Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Talk Like A Foreigner

Technical, shmecknical.

So I had this idea. Hey.

Everybody these days has some kind of pocket phone. Smart phones. Smartphones. Carry them everywhere.

You go just about anywhere on the web and you see still photos, you see video clips, you read about apps. People use phones for photos, recording street scenes, and for finding out where they are. Besides calling home every now and then.

They even write blog posts and upload them from, like, wherever they have enough juice left and can get a signal.

And then there's Siri. You've heard about Siri.

Sure, there will be other services like this all too soon, but it got me thinking. Siri isn't just a Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface. Not anymore. And not just a way to kill time when you're lonely and want to hear your phone talk.

Siri is more like a way of approaching reality.

So, jeez, I think, what about travelers?

So then, see, I figure, the next step is some kind of smartphone app that will let you talk to foreigners. Any foreigners. Anywhere.

This could be really handy for travelers and expats.

Way beyond the usual iBooks, TripAdvisors, and cheap flights stuff. Way beyond Siri even. An app to find the next funky cafe is great, but how many travelers need only that?

So I got a copy of "How To Write an iPhone App in 14 Days", registered as a developer, learned Objective C, and got busy. Surprisingly, it all seemed pretty easy, though I went way over the two week limit.

So then, what about testing it?

Well, what's the most culturally diverse city around?

Not Dickinson, ND. It's OK but, honestly, will never win any awards.

Instead I took a vacation and headed to Los Angeles, the Number One Diversity City in the U.S. of A. Right?

And the good news is I didn't even have to leave the airport (they call it LAX down there).

Considering this is inside my own country, it's practically just around the corner.

They have people there. People. Lots of people. Of all kinds. From all over. So I went, and wandered around between flights.

And guess what? My app worked. I pre-recorded some basic phrases, and when I played them for some foreign-looking people, they talked back into the phone.

So far so good. I was on a roll.

Then the phone told me what they were saying.

This was a real eye opener. Here I had spent a bunch of time, learned to program, bought a phone and all ($399.99 for a two-year plan), and these people were putting me down.

What they said was "You know how to talk, don't you? You just open your mouth and make sounds."

Technology meant nothing to them, nothing. And they are probably the most sophisticated bunch of people on the planet, with or without opposable thumbs.


I guess some things you have to do the old-fashioned way, so now I sit on a park bench with a phrase book and listen to people. Sometimes I say the wrong thing and they come over and yell at me, but sometimes I get it right too.

That's when they smile.

And I'm on much better terms now with people in general. I get out of the house more, and I've made some friends. I never had friends before.

Now I have friends.

I kind of like this.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Margarita, where's my margarita?

Breezpat: An expat to a warm clime who can swing either way, as long as it's in a comfy hammock and doesn't require unnecessary (i.e., any) movement.

Breezpat: A Type B personality (apathetic, patient, relaxed, easy-going, no sense of time schedule) who has hit the jackpot by living long enough to retire, having the financial resources to retire, and then, finally (and this is important), by going to where the living is easy. At least by that person's terms. The word is that "these individuals tend to be sensitive of other people's feelings", which is probably true, as long as they don't have to do anything for themselves. That's what servants are for, and it is a well-known fact that they don't have feelings. Otherwise they wouldn't be so poor.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Are those periscopes?

Immersible: A type of expat personality inhabiting the body of someone you might have once known, and though technically the body is recognizable, the person no longer is, because the person has completely adopted the surrounding culture.

Sometimes these people suffer a complete and permanent personality transplant and "go native".

Sometimes they turn out to be on a journey more like passing through an amusement park, get tired after a while, and either go "home", or go elsewhere.

So they can sort of return to who it was they used to be, with added spice, or become yet another alien inside the same, eerily familiar body, which takes in succession a third or fourth or fifth personality, depending on the latitude, language, longitude, and geography of the moment.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Playtime In Povertyland

Serious lightheartedness is on its way to your continent.

I've already seen this where I'm living now.

