Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Transport me to another dimension.

I lived in Bogotá, that is no mystery to those familiar with Barbers Without Borders.  One of the single most amazing/annoying/mind blowing things about Bogotá is that there is a seemingly infinite number of buses and bus lines, but no fixed bus stops.  Take a minute and think what this means. . . Is your minute over?  It means that the Colombians stood on the side of any road, usually quite busy roads, and waved their finger in the air to flag down a bus causing the bus to jerk wildly to the side of the road to pick up the passenger.  Take another minute and imagine what this means in a city of 8 million residents, living in high density. . . After your minute is over there is only two words that should come to mind:  shit, show. 

The Botogano buses would jerk wildly in and out of traffic at the flick of a finger(not that finger, usually the pointer)jamming on the gas and brakes with fury.  Sometimes two or three people would stand like ten meters apart and flag the same bus, increasing the jerking in and out, the punching of the gas and slamming of the brakes.  It was one of the most incredible messes I've ever seen.  This seems mind boggling to those of us familiar with the efficiency and reliability of first world public transport.  Really, it is as fantastic of a mess that can be imagined.  

Now to make a South American comparison.  The city of Buenos Aires is about twice the population of Bogotá, with estimates of about 15 million residents.  There is something like 350 different bus lines, a subway with limited range and a larger train system that goes to the further reaches of the city.  Buenos Aires also has some of the better functioning traffic that I've seen, but please don't picture anything too functional, it's all relative.  

The BA bus system is supported by a pocket sized guide that aids one in finding their way around this huge city on the right bus for their pick up and destination.  All of this has been useful and as efficient as can be expected.  The reason I write this post is that though it is a far more functional system than the mess of Bogotá, it is still South America and one of the funniest things I've seen is the picture above.  

One of my first days here, my roommate showed me the Guia T(the bus guide), taught me how to use it, and then made point to tell me that I had to look out for the bus stop signs because it could be as inconspicuous as a sticker with a number stuck to a post on the side of the road.  In the above pictured case, it is two numbered placards nailed to a tree.  How's that for a bus stop?!  Just look for the tree with the two random numbers nailed to it, that's your bus.  FAR more efficient than standing anywhere waving one's finger wildly as the desired bus approaches.  At least in this case one can enjoy the shade of a tree, and for men the bus stop even doubles as a bathroom.  You think I'm kidding?  I wish I was.  They'll piss anywhere.

I am eternally grateful for the luxury of fixed bus stops in Buenos Aires and the accompanying Guia T to help me get around.  The bus system here is actually a very good service provided by this city, and at the cost of about $.25USD per ride, it's quite the affordable journey.  However, I won't stand too close to the tree.

Friday, March 15, 2013

At the push of a button.

I'm desperately uninspired so this leaves me no other choice but to write about toilets.  This is not my first time writing about toilets and bathrooms(refer to "How to use a Japanese toilet" for further entertainment).  There could literally be an encyclopedia written about the ways and places in which we rid ourselves of digested steak and old coffee the world over, thus the second installment of Barbers Without Borders Encyclopedia of the World's Toilets commences. 

One of my first days in Buenos Aires I began to notice a lack of toilet tanks in bathrooms.  There was just a long button sticking out of the wall, some toilet paper(maybe), a toilet(hopefully) and sometimes a small waste basket.  There was no other visible means by which to flush the toilet so I figured I'd have to give this ambiguous button a try.  Couldn't hurt, right?  Voila, it flushes the toilet.  No surprise there necessarily.  However, the funny thing to me about all of this is it leaves an air of mystery(no pun intended)as to where the actual toilet tank is and how the water gets from the button into the bowl, and beyond.  In the below picture we can see sort of a ghost image of where a round tank used to be, but what happened to it?  Where did it go and who decided to send it to its grave?  So many unanswered questions.

The other part of this mystery is where is the water coming from now?  Is there a tank hidden in the wall that is so ugly we could not possibly be bothered to look at it while going?  Or is it some sort of system that just uses a certain dose of water from a general source?  Is there little leprechauns that live inside the wall providing access to their waters for the waste removal of human beings to yet another world unknown?  Barbers Without Borders has research to do.  Will I do this research?  No, I could actually care less, but it makes for good writing.

Another unexplained phenomena of Argentine bathrooms, that unfortunately I do not have photo evidence of, is the presence of bidets.  I have been informed by many however that most people here do not use the bidet.  I'm like WTF?  There's nothing quite like cool water running over one's nether regions after "getting the job done" for a cleansing and refreshing experience.  Better than just moving the poo around with some rough paper posing as tissue.  Sometimes I feel as though the Argentines are devolving.  Though this leaves me with one final question:  Who am I to say that people are devolving when I'm the one writing about toilets?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The best policy.

 There's sometimes an illusion about being in another country as this fantastic experience where every minute of the day is some inspiring, wonderful moment followed by another.  Like in every direction should be something new and fantastic.  Let me burst that bubble.  Honestly, this sucks.  Arriving to another country in attempt to live is got to be one of the dumbest things I ever do, but in the end is also one of the smartest.  Let me indulge you.

Now, I add the disclaimer that I realize I have only been here three weeks and I know my feelings will change the longer I am here and the  more I truly get to know this city, country and culture.  I even was given the advice by an older American expat couple last week to "give it time, it takes a while to know this place".  Time is obviously what I need to invest, but in the meanwhile, I vent!

Before arriving to Buenos Aires, I had heard nothing but how fantastic the city was.  I listened to sentiments of how "European" it is, how delicious the food is, how cheap everything is, how the people are so wonderful and inviting.  Three weeks in I have decided that Europe must be a dump, that white bread, pasta, potatoes and overcooked meat is considered gourmet to many, and that "cheap" is most definitely a relative term.  I have yet to know many of the local people here, but let me say they are keeping the pockets of tobacco companies full up.  Sure the porteños(as the residents of Buenos Aires are called)are a lovely and friendly type of folk, but I have little to no tolerance for cigarette smoking, thus making it difficult to desire a conversation with many of them.

Perhaps I'm a jaded traveler, um, obviously I'm a jaded traveler.  I find that Buenos Aires is just another huge, stinky South American city.  I'm lost when it comes to seeing the charm that so many speak so highly of.  High population density coupled with broken sidewalks covered with dog shit makes for a real life video game when walking anywhere.  Avoid the bombs!  Not to mention the millions of cars and buses belching their fumes into the air 24/7, oftentimes directly into one's face.  I don't even need to hang around smokers, I'm getting enough of it in the air everyday.  The air here is certainly not so Bueno as the name of the city suggests.  

I find myself asking why the hell I thought it was a good idea to come here.  I remember full well the reasons, and they are still valid.  I really, honestly had few expectations upon arrival, but I had an imagined idea of what it may be like here.  Wow, how different the reality. . .  I must admit that even in the short time I have been here, I have had to face some very serious demons.  I have had to learn patience and understanding in a way I previously have not allowed myself to experience.  I have realized what a knee-jerk reaction I have for wanting to leave when things aren't perfect.  And I am realizing that the best things in my life more often than not, started out very difficult.  All of these things are what makes this perhaps one of the smartest things that I do; learning invaluable lessons that otherwise would have remained hidden if I had remained hidden in my comfort zone.  Sheesh, there's got to be an easier way!

So I follow the advice of the experienced expats here and allow for time to hopefully show me this fabled lovely personality of Buenos Aires.  I will endure, I will continue to be patient(a relative term for me as well), and I will do my best to avoid piles of dog crap on the sidewalks whilst not falling into a hole after tripping over a broken chunk of concrete.