Monday, April 28, 2008

Plate o' Shrimp

I had a plate o' shrimp today. No, not those cockroaches of the sea (though I love them too) but you know--plate o' shrimp, a term borrowed from the movie Repo Man that refers to those weird coincidences in life where something you've never heard about or noticed before is suddenly all over the place.

Last week I watched this
video, totally awesome, titled "Do Schools Kill Creativity?," presented at the TED Conference in California. It was the first time I'd ever heard of TED--Technology, Entertainment, and Design--and I was practically salivating at the thought of getting my school to send me there next year. Then came the crushing reality: TED only takes VIPs in those three fields--in fact, they cherry-pick their attendees--and since I've never even been an IP in any field, let alone a VIP, the chances of an invite falling on my doorstep would look slim.

And then--today I added this
guy as a friend on facebook, despite not knowing who the hell he really was (I'd been stalking him on Twitter, inspired by Julia). It wasn't until now that I realized he's quite an internet phenom with a legion fan base and is--get this--a repeat speaker at TED! So, tonight I'm macking on some Reese's PB Cups that a kid's parent just brought me from the States and watching ze's old claim-to-fame TED videos.

Have you had a plate o' shrimp lately?

Will I Have to Put Out?

I'm scheduled to get my rebate check--a whopping sum of $900--direct-deposited by the IRS on May 9. While it may mark the only time I'm actually thrilled to be making less than 75K a year, a part of me feels so Spitzer dirty for this Bush buy-off (I know for $900 I oughta be able to suck a golf ball though a garden hose). Still, the list of things that need replacing in my life just keep racking up, such as the camera and laptop. And I'm not even talking about things that can't be bought, such as a new memory card for my brain (or a new jump drive for my uh...other drive). Maybe I'll just use the money to stimulate the Argentine economy instead. It seems only fair after all.

o...Hellooo, Prune

Sunday, April 27, 2008

When in BA

I made the most killer supper last night: Thai green curry with tofu and glass noodles. In keeping with the ongoing Argentine fusion theme, my curry actually had palmito cubes as the veg, arugula as the herb, and some queso crema to round off the heat. I know it sounds a tad touched, but it turned out divine. The iced coffee delivery was also nice to bring the heat factor down a couple notches.

In other news, I need a new camera.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Omelette a la Provenzal

I like to buy prepackaged stuff from the supermarches here, such as precut veggies for sopas or chop sueys--not that I've ever been inspired to chop any sueys. My favorite convenience packet hands down is the mixed herbs a la provenzal, containing about a quarter cup of chopped fresh garlic and a quarter cup of chopped fresh parsley. This morning I groggily threw together this packet with four beaten eggs and ta da, I present the frockin' Omelette a la Provenzal! Be sure to have a tub of breath mints nearby.

And since we're talking about Argentinizing the old standbys, I've also taken a liking to adding a spoonful or two (who am I kidding, three) of dulce de leche into my espresso every morning for a more stylized version of Cuban coffee. Fawesome.

Happy Belated Earth Day!

In keeping with my procrastinating nature (you never did get that birthday card in the mail, right?), here's my post on ED 2008.

So last Tuesday I hauled 17 kids off to La Reserva Ecológica in our school's "backyard"
for a gorgeous romp through the wicked wild. Earlier in class I'd shown them these cute little shorts from PBS Kids EekoWorld when right in the middle, I noticed one little girl sitting there with soft, muffled sobs. I was all, "oh honey, why are you sad?" and she goes, "because my parents work in oil." Actually, more than half my students have parents with Chevron or Petrobras or the like (the others mostly with multinational corps), and it dawned on me right then & there that I also needed to present a clipped version of All Good Things That Oil Enables in the World (my favorite being the ability to hop on a plane and experience another culture firsthand--yes, I know it's facile but these are first graders after all). It's a reflection of my getting old but I think so often moderation and tempering go missing in environmental talk, the strident, shrill extremist tone of The Story of Stuff being just another example.

But I get it. When I was 20 and spraying factory farms with "Meat is murder" and leafleting I too felt the apocalyptic urgency of our downward-dog planetary trajectory. I had laser-like contempt for all drivers-cum-oil-guzzlers
and meateaters and Republicans and suburban dwellers and malls and cheerleaders (ok, a peeved bias I can't let go off), but these days my mantra playlist shuffles between It's Not That Simple and Nothing Is Black and White to You Lost That Loving Feeling.