A few years back I did a hike up a valley. It was short, only a couple of miles and-a-half (4 km), but steep. Quiet. The trailhead wasn't exactly near anywhere. Stopping along the road didn't reveal anything obvious.

To find out what the land held you had to get out of your vehicle and trudge uphill for two hours or more, and then snoop around with an open mind.

For me it was glorious.

At the upper end of the trail there is a stream. That's about it. The trail crosses the stream and ends. The stream though, is delicious. One of those small, clear miracles that flow silently on the level, chuckle and chortle over and around small stones, and foam over an occasional waterfall.

And, on a hot day, this is a hot hike, uphill.

But also, at the top, if you look for it, in the stream, there is a hole. Not an obvious thing unless you slow and look for it is this unexpectedly deep spot.

Water depth is hard to judge, but I once removed my clothes and stepped in. Cool but not frigid (this must have been August). And then I went no more than two steps farther and suddenly was in deeper than I am tall.

This spooks me. Somehow I am afraid of water. Normally I don't go in, and did get a small fright from being so deep in such a small place, but really. There was no danger, and it was refreshing.

A few minutes later, as I sat hidden on the beach clothed again, two guys came along. The had just hiked up the trail.

They went to the middle of the log that crosses the stream, stood half a minute looking at the falls, and then told each other they'd conquered another obstacle, and scurried back down the trail.

That was it for them.

I've been there at least half a dozen times, always alone, and have stayed for hours at a time.

Once I followed the trail as far as it went and have convinced myself that it does not really, secretly, go on to some higher, more secret, more amazing place.

I've scrambled around the falls and explored the canyon above.

I've sat on the high end of a dead tree looking like a giant arrow shaft stuck in the ground. I've had lunch alongside the stream every time.

I've waited in silence and have never been disappointed.

There are no carnival fun rides, no water slides, no video games. No concessionaires clog the banks of this stream or line its valley. You find no resorts, or sounds of humanity except what you bring - your breath and heartbeat.

Today I found something interesting. "Andean Epics: The rider's choice for two-wheeled adventures in the Andes."

I'm not going to say that this is wrong. Or bad. It is a sign of spreading urbanization. I would call it that.

The people who live in the Bolivian Andes do not buy $2000 bicycles and ride them straight down mountainsides. Only the rich do. For us, these people are neighbors. For Bolivians they are incomprehensibly wealthy and strange aliens.

I like bicycles. I used to ride a lot. I've built several from the ground up, starting from bare frames.

I would not ride down the side of the Andes, mostly because I'd rather walk the land or tour quietly on wheels, if I had wheels, and was there.

But "Andean Epics" does not do it my way. They use a carefully built-up set of mountain trails that are in no way natural: "For ten years we have been putting the first tracks down the barren peaks above La Paz." So 10 years. That is a lot of work to put in.

But billing one route as the "World's Most Famous Death Road" gets to the heart of it. As noted, this is not for me. And I also think it is much better than a thousand acre (400 hectare) manicured resort with high-rise hotels, swimming pools, bars, tennis courts, ballrooms, and golf courses.

In a sense though, they are the same. Or the "Death Road" is the next step up.

The world is changing. After the Second World War many cities were rebuilt, and what emerged was cities built for motor vehicle traffic, not humans afoot. Shopping malls and suburban sprawl came later, as the phenomenon evolved.

So is it with remote places.

Not so remote they, now.

Some who come will be respectful and interested in learning. Others, like the two guys at my secret private stream, will arrive to gawk and hoot, throw money around, eat, drink, try to make Mary, and then vanish in pursuit of the next place they can claim to have done.

It is the "been there, done that", "bucket list" world against quiet arrival, waiting, and eventual understanding. One of these ways of living continues to devour the other.

Andean Epics Go there.

Monday, May 14, 2012


No, this has nothing to do with anyone's anus.

USANO: An acronym, usually derogatory, referring to the United States government, or to one of its citizens. Something like "gringo" but more specific.

