El Blog de San José #5
martes, el 29 de diciembre 2015
La hora local: 19:27
Saltine crackers, banana, tea and jam for breakfast. I would later be told by my professor that it was the breakfast of the ill. Quick aside, one of my favorite aspects of the Spanish language is that the words for breakfast, lunch and dinner can also be used as verbs. Sure, one can have breakfast (tener desayuno) and eat lunch (comer almuerzo) just like one does in English but in Spanish you can also say “yo desayuné” I breakfasted or “yo almuerzo” I lunch or even “cenaré” I will dinner. No need to bother oneself with extra and somewhat unnecessary verbs, yay!
In addition to being somewhat bare, my breakfast was also rushed. My host father is a taxi driver and he was willing to give both Carmen, myself and the baby a ride. First thing I noticed about the cab – not much by way of seatbelts. We are definitely outside of litigation culture here. Pretty soon I was wishing there was some sort of belt apparatus because the hills in San Pedro are steep and taxi drivers anywhere in the world are notorious for being questionable in driving habits. My host father is no exception. Have you ever heard the one about the taxi driver and the preacher and how the taxi driver gets a better seat in heaven once he dies because when the preacher preached, people slept and when the driver drove, people prayed? Well, my host father must be going straight to heaven then because we were swerving and we were jerking and we were veering and on several occasions I found my side of the car on the sidewalk of the left lane. They drive on the right side of the road in Costa Rica.
We dropped the baby off at Carmen’s sister’s house and Carmen at work at the post office without incident. I even got to Maximo Nivel an hour early in one piece. Good, I had homework to do. Yay for study in study abroad.
Our tour bus to San José left 20 minutes late. First stop, a beautiful parque sporting a big statue that was a gift from France. It seems France is good at giving fancy famous statues to foreign countries. We were informed of some interesting facts in that park which I would like to disclose with you here:
- Unlike pretty much every other country in the Americas, Costa Rica has no military. They have only a police force.
- Public university in Costa Rica is either completely free or costs only as much as $1000 USD for the entire degree. However, it is incredibly difficult to be accepted to these universities so greater education among Costa Ricans is still rather rare. Private universities also exists and are more expensive, but still reasonable. Public universities are more prestigious than the private ones.
- Some of the main industries supporting the Costa Rican economy include bananas, coffees, tourism, microchips, plastic surgery, and pineapples.
- The legal age for drinking, gambling and indulging in prostitution is 18 years old.
- Costa Rica has the highest cost of living of any Latin American country. Wonderful – Yay for my pocketbook.
- Modern Costa Ricans are a mix of ancestry including indigenous, Spanish, Italian and Chinese.
- We should not, under any circumstances, take our passports anywhere or give them to anyone because allegedly American passports go for $50,000 American dollars on the black market. They are sought mostly for they effective use in drug smuggling. Hm… perhaps a passport sale is in order to pay for the rest of my tuition at Madison. (Don’t worry, Mom, I’m just kidding!)
Our next stops were the Costa Rican congress meeting place, a famous plaza full of pigeons and the National Theatre. My favorite detail of the theatre was the ceiling on which was a painting of the back of a retired Costa Rican 5 Colon bill. The problem was that the bill was designed by an Italian painter and although the colorful portrait had won second place in a world currency design contest, it revealed some misconceptions regarding Costa Rica. First of all, he put the coffee fields on the beach. Coffee grows in the mountains nowhere near sea level. Second of all, he drew one of the farmers holding a batch of bananas wrong. Bananas are held like a baby over the shoulder. The straw that broke the camel’s back is that all the women working in the Coffee fields looked as pale and European as if they’d just stepped out of Norway. He missed the tanned skin and dark hair and eyes typical of Ticas (Costa Rican women).
As is a typical excursion for tourists, we hit up the central market next. I forgot to ask if bartering was customary here. The market was enormous, in a warehouse, and contained pretty much anything you can think to want except my grandfather’s two favorite things (easy chairs and televisions). If you can’t find it there, the only other place in the world you might be able to find it is on the internet.
On our way to the largest Catholic Church in San José, we saw a gathering of “policía” police officers in a large gazebo area. There were probably hundreds of them. Our guide explained that this time of year everyone has recently received their so called “thirteenth checks” bonus checks so the police were out in force to discourage theft as people were moving money around at banks and spending their extraneous income. I didn’t see how them congesting the gazebo was keeping the rest of the city safe, but I wasn’t about to argue with foreign authority.
The Catholic Cathedral was extravagant. I mean ridiculously extravagant. I knew that Europe knew how to build churches big and brilliant but apparently San José has nailed it as well. There were people in the pews knelt down to pray and here we barge in a bunch of tourists with cameras. It felt sort of irreverent and at the very least mildly rude. I imagine they allow it though because tourism is so essential to the economy here and donation boxes were everywhere to be seen.
We hit the designated lunch restaurant early and were given about twenty minutes to explore the block. That’s when we found it…………
………. Wait for it……….
Costa Rica China Town!!!!!!!
According to my Chinese friends in the group, Costa Rica’s own “barrio Chino” Chinese neighborhood or“结国中”as the sign indicated, was “a million times less accurate than the inaccuracies of the least accurate Chinese towns in the U.S.” We didn’t have much time to explore, but we got the picture I think.
Lunch was Casado buffet and the best orange y carrot juice I’ve ever had in my life (although I guess this would be the first time, so that’s not saying much, but I swear, it was excellent!).
Upon return to Maximo, class contained more presentations and group research than lecture. We would be given topics relating to what is literature and be expected to surf the web in search of material to present. However, the lack of reliability of Maximo’s wifi pretty much made such activities impossible. So we improvised with some readings about literary devices followed by more speaking and presentations. I didn’t expect a lit class to involve so much oral explanation instead of writing. It does make me wonder if oral assessments of educational material are common in the world, because we seemed to do a lot of that in Shanghai with Professor Zhang as well. Then again, I suppose it could just be a product of small study abroad classes lending themselves to oral assessments. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish if observations abroad are due to differences in culture or the result of the abroad program itself.
Photo credits to Kolin Goldschmidt.