I have a clear memory of debating with a professor in law school about indigenous whale hunting (I was opposed to the killing of all animals for any reasons with the supreme smugness that youth is afforded). How he managed not to club me on the head for my insufferable know-it-allness I still can't fathom. What is cool about the passing of time, not just for an individual but for a generation, is that issues that seem debatable develop less clarity, like a reverse Polaroid, while certain ethos gel (if I'm making sense). The kids I'm teaching today came out of their mama's hoohoos soaking in an amniotic fluid of earth consciousness. It's a given for them that taking care of the planet matters. So while the trees in the debate need to be further bandied about and tagged, the forest is a given. And that's a good thing.

Starbuckaroo Bonzai

Starbucks is coming to Buenos Aires in May and I’m peeing in my pants with excitement. Though it’s not exactly my favorite beanery (Peet’s and the now-defunct Diedrich’s beat it hands down), I like the predictable quality of their roasts, their menu, and how I can always count on my drink of choice (the excruciatingly embarrassingly named and tongue-tying iced tall double soy 2-pump Mocha Valencia) to taste how it always does. (Not to mention the customer service is first rate.)

Still, a hugely successful corporation like Starbucks does not walk softly while carrying a big latte stirrer, and it does not make its presence overseas without a lot of hand wringing within the expat community. But call me a minion because I just don’t see what the problem is. I verily guffaw into my laptop whenever I read some sad sap decrying the evilness of all big corporations on his fricking computer. Let’s face it, it’s because of some big corporations that we have the 21st century lifestyle that we do. Without big corporations paying big bucks for research and development, mass production and distribution, we wouldn’t have computers or the internet or affordable cars or email. How about healthcare? Who develops cancer or AIDS research? (This isn't to say I don't think corporations shouldn't have ethical practices, which funny enough, are what Starbucks has in spades--how many other corporations provide health ins to part-time employees?)

Anyway, while Googling for the exact date of the Alto Palermo Starbucks grand opening, I came upon this slideshow, Starbucks vs. the Traveler, by Jim Benning, which I found quite interesting (as I do World Hum). The author goes to Tijuana to see whether the local culture’s doomed after an SB invasion. Don’t miss the comments that follow; here are my favorites:


It seems so ignorant for people to attack big business for being what they are...the best at providing certain goods or services. Do people not realize that Starbucks was once a ma & pa store too? When Starbucks started out, it was just one coffee shop in one city for almost 20 years! I do not believe that the owners set out to destroy the unique cultures of certain societies - but rather to provide outstanding product and lively service to the people worldwide who obviously enjoy them. By Melissa Mischel


It’s easy to condemn Starbucks, but on the other hand, as Eve says, it is someplace warm and dry to buy something small and cheap. And they offer jobs to locals. That’s not a bad thing. By Marilyn Terrell


I enjoy seeing a Starbucks wherever I travel. It provides a nice refuge where I know I can get a great cup a coffee. I think that many people forget that Starbucks started as a single, mom and pop store in Pike Place Market in Seattle. It grew to the giant that it is because it is successful. Starbucks also gets involved in the communities it enters and provides great benefits for its husband included. By Sara


I’m from Buenos Aires Argentina and waiting for the opening of our first Starbucks on May. I can’t believe that some posters think this chain could change a country culture, it just sells coffee. Do sushi, chinese dumplings, mexican tacos or italian pizza change yours? I don’t think so. Starbucks is another coffee chain, we have many local ones and nobody is afraid of Starbucks. So don’t worry, maybe Starbucks changed the coffee history in USA, but not in the rest of the world, they are just another coffee chain .

By Christian [Hey Christian, I’ll see your venti latte and raise you a tall half decaf skinny no whip mumbo jumbo!]


Starbucks, McDonalds, and every other multinational are not going to ruin the entire culture of a country. People always have a choice. When I travel around the globe for business, I see people wearing Nike (USA), Adidas (Germany) and the like. Do we also expect all Germans to be running around in lederhosen, all Japanese in Kimonos, and Scotts in kilts? Every person who complains on the internet about global business is responding on a computer made by a multinational company and connected through communication lines owned by multinational companies. People who are dead set against multinational business should either hole up in a shack in the woods like Theodore Kazinski or go live with the Taliban.

By Craig [While I am not a fan of do-or-die extremism—i.e., the Taliban remark—I like Craig’s point of view.]


Can’t stop globalization. For every Starbucks that opens in Mexico, I’m sure there must be dozens, if not hundreds, of Mexican eateries opened by immigrants in the U.S. I just wish Starbucks would make more of an effort to be more environment-friendly to provide organic coffee.

By Lin [What is the sun shade thingie they got going if not environ friendly?]


