“Off the Grid”: AT&T Wireless, Sunport, and the Opera House

Although one definition from Urban Dictionary defines the phrase “off the grid” as “subscribing to AT&T wireless service in New York City or San Francisco,” they are wrong. This past week, I stayed in El Valle, New Mexico with my two friends – Will and Vivian. For me, this was “off the grid.” We had no cell phone service and no internet connection. We played lots of backgammon and cooked delicious meals.  

It all started eight days ago. I touched down at 7:20 pm last Sunday into Albuquerque International Sunport Airport. Why is it called Sunport, you ask? Because it is on Sunport Bouelvard, obviously. The Albuquerque airport is the largest airport in New Mexico, although it seemed fairly small to me. Upon arrival in Albuquerque, I was met by a familiar blue Prius flashing its headlights and my friend, Vivian, holding the sign below out the window.

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Afterwards, we traveled through the warm, dark night on Central Avenue to Dion’s Pizza where our friend Tom worked. After we entered the pizzeria, we proceeded to locate Tom. Where’s Tom? Eager to order, we started to rattle off our desires and then asked, “Wait, does Tom work here?” The girl abruptly shook her head. So we left and realized that there were two Dion’s on Central Avenue in Albuquerque. Silly, silly. We went, met Tom, and proceeded on our approximately two and a half hour drive to El Valle. On the way, we passed through Santa Fe, saw an opera house, and listened to some Booker T. We settled in, played Chinese checkers, and listened to Bay Area rap music until the wee hours of the morning.

The next day was low-key. We spent the day relaxing since I had to adjust to the new altitude. In the meantime, we viewed two movies: Blast from the Past and a Hitchcock film, shot in San Francisco, called Vertigo. We also made delicious fried rice. In the proceeding days, we made noodles with a carrot ginger sauce and shrimp, a Spanish omelette, pancakes, grilled jalapenos, veggie sausages, among other things. It was delicious. As I mentioned earlier, we played hefty amounts of backgammon during my stay. I entered New Mexico a novice and left the state a risky, but confident player. Since I have been home, I have played a few games on my new board (Thanks Ian!).

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During the trip, we also went on an eight mile hike on the Santa Barbara Mountains with a beautiful view of Las Trampas (unfortunately, I got cranky from altitude sickness…fortunately, that was the only symptom). And before I knew it, Saturday came and I was back on a flight to Oakland.

I had a lovely time. Now, I am back in Berkeley and will be going to Pitzer and Los Angeles Thursday. Until next time. -Rio 

P.S. The Bay Bridge is scheduled to open tomorrow at 5 a.m. Get ready for this beauty (although recent news reports suggest it will open tonight).

Things Are Not The Way They Used to Be

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Things are not the way they used to be. The wise words of Bob Marley are worth contemplation. 

I have been home now for more than three weeks. It has been remarkably different from my other summers that I have been back here during college. For one, I have a full-time job: unemployment. This keeps me busy doing whatever I want. Another is that I know I have a job waiting for me back in Madrid. Thirdly, I only have a limited time here. This means that I have to enjoy every moment of my roughly eight week “vacation” to Berkeley. 

When I walk around Berkeley, things are a little bit different. There are new sports fields on Derby Street, the South Berkeley Library has undergone a makeover, a CVS has replaced the Andronico’s near Willard. But obviously, things change when you move away and come back. Are my surroundings not the way they used to be or have I changed? The answer is probably both. 

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The New Tim Moellering Fields on Derby Street in Berkeley

I have just come back from one of the most amazing experiences abroad in Madrid for a year. My perspective on many things I used to take for granted have changed. 

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My dad and I in front of a painting of Miguel de Cervantes at a Celtic-style bar on Calle Leon in Madrid 

One such thing is the dining experience in the US. When I go to a restaurant, it really bothers me when a waiter/waitress constantly interrupts your meal. For example, two weeks ago, I was with my dad at a mediocre Japanese restaurant in West Berkeley, called Tomo’s. The waitress brought all the food over really fast and would always interrupt and tell us what the dish was and ask us how everything was. I do really appreciate the Spanish style of just asking what you want and putting it in front of you. No nonsense. It is much less intrusive to the conversation and honestly, the reason you go out to get food is usually to catch up or chat with someone. Another thing that bothers me is how American restaurants typically will ask you if you want the check if you stop ordering food or drink. That really bothers me. If you are sitting chatting with a friend, and there is nobody else in the restaurant, relax. But this has been how the environment has always been. It is me who has changed.

