stores besides the employees, but everyone in the store wasn’t even from the West — mostly not even America. And at that moment the awful truth struck me — these people (who were actually buying this stuff relentlessly) had fallen under the misconception that makes places like Vegas so famous. If you are looking at a stereotype movie shown about Los Angeles, it is almost guaranteed to show the juiciest parts of LA — the expensive shops that the not even the actors in real life would shop at. My point? To foreigners, Los Angeles is Beverly Hills, and it would be like going to Vegas and not visiting a casino to not feed off of the Hills. In fact, for the average tourist I saw there (a Japanese couple and their two sons), it would be virtually impossible to see the real essence of the great city of Los Angeles without a local to show you away from the luring lies of Beverly Hills, and into the real Los Angeles — the city. For example, when I visit South America in a few weeks, (as an American) I will most certainly be shown into the finest of hotels and dining, probably missing what is really what the whole city is about — digging deep into the rich history and life of the places I will be traveling to. This is the exact same feeling that couple from Japan probably was lured into when traveling to Los Angeles. 

I am not claiming that Beverly Hills is bad for the city, it is an important asset of Los Angeles’s culture. But I encourage all travelers who may be reading this to find someone local and stay away from the tour busses that only shuttle to the glamorous stops, but to really go into Los Angeles and learn — not necessarily the history of the city, but the culture and the town hubs that really show what LA is all about to me — the greatest city ever.

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