Tuesday, May 18, 2010

gracias a la vida

I can't believe I haven't written since the earthquake. So much has happened since then and it has flown by faster than any other time in my life, and now I am staring my last 7 weeks in the face. I guess I'll start with a rundown of what I've done since then.

At the end of March, almost a month already after the earthquake, I went to Santiago with Emily for my United World College interview. UWC is an international organization of schools in various countries around the world that I applied to back in December when Tessa sent me the link after having met alums in her class at Princeton. After the interview, which went well despite my dire predictions to the ever-patient Emily, we met up with Jhoel and Connor, two other exchangers, to go give blood (I was the only under-18 so I was left out), and then grab some sushi with Aurelie from Belgium, an activity I happily participated in.

I was at home for my host dad's birthday (my gift was a card and a bottle of California Monkey Business, as if we need to teach Chileans about good wine), before I left for Santiago for the Rotary north trip. Words cannot describe the amazingness of that trip. 11 days in a bus full of exchange students, probably some of the most fun people in existence. We started by driving from Santiago to La Serena, from there crossed the driest desert in the world by night, visited mountain geysers at dawn, ate llama kabobs in a tiny village and climbed through a desert canyon after our bus broke down four times, visited vast salt flats filled with flamingoes while volcanoes towered on the horizon, walked through la Valle de la Luna at sunset (one of most unearthly beautiful places I have ever been), sandboarded by the light of a full moon in la Valle de la Muerte (the Valley of Death), went running at night through the desert city of Iquique and ran sprints on the beach in the dark, got our hotel room pranked by all the guys on April Fool's Day, explored Iquique's old wood theater, went to a World Heritage mining ghost town, visited the memorial of a bloody battle between Chile and Bolivia, lived it up in the coast city of Arica, took flag pictures at Lago Chungara at a suffocating altitude of 4,500 meters, played soccer on the beach in Caldera, visited more churches and plazas than even the most devout tourist would have willingly subjected themself to, and had uncountable fun times in between, little moments of shared happiness when life simply could not have gotten any better.

I didn't have too much time to miss the exchange students after the trip because soon we were returning to Santiago for the Rotary's District conference, which was fun just because of the exchange students plus slightly stressful for me because I had to run around finding a computer, camera, and internet to do my second and final interview with a man from the UWC-USA national committee. I spent the night at Jhoel's house in the comuna of Maipú (yes it is pronounced 'my-poo') where we made 'Team Gringo' signs for the next day, the Santiago Marathon! Connor, Emily, Kim, Tom, Jakob, Matthew, and I ran the 10k race, fun times. There were three categories- the 10k, the half marathon, and the full marathon, all designated different coloured shirts so that the tens of thousands of us formed the Chilean flag when we were lined up to start. The amount of participants broke all records in another show of Chilean solidarity after the earthquake. I wiped out 10 minutes into the race, lost Emily for a quarter of an hour in a see of red shirts, and had a great time.

Life did not slow down afterwards. Emily and I arrived back to Talca that same night, dead tired, and the very next day I started school. After having been on summer vacation since November, it was time. And, surprise of surprises, I love it. I love all the people at school. They are nice and funny and interesting, and I love how easy it is now to make friends and be myself. What a nice change from when I arrived when my personality was characterized almost exclusively by the novelity of my height, my Asian eyes, and the fact that I did not understand Spanish. My new colegio is a Catholic school, a new experience for me. In general everyone is very accepting, and I'm enjoying the novelity of being taught by priests and learning the Lord's Prayer in Spanish. We've debated everything from gay rights and capital punishment to the definition of atheism and that the majority of U.S. citizens are not actually war-crazy with a tendency towards indifference.

*I ran out of time because I am headed to a cabin at Lago Colbun with Chanel, Emily, Camila, and her friends, so I promise to finish after this weekend!