I have been keeping myself really busy recently. I have seen a lot of live music. Two weeks ago, I saw Shakey Graves, a one-man band from Austin. His music is unique and dynamic. I also went with some friends to the Outside Lands Music Festival. Paul McCartney did an amazing job, playing mostly Beatles songs but also a few solo songs and songs from Wings. I really enjoyed “Your Mother Should Know” and “Something” (on the ukelele). It was also amazing to see Grizzly Bear, Yeasayer, and Jurassic 5. Tomorrow, I am going to the Greek Theatre at UC Berkeley for the Good Vibes Summer Tour and see Rebelution, Matisyahu, and Zion I. I have not been back to the Greek since I graduated there in high school. It will be fun to see some live music there.

Next week, I am going to visit some friends in New Mexico. I can’t wait. Until then. 

Un abrazo fuerte, Rio.

“Boarding Completed”: 16 Hours on Lufthansa Business Class

Sometimes in life, you receive a special treatment. A favorite student gets a grace period from a teacher; a friend who is gifted a giant lollipop; one of your police friends helps you get out of a parking ticket. Whatever it is, it usually feels pretty good. For me, today, I received some of the best treatment I have ever received: business class on Lufthansa, the German airliner famous for service and quality yet high prices. I was lucky enough to accumulate miles, thank to my United Explorer Card through Chase. Woooo!

From the moment I arrived at the airport in Madrid, I felt privileged. While I waiting in Lufthansa’s baggage drop line, my stomach dropped: I hope my bag is not overweight. Upon placing it on the scale, it was 4 pounds overweight. My first thoughts were to throw my pocket trumpet overboard (I don’t really fancy the small trumpet with a weak sound and deformed shape). “What should I do?” The Lufthansa employee replied, “No te preocupes. Usted está volando ‘business class (Don’t worry, you are flying business class).” With an excited energy, I zipped through the security checkpoint.

As I was approaching my gate, I remembered that the Lufthansa official told me about the VIP lounge near my gate. I turned around after I reached the gate and saw “Sala VIP” in big yellow letters. As I followed the escalator, everything got quieter. There were less and less people as I rounded the corner and saw the large glass doors to the VIP Lounge. I entered the lounge but this lingering feeling that I did not belong there begged my attention. Something in me wanted to turn around. “I’m not a VIP, I said to myself. Am I?” Before I knew it, the receptionist was scanning my boarding pass and said, “Bienvenidos (Welome).” Leaving the reception, I entered a spacious large room full of plush couches and high-speed computers with a view of the runway. There was a large buffet of breakfast items, such as croissants and toast, along with a fridge full of juices, beers, wines, waters, and other assorted drinks. There were even the Spanish crowd-pleaser, olives. I entertained myself in there for the hour and a half of idle time I had before boarding the flight.

As I descended the stairwell and exited the lounge, I saw a flurry of concerned passengers below all lining up. My first urge was to follow them. But a giant sign in front of me read “Business Class” with two or three Americans posted behind. I guess this was my line. I boarded the plane and picked up a copy of the International Herald Tribune (an English-language newspaper operated by the New York Times) and a copy of El Pais (my fave Spanish newspaper). When we were in the air, they served me a nice glass of sparkling water and a nice Austrian white wine. Then, I was served a delicious lunch of monkfish with baby shrimp and risotto, a salad with sundried tomato dressing, another assortment of vegetables, and a fruit dish. They kept offering me another glass of white wine so at the end, I accepted and got a second. Before I knew it, I was landing.