USANO: An acronym meaning "USA No".

USANO: A United States citizen living in a Spanish-speaking, usually Latin American, country. This can be a basically neutral term useful only for informal identification in conversation. It can be used by the person or by others referring to the person. "Gringo" is about the same, but not identified with any particular country.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


There's no place like somewhere else.

Expatriot: An angry person living in a country other than that of birth. Someone who got over having a single definition to go by. Or felt they were forced to by circumstances, by political affiliation, or simply by irreconcilable differences.

While most "expats" retain the citizenship they always had, possibly adding a second one if there is a good reason to, the expatriot probably throws away the original upon earning eligibility for a new one.

And they do it with a vengeance, because that is what this is about, like hitting yourself over the head with a stick because you're angry. And that makes you more angry. Which makes you angrier still. Which all this is based on.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Running A Country

I'm going nuts here.

I'm looking for a place to move to and things are squirrelly.

I did a bunch of research and had it all figured out pretty well, and then one day I thought about checking Ecuador. Hey, I don't know why. Really. I can't remember why that happened, or why I hadn't thought about it earlier, but wow. Number One Place Of The World.

I did huge amounts of research, i.e., sitting at my computer reading blogs. OK, so what? That's how I do huge. You go and do it your way if you want, but this is my story. So huge. Huge amounts of research.

There are all kinds of good things about the place.

On the equator, so there is plenty of sun, but kind of humpy in the middle with the Andes Mountains and all, so it's pretty cool, temperature-wise. Decent infrastructure, good water and clean streets, at least around the place I was looking at. And a fair number of people already there speaking my language.

Sure. I am learning Spanish. But, you know. Well, you should. It isn't all that easy to pick up a language sitting at home, even in front of your computer. Even trying hard. So yes, I'm getting there, but I'll have to be on the ground as they say before I can really hammer at it.

So, getting back to the place thing, it was nice that there were other English speakers there already. And all that stuff. Sounded great.

Finally. Enough research. (I read some books too. The paper ones. OK?)

And then when I figure I ought to go for it, although this isn't the cheapest place and it's going to be a little stretchy, money-wise, for the next couple of years, I say hey - do it. (Talking-to-myself-wise, you know. Which is mostly in my thoughts, but not moving my lips or anything.)

So then what happens? Nothing much, it seems, because it all happened a year or so back and is happening again. Bribes. Corruption. Flagrant disregard for the law. Not by me, you should know. By them. The people there running the show. So that kind of crapped out. The system is locked up solid.

There is one blog I found which is pretty good even though the author prays a lot. Like he prays about where God wants him to go do lunch. And he lost his keys and prayed to God to tell him where they were. Not my personal style, but if the world wasn't full of crazy people we'd have to invent them so they could see us as crazy too and we could all snicker back and forth.

Which is beside the point.

The point being that, this guy, and his wife, were there and loving it. They had a nice apartment in a nice city, were settling in, making friends, exploring, eating meals. They had submitted all their forms and all the apostilled doodads and the notarized signatures pasted over with official seals and the seals on seals and triplicate copies, all submitted in correct form to the correct places at the correct times under supervision of a local attorney specializing in all this to make it super correct.

OK, cool. Back to corruption. Which is the main point right now.

So the head of immigration gets busted for corruption, which happened to someone else just a year or so back, and he and a bunch of other people get booted out. And the whole system is in an uproar. Heads are rolling here, people. Majorly. Got serious head-rolling going on.

And this is about the time I had finally decided to make my move, to start making my move, and then it all craps out.

And this other guy, the praying one, who really does have a pretty decent blog despite that, well he says he thought they were just basically sitting there and waiting for their final approval to come through - a formality at this point - well, they were simply swept out of the system. Foof.

Big rubber stamp with a skull and crossbones on it. DENIED. Denied with prejudice.

That's it.

And he tried submitting an appeal, through his lawyer and all, but I guess the good news is that though they have made no progress so far they haven't been escorted to the airport at gunpoint. Yet.