On the 20th of April Emily and I headed once again to Santiago for the Matisyahu concert, with exchangers Connor, Cedar, Billy, Tim, Kelly, Andrew, Eric and Benny. Matisyahu is basically his own genre, but in general a reggae-hip-hop-orthodox-Jewish-rapper. It was a fantastic concert with fantastic people. The next morning a group of us went to meet with the U.S. Ambassador to Chile, in an embassy that screamed America. It looks like a bunker from the outside and the White House on the inside, and the woman who greeted us shook our hands. Shaking hands? What? It felt so incredibly awkward to not do the kiss on the cheek. However meeting the ambassador and getting to know more about that type of position was interesting. It actually made me want to find a different way to work internationally. Being in the foreign service obviously would allow you to travel, but I was left with the distinct impression that the Americans who worked in the embassy integrate very little into real Chile. Just from talking to the embassador it felt like we had a much better feel for the country, and it was unnerving that I felt more Chilean than American in that instance, and a lot more comfortable outside in the streets of Santiago than I did inside the formality of that embassy which, technically speaking, was American soil. It was a little warning in my brain that I need to at least attempt to prepare mentally for coming back home because it is going to be hard and it's going to be a shock.

It often makes me happy just to realize how I happy I am, and I don't mean that in an exchange-student-novelty-high kind of way. I have made so many good memories, am in the processing of making new ones all the time, and have so many to look forward to. I love my friends, my family, my school, what I do, the things I see and live. I went to a football (soccer) practice with my school's team, which was fun. The typical assumption is that South Americans are amazing at soccer, but really at least my experience has been that that only applies to the guys- they are the ones always playing during class breaks, while the girls talk, which is why I ended up absurdly being better at soccer than half the team, despite the fact I've never played, just because I am bigger, faster, and a hell of a lot more competitive. The last one is what makes all the difference I think. I couldn't dribble worth crap, but by gosh if there was a race for the ball I got there first. Another new activity is choir, which I am loving after having gone so long without singing. Now I have rehearsal with the University of Talca choir every Monday and Thursday with a bunch of music majors, and Tuesday and Wednesday with the Regional Theater Choir, where we are singing the Vivaldi Gloria ,much to my happiness, with who I've been told is the best director in Chile.

Another notable event would be when Jhoel from Bermuda, Tom from Canada, Aaron from the U.S., and I decided to climb a mountain in the cordillera of Santiago the weekend before last. 8 kilometers up and 6.5 down, and when I say up and down I mean it. Ok not like literally straight up and down but it was close. It's pretty accurate to say that we went without any real idea of what we were getting ourselves into (oh let's just run up a mountain kinda thing...). A nice little race that we thought we could tackle and be back in time for lunch turned into 4+ hours of muddy uphill trekking, but the views were so spectacular it was impossible to complain too much and even the pain enrichened the experience. And of course the free burgers that were being handed out once we reached the bottom, which we then went and supplemented with more burgers (a lot less free this time) at Santiago's most upper-class mall, Alto las Condes, wearing cross country cleats and running gear and covered in mud, but boy did it taste good. By the last bite we were all fading, so we slept on the metro/bus all the way back to Jhoel's house where we showered and head out again to Curicó, a city 2 1/2 hours south of Santiago, for Breno from Brazil's going-away party. The only gliche was when Jhoel and I fell asleep on the bus, passing Curicó, and ended up in the nowhere town of Molina 45 minutes away at 11:30 at night. However after the bus driver contained his laughter when we asked if we were in Curicó, he kindly directed us to where we could take aNOTHER bus to where we wanted to go, and it was worth it. Definitely one of the crazier nights I've had in Chile, but so much fun.

This past weekend in Lago Colbun was also some of the most amazing times I've had here, and made me not want to leave even more. Chanel, Emily, my host sister Camila, and a bunch of her university friends plus their friends/boyfriends went. There is nothing like spending time with such incredible people. We had more fun than words can describe, and I had some conversations and moments that I will remember forever. Some of that fun included a costume party the second night, highlights of which were Pippi Longstocking (Emily), Mother Nature (Camila), a drunkard (Mathias), a baby (Fusa's boyfriend, complete with diaper), Beyonce (Chanel), Catwoman (me), John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John from Grease (Esteban and Maca, complete with dance moves), a cavewoman, a pig, a make-uped Turk, and much more...

This weekend is Emily's going-away party and the despedida of two exchangers in Santiago. I cannot believe we have arrived at this time already. ¡Emily no te vayas!

Love love love to all

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