When I left the plane, I noticed a man and a woman on the side within the gate. I was a little puzzled. How did they get out before me and why were they waiting? As it turned out, they were German customs. The woman stopped me and asked me many questions. The weirdest was, “Exactly how many days were you in Madrid for?” I responded, “I don’t know. 11 months. What’s 11 x 30? I was there for about 330 days, ma’am.” After I escaped her, I had to pass through another passport control to get to Gate H for my flight to San Francisco. At the passport control, they asked me for my Spanish identity card and my authorization of return. Jeeeez…I’m not in Spain anymore. After I passed through there, I had to go through yet another passport check and then a security checkpoint. The Germans are thorough. Nobody is passing through their connecting gates unwarranted. Finally, I arrived at Gate H14 for my flight to San Francisco. Just as mentioned on the boarding pass, we boarded at 3:25 and we left just on schedule at 4:05. And the 11.5 hour flight began.

I logged onto broadband. Incredible that you can get Internet in the air. After a few minutes, I was offered a 2008 red wine from France and a exquisite three course meal. The first course was a couscous with grilled zucchini and a dolma. There was fruit. The second course was pasta with sun dried tomatoes. The third course was Belgian chocolate. Throughout the flight, I frequently dozed off and took massages thanks to the remote control on the seat. I watched Tina Fey’s movie Admission where she plays an admission officer at Princeton, exposing the brutality of the college admissions process at highly selective universities. Then, before I knew it, it was 6:30 pm and we were descending. What a trip! Now it’s time for the awesome US customs and immigrations experiment. Lovely San Francisco.

A Switch-Up: February 5, 2013

Spring has not quite yet begun. Punxsutawney Phil thinks that it is coming soon but I do not know if a groundhog in Pennsylvania has much authority on Madrid cold spells. My favorite football team lost the Superbowl Sunday. Madrid seems to be getting awfully cold but there is still a good amount of sun. These words sound emotionless as I put them on paper and I think this is a good sign that I have adapted to life here. Finally. 

After five months, I feel like I am at home in Madrid. My Spanish level is decent. I have a nice schedule going on. I have started to take a strong interest in my job here. In my art classes, I have started teaching the students to be art critics in English. This week, I will teach them vocabulary to talk about texture, shape, etc. In music class, I am more of a participant, playing drums and guitar along to pre-recorded music. At times, I give presentations on partially relevant music ideas, such as national anthems, rhythm, dynamics, etc. In Global Classrooms, I have seen many of the kids show growth and some not. We have our big conference in a few weeks and I am stoked. So are the kids. The only day I really fear is Friday where we will pick twelve out of the sixteen kids to go to the conference. Four will not and it breaks my heart. I have also begun to start an exercise regime, going to the gym last week. All of this stuff is pretty old stuff, things that I started a while ago or things that I just picked up.

The newest thing was that I got a new room. It is beautiful and big. My friend Pietro from Italy left last week and gave up the biggest room in the house. I pay 75 euros more but it is well worth it. I have twice as much space. I have a balcony which I have bought an aloe vera plant for. I also am planning to start an herb garden in a planter off the side. I have some beautiful rugs where I meditated this morning. I have a functioning heater and a large wardrobe/dresser. Things could not be better. I am getting broke since I am now on a shopping spree to make my room more and more comfortable. I just added a chair to my room. And tomorrow, I will go to Ikea to get another chair for my balcony and a large room lamp. Boy, am I spoiled. 

These past two weeks have been really fun. Two weekends past, I went to Barcelona with Dylan and Adriana. We stayed with our friend Mike in downtown. During that time, I ate many lentils, saw Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia (wow!), walked around Barrio Gotico, and heard many Lady Gaga jokes from Hector. The best part of our time was on Saturday when we went to a traditional Mallorcan fogata (bonfire) in the center of Barcelona. There were flames as tall as the beanstalk in Jack and the Beanstalk. We cooked our food over the fires and listened to Catalonian music. It was a fantastic night. The time flew by fast as Dylan, Adriana, and me ate the best breakfasts on Ana’s balcony. The breakfasts were that much awesome with the brilliantly-shining sun. On the last day, we took a walk down to the beach (pictured below).

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Dylan, Adriana, and Ana at the beach.

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A self-potrait at the beach in Barcelona.

Another awesome thing happened this past Saturday. Mari, my roommate from Rota, and I went to a sushi cooking class in barrio Salamanca in Madrid. It was great. We created red pepper sushi, salmon nigiri, and a sushi roll of Spanish omlette. It was delicious. The only weird thing is that so many people left food on their plates (they did not eat any of their sushi!). My sushi is pictured below:

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My sushi up close.