So crap.

Central America. South America. They kinda work this way.

So I'm looking at other places now.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Fun In The Sun On Your Rock

Hey Juan, watch me wiggle my wattles. Now.

Lizard-Faire: The attitude that grizzled old bank tellers, file clerks, and bookkeepers take once they've retired, especially if they've retired to another country where they can live well on an $800 monthly check.

For them, then, everything is about the "survival of the fittest" and letting the chips fall where they may, and hard work and free enterprise and freer-than-free enterprise. And so on.

As long as the checks keep coming, the exchange rate holds steady, and they can keep regarding themselves as the lords of creation full of regal libertarian dignity.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Right Here On This Cheek

Put one right over the plate, Eddy.

Lipshake: Greeting a friend, a co-worker, an acquaintance, an acquaintance's mother, father, sister, brother, maiden aunt, great grandfather, former high school teacher, or plumber with a kiss on the cheek.

Or two, one on each side.

And we do mean the high cheeks.

Where practiced, this is more common among women. Men, being more manly, do a cheek bump, or just hug briefly. Sometimes they only shake hands. If they are oddly stand-offish for some obscure cultural reason which you will never learn the timing of.

Like everything, it takes you a while to catch on to what's happening. When in doubt, grin like an idiot and chuckle nervously.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


You won't believe what I just saw.

Living in a foreign country forces you to come to terms with some issues. Issues you may always have had, but simply weren't aware of until you set foot in this new world and immediately began to see everything in a stronger contrast.

Foreigners look funny.

You catch onto this one right away. Few of them have tattoos, and for those who do, their tattoos tend to be small and discreet. Covered, perhaps, so you'd never know they are even there.

You don't see so many lip or eyebrow rivets either. Of course, having to pass through one too many airport screenings probably prompted you to grab a pliers and rip yours out too, but now you have scabs, or at least scars. Your foreign business associates, not so much.

The same goes for your mohawk, which you reluctantly decided to shave off after that incident with the women running down the street screaming, and now you have a shaved head, which few of the other women around you have.

Their taste in clothes is off.

Plaid shorts hanging off your hips. High-top, rubber-soled canvas shoes without socks. A grungy T-shirt with a message about your crotch, or someone else's crotch. All these seem odd to those around you.

They may still be wearing pressed slacks with polished leather shoes. White shirts with ties. What's up with that?

Take this as an opportunity for some culture transference. Help bring your new neighbors and business associates into the 21st century by setting a good example.

You really have to wonder about the food.

First, what is it?

Second, why?

What's wrong with good old-fashioned American food? You know, the kind that you get from a hole in the side of a building. Food in a paper bag with extra napkins and a straw. Food that tastes exactly the same no matter what time of day it is, whose sign is on the building, or which state you're in.

See, foreigners have this concept thing. For them, food has to be prepared by people who put their hands all over it, and then cook it and serve it, and then stand there and watch you eat it.

Creepo. Will they ever understand that food should come off a conveyor belt? This may take a while.

Funny languages.

Like that's going to work. Almost everyone speaks English, or wishes they did. At least the smart ones.

But there are all too many people, all over, who insist on that stale old gibberish. Some of them pretend not to understand you no matter how slow you talk or how loud you yell. Others actually do not know any English at all. True!

At your own peril, Dudes and Dudettes. We own this place. You have been warned.

Crazy fake money.

There are smart countries out there that use the good old U.S. dollar. But not many.

The dollar has been the world's currency standard for over half a century, but two-bit countries everywhere still prefer to print their play money in those weird stupid colors. Who comes up with this crap?

You get some tiny little bills like postage stamps, and other ones the size of banana leaves. And it all has a way of growing mold in the rainy season. Hey. Rubber glove time.

Face it. Real money is boring and has American presidents on it. Accept no substitutes.

So, to sum up, you're out there, and somehow you have to make sense of whatever hits you in the face.

How? As always, proceed at your own risk, Bro.