Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Feria Chiapas

Having been told by many of my students that the fair is very exciting, I decided to check it out. I was expecting a fair in Mexico to be very different from a fair in Canada. In this I was disappointed. In fact I spent most of my time at the fair searching desperately for (culturally significant) differences between a fair here and the Saanich fair, for example. I was quite pleased to get a picture of a mini-roller coaster with laundry hanging to dry between the tracks. I am quite certain that I have never seen that in Canada. Another nice discovery was the carousel with a dog whose expression suggests rough treatment in a secret CIA prison. Beyond these two examples, only the food was really different. Although it was consistent in the sense that the food sold at the fair was of the fast-food and deep fried varieties.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


My life is strange (but you already knew that). I went to the movie Babel. It was pretty amazing, but what was really strange about this movie was that as the scenes switched from Mexico to Morocco to the US to Japan, my brain had to keep switching gears to follow the languages.

Although the scenes in Morocco had dialogue in a Moroccan dialect (or at least was supposed to be), I found I could understand much of what was said as this dialect is apparently a mix of French and Arabic. When I couldn't understand something, my brain would switch gears and read the Spanish subtitles, most of which I understood. In both the U.S. and in Morocco when the Americans were speaking, I understood without thinking about it of course, but my mind immediately wanders to the Spanish subtitles to compare the translation to my understanding of the language. I have learned many new expressions from the movies. Some of them I can repeat at school. Of the Japanese, of course, I understood nothing, but found it easy to follow the subtitles. When the Japanese girls were communicating in sign language, I found myself even remembering a few signs from the summer I worked at QA (1990!). The scenes in Mexico were not subtitled at all, but also easy to follow as they were scenes of a family at a wedding and not people discussing complex issues.

Perhaps the most surreal moment took place when Amelia, the Mexican nanny, was shouting help (in English) to get the attention of the (American) border police, but my brain assumed she was speaking in Spanish because she is Mexican and I was wondering why they subtitled this in Spanish ("Auxilio") because I was still thinking she said it in Spanish then I realized that she must have said it in English because they wouldn't subtitle a Spanish phrase in Spanish for an audience in Mexico and that is when I remembered that I live in Mexico therefore she must have said it in English. I suspect all this thought took place in the period of time between the first time she said "Help" and the second, although I am not sure about that. I may see the movie again, just to find out.

In case you haven't been paying attention, I am kind of interested in languages.

* I realize the picture is weird. I just like to accompany text with a photo of some sort. I tried to put some Arabic on it, but Photoshop wouldn't tolerate Arabic characters. I consider this a high-tech form of computer racism. Had I more time, I would have 'shopped them in as a graphic. Alas I am too busy.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Another Parade in San Cristobal!

In case you are getting suspicious, I am not recycling my photos. There happened to be another parade in San Cristobal today. The coincidence is not as unlikely as it might seem as both times I stumbled upon parades were Sundays of a holiday weekend.

Once again, I did not know there was going to be a parade, but as I was exploring the city, I could hear music from a long way off and walked in the direction of the music until I found the source. Today´s parade was a small affair. There were about fifteen or twenty vehicles, six of which were what we would call floats. The floats had an odd variety of themes: hula girls, angels, musicians, and girls in traditional dresses. Some of the vehicles were trucks with bands playing what I would call 'parade music' (¿what else?). Of course there were the monsters dancing along and making funny for the cameras. The other vehicles were decorated with balloons and were along for the ride. Now and then loud explosions would unexpectedly occur (generally disrupting my ability to focus as they had startled me). Based on the sounds, I believe rockets were fired off as well, but I am not sure as I never saw one. The kids on the floats were throwing candy and I was quite amused as at one point I was about to pick up a lollipop that had been thrown directly to me and a young man beat me to it. The girl on the float made a point of throwing me another. Although I like candy, I never buy these, but it was a nice gesture.