Now, I go off to the Spanish academy and then maybe a spinning class (I don’t think I even know what a spinning class is). Until next time.

The Art of Language: January 14, 2013

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(This is a picture of me in Lisbon at Plaza del Comercio, thinking about similarities between Portuguese and Spanish.)

When teachers give outlines to their students about five-paragraph essays in the United States, many suggest the use of dictionary definitions to begin these papers. The Webster-Merriam dictionary says that language is defined as “words, their pronunciation, and the methods of combining them used and understood by a community.” While a dictionary can tell you how the academic community considers a word, oftentimes it is incomplete or mildly incompatible with the way that it used within one of these communities. For example, one could spend their entire life learning language through a dictionary or a textbook or one could live in a place that speaks the language and learn from their friends and acquaintances. Albeit, one could argue that these actions are not mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, language learning tends to fall in one of these categories. Either a student spends their time studying a foreign language in their home country or the person spends time “abroad” immersing themselves in a language. Contemporary thought suggests that a combination of the two is ideal. Although I do not necessarily agree that starting an essay with a definition is the most intelligent way to begin a conversation, I do think that contemporary thought hit the nail on the head with a combination of classroom learning and then cultural immersion through study abroad in order to acquire fluency in a non-native language.

My first experience with the Spanish language came in the 3rd grade. My friends Emerson and Yessica are of Mexican descent and used to teach Spanish to me. At the time, I did not take much interest of the study of a language other than English. I was more concerned with passing my vocabulary test on words like “different” or “similar.” In middle school and high school, I exclusively studied French and a little bit of Latin. I even went abroad to Biarritz, France during high school to study this language, but only for two weeks.

During my second year of college, I had a language requirement at Pitzer. Instead of returning to French, I decided that Spanish would be the best option since there were ample opportunities to practice it in California. Also, it was very practical since I relished in the thought that I could speak in another language at my favorite Mexican food joints in Pomona, like Lily’s or Santana’s. I also wanted to study in Costa Rica and learn more about ecology so I needed some Spanish practice. After two semesters of Spanish, I spent 3 months in Costa Rica living with two families that could say no more than “hello” in English. Total cultural immersion served as a vehicle to language learning.

While in Costa Rica, I learned an important lesson about how to augment language confidence abilities. Many people simply translate the meaning of an unknown word to their friends. However, I learned the skill of using words in Spanish that I knew to describe a word that I did not know in the language. This has served as my secret to success throughout my time with the language. Simple translation between languages does not provide the psychological mechanism necessary for lasting comprehension. This methods values the repetition of the translated word in order to secure reenforcement. A far more successful method is to practice association of a new word with something you already know. The ability to describe unknown words in words you already know leads to greater reinforcement than the simple repetition method.

In the aftermath of Costa Rica, I longed for opportunities to practice the language. I participated in a community-based program at Pitzer that allowed me to eat dinner with a family in Ontario, a city next to Claremont with a large Hispanic population, and practice my Spanish. Additionally, I spent the following summer in Claremont with a friend of a friend named Eleazar from Cadiz, Spain. He paid rent and stayed for two months at my house with me and my friend Nick. During this time, I learned a plethora of new Spanish vocabulary. During my senior year of College, I practiced Spanish with some of my American friends.

All of this history helped me eventual transition to not just studying abroad but living abroad in Madrid. For the last four months, I have immersed myself in the culture as well as I can. I attended many intercambios, meetups at bars where English and Spanish speakers take turns practicing their language skills. I also live in a shared apartment with four others – two Spaniards, one German, and one Italian. This has provided me the opportunity for new language learning. At the end of the day, language has been one of the greatest art forms, opening up my eyes to the beauty of communication. Previously people that I could never talk to have new insights to offer me. One question I still must ponder, “Is language simply artistic, or is language simply a manifestation of art forms?”

New Year’s Resolution: January 7, 2013

 

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“luved it! try adding some basil for an extra “punch” —- thanks christine! we had fun making it in madrid: two americans and one german. we also added some ginger for a little extra pizzaz” -Elena, Dylan, and me reviewed the Roasted Butternut Squash soup we made on January 6, 2013.

