Disclaimer: I don’t know why all the text is squished…I tried to fix it, but it doesn’t want to listen so…please be patient! :)
¡Qué onda chicos!
I’m celebrating the fact that today’s weather was gorgeous (very nice indeed for Santiago winter standards–I only had to wear three layers instead of my usual five) with another update! Yay! This past week I’ve:
gone to “school”
hiked up Santiago’s only hill to see a 360° view of the city
celebrated some birthdays the Chilean way
registered my student visa with the International Police
went to a vineyard
attended my second Aikido class!
I’m going to start with my last bullet first: Aikido! Man, this was such a cool/weird experience. And I’m not going to lie, it was kinda awkward at first haha, mostly because this dojo has its own way of doing stuff. A lot of it is surprisingly similar to the way I train back home, but it’s different enough to trip me up sometimes :P
Let’s start with the similarities:
They use the same tatami mats! It’s a funny thing to get excited about, but it makes me happy because it’s something familiar (never underestimate the fuzzy feeling of familiarity). Besides the mat, the layout of the dojo is also very similar to what I’m used to: a shomen in the center with flowers and calligraphy, weapons on the right, etc. Feels so good :)
The footwork and techniques are the same. Well, duh, it’s the same martial art after all. Nevertheless I still get a kick out of hearing a stream of Spanish broken by shihonage, tenkan, or counting in Japanese. I may not have known what girar meant (for the record, it means to turn or to spin), but I sure as hell knew what I was looking at. Again: warm fuzzies :))
These may not seem like a big deal to you guys, but it was enough to make me feel like it was my home-away-from-home.
Now for the differences:
They don’t use colored belts. Back home the colors progress from blue –> purple –> brown –> black for adults. Here everyone is a white belt until they reach 1st dan (the first black belt rank). I didn’t bring a white belt here, so for the first class I stuck out quite a bit. I talked with one of the instructors afterwards about purchasing a white belt, but she said I could “borrow” one from the dojo for the next six months. I like the idea of wearing a white belt. It means you have to be more attentive/sensitive to your partner’s technique and training so that you reciprocate appropriately. In addition, colored belts often carry certain expectations about what their wearers can and cannot do. These are not necessarily standardized across the board and there are always exceptions, which make it tricky to assume that a blue belt from one dojo has the same level of experience as one from another dojo.
Everything is in Spanish. Aaaaand I’m back to stating the obvious. But it has to be said! In all seriousness though, explanations of techniques and movements sound way cooler in Spanish than they do in English.
Even on the mat, people greet each other with a kiss on the cheek. A quick word about Chilean (and most Latin American) greetings: women-women and women-men greet each other with a quick peck on the (right) cheek; men-men usually greet each other with a firm handshake. For some reason, I thought the dojo would be an exception to this, but nope! Before my first class started, I was slightly (okay very) amused to see everyone greeting each other this way even while on the mat. Granted, class hadn’t started yet, but it was still pretty adorable/funny.
Even though my training style is different–or rather, because of it–everyone is very helpful and friendly. They find it interesting that I’m here for six months to study Spanish literature and are surprised that I speak Spanish so well “given that [I’m] from California”. To clarify: most assumed I was from a Latin American background and yet were still surprised that I spoke Spanish since I grew up in California. I find that surprising; I always assumed that people were aware that the U.S.–California in particular–has millions of Latino immigrants and (even though I’m not a native speaker myself) that it’s actually not very unusual to find good Spanish speakers that are second-, even third-, generation Latino. Anyways, it was a fantastic experience! I’m aiming for 2-3 classes a week; yay for exercising! And it’s so close to my house: a 10-minute walk + a 10-minute bus ride and I get dropped off right outside my door! Win.
Speaking of exercising, on Sunday a bunch of us went for a hike up to Cerro San Cristóbal. This is the second highest point in Santiago and offers a 360° view of the city. It’s best to climb up during the summer or after it rains as the view isn’t obstructed by the icky brown pollution that usually sits on the city (gross, I know…). I was expecting the summit to be an empty patch of land with a few tourists taking pictures of the city. Boy, was I waaaaay off. Once we reached the top we were welcomed by popcorn and candy vendors; there were snack shacks and even a restaurant; the peak of the hill also had a small church with an amphitheater. It seemed that a quarter of the Santiago population was up there that Sunday. Kids were running around while locals were sitting on the stone steps drinking tea and eating onces. It was marvelous.
Yesterday the group of U-Chile (Universidad de Chile) students–there are 8 of us in all–went to buy our tickets for Calama, a city in northern Chile. Our plan is to travel to several places in the north during the 10-day vacation we have after the Intensive Language Program (ILP) ends and our university classes begin. It’s mostly desert terrain, which means that the days will be hot (much hotter than they are in Santiago) and the nights cold (colder than they are in Santiago). Woo! I’ll post up an itinerary before we leave (in about three weeks).
Speaking about travel plans, this weekend a few of us are heading to Valparaíso, a coastal city that has long since been considered the cultural capital of Chile and since 1990 has been the home of the National Congress of Chile. In 2003 UNESCO made it a World Heritage Site and its seaports are still an important part of the country’s economic success. It’s supposed to be a wacky and crazy place, so I’m looking forward to it! More details to come!
We went on a mini-trip today, to the Concha y Toro Vineyard, Latin America’s largest wine producer. It was a fun experience: we got a tour of the old manor house, the vineyards (no grapes though boo), the cellars (so. much. wine.), and even got to taste two wines–a Merlot, and a Carmenère–and got a wine glass as a souvenir! I never knew that grapes weren’t native to Chile; they were brought over in the 1500s (the 1800s in the case of this vineyard). Another cool thing I learned was that Concha y Toro bought Brown-Forman’s Fetzer Vineyards in California last year to acquire a new portfolio of wines. They’re located in Mendocino County; I’m hoping to visit that later! :)