I meant to ask someone the signifigance of the parade, but I forgot and my Spanish may not have been up to the task of understanding the explanation. It really depends on the person. If they think about the fact that I am a foreigner and avoid expressions or uncommon words, I would probably understand them very well. An aside here is that the better educated a person is, the easier they are to understand. I noticed this in Egypt as well. But I digress.

Note that this little monster is hungrily devouring a Bon Ice freezie! Just as one would expect a little monster to do.

I would have expected to see revolutionaries in this parade as that is reason for the holiday. But I did not.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Small World

A young man in Comitan saw my picture of Parque Central and asked for permission to post it on his blog. His email was a curious mix of English and Spanish that made more sense than it should have. I saw no reason why I should not let him post the photo. Here is the photo I took and in case you are interested in checking out his blog, here's a link:

In other news, I am once again in San Cristobal de Las Casas. It is a long weekend due to the revolution and I am taking advantage of the time off.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

¡Viva La Revolucion Mexicana!

The grade three's wowed the teachers and students of the American School yesterday. For three weeks they have been preparing some dances and a song in remembrance of the Mexican Revolution. It all came together quite spectacularly and while the dance was happening, it was hard to remember that these students who sometimes have trouble sharpening their pencils, finding their lunch kit or doing subtraction were up on stage doing dance steps that I am not capable of. Fortunately I was working a videocamera so I didn't have time to reflect too much. I surely would have had a tear in my eye were I simply watching. When I can get a digital video up and running I will post it (or a link to it) on the blog. Wait for it, the dances were truly amazing. It might take a while. My video camera was not digital. Enjoy the pics!

Be sure to note Brenda the Revolutionary Chick with the lovely dress complete with rounds of ammo!

¡Adios Amigos!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Very Foony!

I feel like I laugh more here in Tuxtla than I do at home. It would be hard to measure this, but a lot of funny stuff happens.

The first thing that comes to mind is one of my students, Alejandro. I teach him during the day and after school in an ESL group with four students. At one point he announced, "That is very foony!" (The u takes an oo sound in Spanish, so this would seem a logical pronunciation for the word funny). Besides being a delightful kid, Alejandro is a great sport and I still periodically tease him by suggesting that something is foony. The other kids in the group occasionally describe something as foony as well. He never forgets the correct pronunciation of U now.

Kids funny answers on tests and in their work.

Name one animal that lives in the forest - SQUIRTLE (How the kids found out about that mad scientist interbreeding squirrels and turtles is beyond me.)

Name one animal that lives in a desert habitat - JELLYFISH

"When I get home from school, my mother likes to" - SNEEZE

The Classroom

I love to make jokes in the classroom. When giving a spelling test, like most teachers, I say the word, make a sentence and repeat the word. For years I have departed from the format a little. I say the spelling word, make a harmless sounding sentence, pause and add something to the sentence to change the meaning. Then I repeat the word.

A few examples (Keep in mind they are much funnier in the classroom - you have to be there!)

PRAISE - Mr. Glenn likes to praise his students . . . once a year, whether they need it or not. PRAISE

LAMB - Mary had a little lamb . . . and then she had a little potatoes and salad, too. LAMB

Life in General

A great thing about speaking a foreign language is that very few people expect you to joke around. If you say something weird, they assume initially that it is because you are a foreigner and foreigners are strange.

Recently I was about to order some food in a restaurant and I noticed that an employee was standing with a few others and he had a tray piled high with coins (that he was intending to count). Because he was standing where you order food with this tray of coins, I went up and stated in my most polite ordering voice, "Me gustaria un orden de monedas, por favor!" (I would like one order of coins, please) Initially all four of their staff stared at me and their expressions were a mix of stunned surprise and 'what do I say, this guy is a complete idiot'. After a very long few seconds, one saw through my mock serious expression and started to chuckle. Then the other three all burst out laughing once they realized I was putting them on. We said nothing more after I ordered my food for real, but now and then one of them would look over and smile.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Proud to be working at an American School!

Today I am truly proud to be working at an American school. Generally I am more or less neutral in my approach to working at an 'American school'. This fits well with the school's approach as the school is completely apolitical. After reading that the American people have voted in a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, I can say that I am proud to be working in an American school.