A customary tradition is to give thanks and praise to people who helped you create something delicious. For us, this was food. Food gives us life and life gives us food. This kind of reflective thinking is especially prominent at the beginning of a new year. A new year is a time where people reflect upon the last year and make new promises they intend to keep for the new year. Either the promises reflect something they wish had happened or a habit or something they want to change. 

For me, 2012 was a year of music, fun, and growth. During college, some of my friends and I started a band called Dr. Nudel. Dr. Nudel was a real music venture but it lacked some of the seriousness of other bands. Rather than getting caught up on image and pride, the band was more of a band of friends for fun. The most serious thing we did was to record our music with Don Peake, Ray Charles’ first white guitarist in Los Angeles (check out nudel.bandcamp.com if you are interested). My new years’ resolution might be to play more music now that I have been reunited with my silver trumpet (prior I have been playing on my worthless pocket trumpet in a city that makes it difficult to play music indoors).

Another landmark of 2012 was the end of college and the start of a new education. I graduated from Pitzer College with a bachelors degree in American Government, an honors thesis on presidential history, and a Fulbright Fellowship to teach English in Madrid, Spain. It was also the end of Camp Pitzer, by far one of the most interesting experiences of my life. While at Pitzer, I met people from all interests and many walks of life. I was exposed to different ways of thinking. A liberal arts education gave me the skills to be a critical thinker and a social activist. Many of the things I learned at Pitzer were academic but many enriching activities were extracurricular. As a member of the Kohoutek Arts and Music Festival Committee, I gained experience in being a team player in selecting bands, operating a festival, communicating with appropriate people, and coordinating activities. As the President of the Student Senate, I learned about college governance and community organizing. As a writer for the Student Life and the Orange Peel, I kept the community informed about current events at the Colleges. I made many relationships and friendships that will last for the rest of my life. As a customary Pitzer student, I applied for a Fulbright and received a wonderful opportunity to live, work, learn, and teach in Madrid for ten months.

So far, this experience has challenged me and exceeded my expectations in many respects. I have found that teaching is incredible. I have realized that my Spanish can improve and language competency is possible. I have found out that I can live in a big city and be relaxed. It is stupendous. Today is the last day of Christmas break. Tomorrow I go back to school. All of the friendly faces of students will return and the teachers as well. This month will be the first month of the WhatsApp Times, a student newspaper I started last month at my school. The first issue should be out at the end of this month. I may also switch out of my art classes and get some geography/history classes. I will keep you all updated about my newspaper. Also to look for are possible mushroom foraging activities and a future trip to Barcelona. Here’s a new year’s promise: to spread education and to new experiences. Corny, yes but achievable as well.

Classroom Manager: December 15, 2012

When you talk to most seasoned teachers, many of them will tell you that classroom management is one of the toughest problems they face. Either the kids talk too much or they don’t follow instructions or one kid becomes the center of attention. If you fail in valuing the importance of classroom management, you will lose the battle pretty fast. Since i have been in Spain, I have found that it is easier to manage classes as a young person since it was not that long ago that I was in their place, as a complacent ninth grader. In high school, you care about a few things: the biggest thing is being cool. If you create a culture in your classroom that being a good student is cool, then you have won half the battle. If that fails, sometimes you have to use alternative measures. Classroom management has provided me with a curious discussion in my brain that never stops. How can you be a more effective teacher? How do you balance being a friend and being a teacher? It’s a hard balance to strike and one that is consistently evolving. My students are generally pretty friendly to me, especially the bad ones. Enrique and Victorino asked me the other day to join their MindCraft tournament. Gracian pressured me unsuccessfully to buy raffle tickets for his sports team. 

All in December in Spain has been pretty relaxed. It has seemed like it just started but its already the middle of the month. This is the weekend of Christmas dinners. I had one last night with some cool Spaniards that went to a camp in Maine with a friend of mine from the program. Tonight, I go to the Club de Campo, a prestigious golf course in Madrid for a very posh dinner with Fulbrighters and ex-Fulbrighters. They only serve wine from 2001. Not much else to report. Until next time.

cold mellow inside
unknown voices loom outside
kim chee fried rice now

-haiku of the day, 8/12/12 (December 8, 2012)