The real controversy isn’t about Starbucks it is about chain retailers and independent smaller family owned retailers. When traveling, I opt for the local offerings, full well knowing that I am probably helping to feed a family rather than a large corporation’s bottom line. Perhaps the familiarity when traveling out of one’s comfort zone is why folks stop in at a Starbucks. At home, I shop at independent book stores and coffee shops as well. These folks provide the very best in terms of service and impact on the local communities where they are located. Are we at risk losing the very fabric of independence and the authentic colorfulness of the world’s tapestry with the growth of mega world chains. As we travel the world may we do so in a spirit of support of those whose homeland we are guests.

By Pegg [So wise, Pegg, so wise…]


As I said in the slide show, it’s easy to hate Starbucks. It’s also easy to assume that Starbucks is driving indie coffee shops out of business. In fact, a story by the author of the new book “Starbucked” reported this:

“Just over their five-year period from 2000 to 2005—long after Starbucks supposedly obliterated indie cafes—the number of mom and pops grew 40 percent, from 9,800 to nearly 14,000 coffeehouses. (Starbucks, I might add, tripled in size over that same time period. Good times all around.) So much for the sharp decline in locally owned coffee shops.”

Here’s the link to the Slate piece:

By Jim Benning [Jim, you're a rock star!]

The Story of Stuff

The woman is a tad annoying and fear-mongering but the video's worth watching.

If nothing else, it got me thinking about the stuff I still have in storage in LA. Truth to tell, I kinda wish I had more stuff, as I often feel that my self-imposed religious spring cleaning every few years leaves me not only with less clutter but fewer sustaining memories as well. What else is a treasured item but an invocation of time? It is absolutely true that things can hold value. Nothing inspires me more than a bookshelf stuffed to the gills with good reads, for example. But as I'm resigning myself to the vagabond life, I've managed to parse down my carpet bag to mostly these: photo albums, books, CDs, tapestries, old letters/cards/journals, a few ethnic knick-knacks received as presents, and oh yeah, a crate full of holiday ornaments. What stuff do you have?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

America's Next Top President

My friend Richard from my Los Angeles Unified days and his partner made this little spoof of America's Next Top Model. Check it out!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral

Living in a quaint little town (I'm about 10 minutes away from downtown Bs.As.) affords me certain luxuries. I have a flower guy and a butcher guy and a vegetable/fruit guy and an ice cream guy and a world of guys (everything but a mineral guy) tending to my consumer needs. Some of them know me so well they bring me stuff before I even ask. And then there's my chocolate girls at my favorite chocolatier, who go out of their way to make sure I know of the latest concoctions when I visit. Tonight the adorable shopgirl on duty enthusiastically unveiled the stunning Caramel con Rosa and offered it to me on the house. Muy rico! So if you ever go by Vasalissa, be sure to try that and the Jengibre and the Trufas de Cappuccino. They'll surely knock your socks off on such autumn evenings.


I've about 30 regular lurkers a day who read this blog. Who are you lurkers? Say hi or something, dammit. I promise I only play bitch on TV.

A Coffee and a Smoke

I think I'm finally turning shades of Argentine. I no longer find it thrilling or even feasible to buy coffee at a cafe and am now relying on my Saeco espresso machine to get me off. Those 7-peso cups of cafe con leche sure do add up really fast (to about 200 pesos a month according to my 5th grade math skills). Holy smoke! And speaking of smoke, this little problem that's been engulfing Argentina, pun intended, is getting really tiring. Here's a Cliff's note guide for the folks back home:

- Farmers in the delta have been clearing grass by massively burning their land down, to get ready for the new bean crops (Argentina is like the third biggest soy producer in the world)
- It's rumored that the farmers are trying to get back at the govt for the recent tiff (strike in response to tax hike) so they're burning stuff down early this year before the winter weather can offset some environmental damages

- It's rumored that the land clearing came about as a cover-up for illegal/toxic trash burning
- With m
ore than 200 fires currently raging, all of BA is paying the price with massively polluted skies
- Imagine a bonfire following you everywhere 24/7: it's in your bed, clothes, hair. It's akin to having been in an orgy with a roomful of 10-packs-a-day smokers. I was horrified to see how dark and soot-filled my shower water was the other day after I'd rinsed off.
- School may have to be closed next week and some families are heading south or leaving for Chile until the air clears; it's that bad
- The government doesn't seem that concerned with stopping these fires
- According to an Argentine coworker, the farmers are putting out these fires with whips (WTF?)
- Helicopters are inadequate to the task (or maybe they're not being used?)