In other news, I have added a few photos to this file for my three faithful readers. You may recall that I promised to post a few more photos of the parade I saw in San Cristobal last Sunday. Here they are.

And no, I did not stop to ask any one the significance of the floats or the parade. My Spanish is not yet subtle enough to convey the signifigance even if I had.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Comitan, Los Lagos y San Cristobal de Los Casas

As you may know if you are one of my three regulars, I spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Comitan (and San Cristobal where I am presently writing from). Besides the fact that a change of routine is very welcome after working seemingly non-stop for three months, The places I have gone to are incredibly beautiful. Starting with Comitan, it is a picturesque little town with a downtown that is peaceful and has an ancient feel to it. This year is Comitan's 450th anniversary as a town.

The first picture is of one side of the main square, possibly the most beautiful main square I have seen anywhere in Mexico.

On Saturday I took a colectivo to get to Los Lagos (the lakes). Despite the almost non-stop rain, I was thrilled to see five of the many lakes in this area. Being a nature-lover at heart, it felt good to hike on forest paths again and to be surrounded by the sounds, smells and sights of lakes and trees.

This is Agua Tinta - I don´t know why the lake is this colour. It is not glacier-fed, that is for certain.

I got this shot by a combination of finding an obscure trail and bushwhacking (not a political term). I climbed to the top of quite a high hill, but it was pouring, so the visibility was not that great.

The next one is a picture of the main cathedral in San Cristobal. I asked several people and they decided it is just called the Cathedral. The other ones have names though, so I suspect this one does too.

The best part of my decision to visit San Cristobal today is that I arrived just as a parade was going by. Apparently it is the end of an eight day fiesta remembering some saints.

The last two shots are pictures of the floats. I may post more later this week as I took a lot of photos and it was a fascinating parade.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

More photos - Día de Los Muertos

This is a hopefully temporary workaround to post photos despite uncooperative blog websites. Although strangely the site is now letting me post more than one photo.

The first shot is a phot of one of the altars the kids and teachers set up at the school for Día de Los Muertos.

The second shot is a great photo of some 'skeleton borrachos' (drunkards) because nothing shouts respecting your deceased relatives like skeleton barrachos!

The third photo is a shot of some candy coffins complete with a skeleton inside. I bought some, but haven´t eaten one yet.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Día de Los Muertos

My favorite traditions in Mexico are the ones surrounding Día de Los Muertos. Wikipedia puts it better than I can.

Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is an ancient Aztec celebration of the memory of deceased ancestors that is celebrated on November 1st (All Saints Day) and November 2nd (All Souls Day). Though the subject matter may be considered morbid from the Anglo-Saxon perspective, Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Dead joyfully, and though it occurs at the same time as Halloween, the traditional mood is much brighter with emphasis on celebrating and honoring the lives of the deceased, and celebrating the continuation of life; the belief is not that death is the end, but rather the beginning of a new stage in life.

My students and I celebrated Day of the Dead on Wednesday with time spent making an altar outside, crazy games, consuming sweets and much more. At first I was very worried about adorning the room with so many skeletons and death-related decorations. One of my students just lost her father a month ago and the assistant that cleans my classroom lost her daughter about three weeks ago. I did not want to remind them further of these losses. But it was explained to me that it is comforting to those who have lost loved ones to be able to remember them in an altar and put food out for them.

The first few shots are photos of the sweets they sell in the markets. These sweets are for the altars and for consumption by the living as well. I also posted some photos of the altars the kids (well, mostly the teachers) made at school.

* I have a whole bunch of pictures to share with you, but either these internet cafe computers (set not to accept cookies) or blogspot is not cooperating. I have gone through the rigmarole of uploading photos seven times now, but only the first photo went through. I will just write several posts with one photo in each until the problem is sorted out.

** By the way, I am writing from a stunningly beautiful town called Comitan. More pictures and blog entries are sure to follow soon.