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.

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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A brilliant speech by Alisa Miller from the Ted conference this year covered something that I noticed I didn’t cover in my one of my favorite posts “Good Press, Bad Press.” This is a post commenting on her interesting speech, and what I think about this problem our press has obtained.

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The first picture above is something I have been yearning to obtain for a long time — proof that America’s press is greatly biased towards ourselves and the one topic that every American paper is aware of and keeps covering valiantly — Iraq. I am not on a mission to prove America has a great amount of vanity for itself, that is for the world to decide. Staying strictly non-partisan on this post, I am more or less pointing out American media needs to keep an open mind on what is going on in the world. Sure, the American people love to sit and watch the carnage in the middle east, but if you feed a dog its favorite treat forever, its going to forget there are other good foods out there to sniff at. And in a sense, the American press has been serving that dog two types of food for years and only giving it periodic sniffs outside its realm to the surrounding world, so it barely has a chance to be curious. 

Miller’s speech was in a sense an outlet that helps people like me make a point about our media, and one of the many facts that made her speech so great was about a popular entertainment story that no one really thought was as big and as covered on the news as it was. In fact, the death of Anna Nicole Smith “eclipsed” news coverage of every country and got ten times more coverage than the IPCC report. So this single story of the death of a US entertainment star was obviously more important for an entire month. And this wasn’t just any month in news — this was a month when North Korea dismantled their nuclear weapons, global warming was confirmed in Paris, and there was massive flooding in Indonesia. Instead of a fluffy, long article in the New York Times’s obituary, this story deserved to outdo all other events that happened in the world that month, grazing the cover of virtually every major American newspaper out there. And to put this into more of a perspective, in that month — Russia, India, and China — only amounted to about 1% of news. No one cry goose on me, but I think we have a problem.

And in, fact, a problem well on its way to being solved. I love to praise blogging for really showing the meaning of free press, where anyone who wants to can call the shots on their own newspaper. Blogging to me is like the cast on top of the broken arm of the media, but it still is yet to get its recognition. It lets everyone from a Saudi Arabian blogger to someone like me, an American driving through the Uruguayan countryside to connect and share our experiences and ideas. But sadly, still considerably more people read the newspaper and magazines then people who read blogs, and I think it will take many years for this statistic to even itself out. And it seems like until then, it will require more people to be woken up from the news that to many is deceiving and be given more or less speech like Miller gave to point them in the right direction. 

So if we all had our way, what would be the perfect media? Even if our craze for celebrity and entertainment news is extinguished, we wouldn’t still have the perfect news. What about the war in the middle east? What is the right amount of coverage there?

I think the perfect media should have news outlets in every country in the world, and spend more money getting quality news instead of covering the cheap stuff inside America. The USA is in a rare time where most countries are opening up to each other — not too ago Eastern Europe was locked up. Now we have to chance to explore there. They say 90% of Americans have trouble locating basic countries on a map. Why not use this opportunity to provide news about countries that either seem far away to the average American or don’t even exist to them? Did Anna Nicole Smith pass away? Oh, too bad. Lets write something nice in the back of the paper for her. But look, people are starving over in India and a new tribe was found in the Amazon. Maybe we should even provide some insight on other parts of the world that people have no information about, even if something tragic isn’t happening there. Maybe we should write something about the Inuit tribes in Northern Canada and Qaanaaq, Greenland? Or maybe a piece about like in Turkmenistan? My point here? There’s a lot to know about this Earth, and its not all happening here in the US. 

So the problem here is merely our media not opening their eyes to the world and for once laying off the entertainment and leaving it for the teen gossip magazines. Our press isn’t so simple, and the internet and blogging is only getting stronger, so the light at the end of the tunnel may take long crawl to get to, but at least its there. 

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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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