- The US embassy has issued an advisory to basically seal up all windows and limit outdoor activities (prompting me to cancel that 18-hole golf game I'd planned)
- All my years of living in LA (and traveling in Asia) have not prepared me for this--it's the most toxic thing I've encountered!
- I have a headache around the clock now and am wheezing and coughing constantly. My lungs feel so heavy. (PITY ME, DAMMIT!)

Srly, I'm n
ot sure how much more I can take. The only thing helping me to escape this weekend is my brother's new CD. Check it out. I love my brother.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

God, I love Sundays!

I've just spent the last couple hours leisurely sifting through more than 500 photos of the world's street foods found here on this Flickr slideshow, my movie-viewing snack of choice being a giant bowl of popcorn liberally doused with melted butter, curry powder, shoyu, black pepper, and nutritional yeast and a tall glass of condensed-milk-sweetened Thai iced tea (I had brought a giant bag of these tea leaves from the Bangkok market in LA)--all this after a proper Argentine breakfast of medialunas de manteca and café con leche con crema. God, I love Sundays.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Deja View

Sometimes in your new home, you get flashes of life from your previous one that throw you off course. They're there but for a moment, and then gone. I was walking to the neighborhood panaderia early this morning to get a handful of fresh medialunas and pan con queso for the rowdy crowd at home, when it hit me: 18 inches of masala dosa, served crisp and regal. It's not the picture-perfect focus but the emotive fallout that surprised (and also not), the voice inside my head reaffirming that I must hearken back to my Asian roots in my next wandering.

Here's the last masala
dosa I had from January of this year (Artesia, CA).

Sunday, April 06, 2008


oke out of my anti-social mold and went to a bachelorette party last night. Dayyum, in Argentina the male strippers get more natural, if you know what I mean and I think you do. I actually have some x-rated shots, but this is an old-fashioned family blog, fer fuck's sake.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Good Afternoon, Vietnam

I just had one of those spontaneously cool afternoons where my aimless meandering ended up more interesting than anything I could plan.

I was in Palermo for my monthly injection of Mark's Deli's iced mocha (btw, they offer it para llevar now, and it felt rather deliciously SoCal walking around with a big plastic cup and straw--I know, I know, I'm lame) and decided to wander into the Vietnam store, a way cool but way expensive boutique selling gorgeous clothing mostly in red and yellow hues created in that SE Asian country by
hopefully well-compensated locals. Anyhow as it turned out the restaurant in the back of the store opened for business as of last night, and I ended up sampling the spring rolls and the classic café su da. And get this--they even have pho on the menu, though not today for some reason. Oscar and Marta, the couple that owns the store/restaurant, were so excited to meet someone born near Vietnam that they just pulled up a chair at my table, and we chatted like three old pals for nearly an hour.

And that in a nutshell encapsulates what I love best about Argentina: the friendliness, warmth, and open curiosity of complete strangers. So that's the good news anyway; the bad news is the food, to kindly put it, improvement. Times like these I wish my mom were here to give them a tip or two. She can outcook anyone, including Vietnamphilic Argentines.

(Alas, I didn’t have my camera with me today…)

Friday, April 04, 2008

Everyone Hates Me or (otherwise titled) Woe Is Me

It's as inevitable as the setting sun or death & taxes. There comes a point in every personal relationship I have when I become disappointing. (At least here at work it's taken me two years to get there.) And what I mean by that is I just don't need people enough or alcohol-induced socialization enough for whatever the fuck's considered normal, and this lack of need gets in the way of perception. Maybe it comes down to extroversion vs. introversion--not to be confused with shyness--but I really would rather spend my weekends/evenings strolling the city discovering new stuff all by my lonesome, or curled up with a good book, than with mass companions. This has served me well back home, but I'm finding that in the insular, artificially shrunken world of expatting, it stamps a big scarlet S (for "savant") on your forehead (or in my case, fivehead) the more your RSVPs fall resoundingly in the "No" column.

Case in point, last weekend I decided n
ot to go to a progressive dinner party (the kind where you walk to a new home for each course) when I realized there would be kre8tiv games played in teams (such as, create a silly new dance with your teammates!). If there exists an alternative hellish social event as creative team games, I sure couldn't picture it (oh OK, a scrapbooking circle with Oprah fans?). The end result was alienation from a few coworkers. Because here's the thing about international teaching, you are certainly eating where you're shitting and your coworkers are indeed your friends, no matter how much you resist the notion. It's a mind-altering amalgam of that adage, "you can pick your friends, but you can't pick your family." sigh

ETA: This is all
orthogonally related to whether I like my coworkers, which I do. There are some great people in the bunch.

Apropos of Something

I wrote about bad customer service being the norm here just the other day and funnily enough this afternoon my Argentine friend (the one with the sister who's just moved back from the States) unveiled to me their secret plan to open a business in the near future offering what they called "American-style customer service." I swear I didn't mention my recent spate of complaints to them, because I have better manners than that, y'know?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Grub, Good Ones

I just had the greatest Carrefour shopping experience--well, as great as it can be considering the double-digit inflation (ouch). In my cart were the following super-cool items:

- Pepperidge Farm orange Milanos (a new import)
- Pepperidge Farm goldfish, pizza flavor (another new import)
- these Hong Kong brand potato snax, mayonnaise & tomato flavor (how I love weird Asian stuff)
- this Argentine version of mac-n-cheese, a hit at our house (actually, it tastes so much cheesier/better than Kraft's)
- a giant box of Toffifay

I'm almost sure I should be ashamed of the above food choices, but lalalalala...I can't hear you, health c

To Counter the Previous Post...

I hereby commend Cafe de Paris in Vicente Lopez for their consistently good service. Prompt offering of the menu and no disappearance once the food's been delivered. Customer service rating: 3/4 stars!

A Series of Misfortunate Events

Lately I've gotten such bad customer service (one time sitting in an almost-empty café for nearly 20 minutes before the girl stopped her window cleaning to come over and take my order*) that useless bitching about it to random expat coworkers is no longer enough, dammit. From now on I'm going to post about it here to appease my tortured soul. (Don’t worry, should I get the unexpected above-average service, I’ll boast about it here too.) I really don't get how in Argentina, on a top-ten list of priorities in daily business operation, customer service falls perhaps 7 or 8.** Isn't having repeat customers a very basic business tenet? Kinda like, making profits = good?

I've an Argentine friend whose sister just re-moved here after living 7 years in the States, and she's utterly horrified to recall the minute details of Getting Things Done. Case in point, she goes to buy a cell phone her first week. It fails to work when she gets back home, apparently not picking up a signal. She calls the guy who sold it to her, and he pleads ignorance, even going so far as to hang up on her twice out of anger! So she goes back to the place and, instead of getting to speak to a live person, is ushered to a phone area where complaining customers call to uh … voice their complaints. The case is still unresolved.

Another Argentine friend: Her home line just goes dead one day. She makes numerous calls to the phone company, but no repairman comes out. One day her boyfriend happens to spot a phone guy in uniform out and about in their neighborhood and decides to offer him money to come and have a look. He finds out that the phone line’s been cut, probably by a neighbor. And get this--this actually took place THREE months ago, and still the company has yet to send anyone over to fix the problem. (They can't go with a new phone service because unlike the States each company has a monopoly on an area.) Here’s the kicker: They’re still getting their monthly phone bills as per usual and, when they complained, were told at least they’re given a small discount off the regular fee. The case is still unresolved.

Here’s me: I live in a house and thus pay a municipal fee. All fine and good. After all, someone has to pay to fix the cracks on the sidewalk and to staff the guard booths. Oh wait. So this fee has been 45 pesos a month for the past year and half. But then lo and behold, one day I open my mail to see that it’s jumped from 45 pesos to 162 (that’s a 360% inflation)! No explanations, just a business-as-usual bill with the giant hike. Horrified, I ask a friend who speaks fluent Spanish to call the company to see why we residents were getting reamed up the ass. The municipal lady says to her--the property value went up, what do you expect?! What indeed! And then last week, I get yet another bill from the city this time saying I owe three back payments from 2007, all random months. (But, but--I made all my payments.) So I call to inquire, and the lady on the phone snottily says, you need to bring in proof that you made the payments. Say what? Of course I have the receipts showing I paid those months but my greater point is this: How can their system utterly fail to show that the payments were made when they were done electronically? Or are they scamming me and hoping I wouldn’t have the receipts? And, what a huge pain in the ass this all is!

OK I am tired of whingeing, though I’ve plenty more examples. Business students, I want a writeup of these case studies on my desk by tomorrow morning.

* Oftentimes I get tired of waiting and seek out the waitstaff myself but on this particular day, I refused to.

** I'm in no way saying bad customer service can't happen in the States. The question isn't, does it happen, but is it likely to as a rule? Perhaps the nature of the American litigious society and the "customer is always right" mantra prevent abysmal operations in mass quantities. Also in the States, there exists a hierarchy so that if you encounter an asshole, you can go to his manager or his manager's manager. And if a product fails to do what it's supposed to, there's an infrastructure in place to solve the problem. Until businesses in Argentina buy into the accepted model of "good customer service -> repeat/more customers -> greater profits"--and let's face it, even a 50% buy-in would be an improvement--businesses will continue to be poorly run here. /soapbox