Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cultural Observations: A brief photo essay brought to you by Kp

(also, brought to you by my sense of LAZY because pictures are quicker than writing a legit blog post. Sorry.)

There is an as seen on TV store in the mall. I want to shop there.

Bags of gummy bears should not be left unattended in the car while in said mall. Because your car in Mexico is it's own little oven - and instead of bears you will end up with a fruit punch scented car , and a gummy glob of various flavors (which Fiance actually really enjoyed, so maybe I do recommend leaving gummy bears in the car?)

The mascot previously mentioned in this post is from a chain called "Las Alitas," which is basically a wings joint. His name is Winga, and he's pretty awesome. Just in case you were curious.

Quinceañera party! (aka fifteenth birthday party, aka debutante coming of age ball, aka... well here's the wikipedia on the subject) They're really over the top extravagant balls from my understanding, which is pretty obvious from the ride these kids are in.
What's notable here to me is the number of young people dressed very well in the back of this limo truck, which is cruising without abandon through San Pedro at somewhere around 70MPH. Just not something you'd see in the states.

Also not something you'd see in the states? A mariachi band. In a WalMart. Awesome.

Fiance and I attended a birthday party this weekend, thrown by the hotel's shuttle driver in honor of his little girl who just turned 3. It was Tinkerbell themed. And honestly, it was a REALLY good time. There are tons of places all over the city to rent for children's birthday parties, and inside this one there was a bouncy castle, a jungle gym, and some other fun little play areas for the kids. The adults hang out and watch the kids for a bit, and then the clowns come out. But they're not like scary US clowns, they're HILARIOUS clowns, even for not understanding a good chunk of what they're saying. This is a crappy picture honestly, but it's right before they started the GAMES.

The games are for the kids, but they're fun to watch, and there's some adult participation too. The first game was basically hot potato, and the kid that had the stuffed crocodile when the music turned off got a prize. The second game was more fun. The kids were instructed to close their eyes, and then the clowns would walk around and plunk a few brightly colored hats on random adults. There is one fewer hat than the amount of kids playing (ala musical chairs), and as soon as the clowns said GO, the kids were to find a hat and smash it on their own heads in order to keep playing. This picture was taken mere seconds before Fiance was bum-rushed by a herd of 3-7 year olds.

And this... well this is also a rough picture to see, but at the end of the party, they bring out the cake, and after singing happy birthday, the special kid gets to flat out smash their face into the cake, then give their mum and dad a big frosting laced kiss. That's mom dad and little E up there getting sugared up.

Speaking of birthday parties - a very hearty happy birthday to R. As mentioned in my previous post, we hosted a shindig for him at the hotel on Saturday. Things I learned/ forcibly remembered from this experience:
  1. Karaoke is STUPID popular in Mexico.
  2. I still REALLY hate karaoke. Really. A lot. It's loud and you can never hear the mucis you want to hear and even if it IS a song you might want to hear it doesn't sound good because someone is screaming or screeching into the mic. I would rather a DJ that takes requests. Thankfully fiance sang enough for the both of us
  3. I won't say I'm old (because I'M NOT), but I'm too old to have the energy to stay up until 3AM drinking and galavanting. Not that I didn't give it a good effort, but oi.
  4. Having a birthday party for yourself in Mexican culture takes away some of the fun for you. Both at the little gal's party, and R's, it wasn't socially acceptable for them to really enjoy themselves until they had "received their guests." Poor little E maybe got 15 minutes on the bouncy castle before the clowns started the show, and R didn't get to use the pool until 1AM!
  5. Blowing up 50-70 balloons to put in the pool as a decoration for the big party is a really cool idea. Except the part where the pool is outside and it's windy.

So there you have it. I think we're all caught up now, and if you'll excuse me I'm back to planning Mac's glorious trip to Mexico. Ta ta!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pool Party Pouting

Fiance has a coworker with a 4 year old son who fancies himself a bit of a fish. Since free pool access is hard to come by in these parts, we invited her and her husband, and of course their adorable son, to join us at the hotel for an afternoon with pizza and swimming.

Little Dude was excited.

And he was, as they say, super travieso (mischievous). F and I had made the excellent decision to invest in pool noodles at walmart earlier in the week, and watching Little Dude cruise around the pool with them, or throwing them like spears, or using them to spurt water at his parents made the purchase a 400% return investment. Hilarity.

There's something about watching and doodling little kids that I secretly enjoy. They're like little real-life cartoons, and Little Dude was no different. How is it that even in a different language, I knew almost 100% of what his little voice cried out while he swam? Because it was exactly the same 1-sided conversation every tot has:

¡Mira! Look!
¡Mami, ven! Mommy, come here!
¡Ayudame Papi! Help me daddy! (when he first got in and was not so sure about swimming)
¡MIRA! seriously, LOOKIT!
¡NO me tocues! Don't touch me! (when he became more confident that he was all about swimming)

While he bopped around the pool, I doodled. And when I was done, I showed his mum, who was sitting at the little patio table with me chatting. She smiled and she showed Little Dude. And then I heard words that I was pretty sure I understood... but wasn't positive until I turned to him and got a tiny, very displeased, I am staring lazers into your skull right now kind of look.

No lo veo como que. I don't look like that.

And that was the end of me potentially being cool to Little Dude. I was on his poop list, and every time he looked at me after that he let me know. It's a pity that a 4 year old looking at you like he wants you to suffer is really more likely to make you laugh than feel sorry. So I apologized as best I could, and we'll just move on, shall we?

The offending doodles - Kids are always your toughest critics. :)

I'm going to try to redeem myself this weekend - we're hosting our friend R's birthday party here at the hotel, and I was asked to make the invites. I decided to have a little fun with them, so here's the starting sketch:
That would be R himself (of R&C fame). Once I've got it all nicely outlined in the computer, you'll be able to cut him out, and put your fingers through those little holes, and have a R puppet that constantly reminds you of when his birthday party is while you walk him around your desktop or kitchen table or whatever you like. The actual R is pretty pleased with them I think, so we're back to a winning streak on the caricatures. Huzzah.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fun Fact: The back of your knees can sweat.

Dudes (and dudettes) it can get pretty hot here. Just in case you didn't know.
I've been trying to put together a post about this past weekend for a few days now. It's Thursday, (and tomorrow is a day off for most - the 16th is the Grito de Independencia or Yell (Declaration) of Independence*.) So it would probably be smart to post about one weekend before the next one hits us, eh? It's a bit disjointed, because there was a lot going on, but here we go:

Friday: ¡Flautas!
Our Friends C & his girlfriend Y took us for the most authentic Mexican Flautas you can find.
Flautas are basically tacos rolled up and fried, then smothered in many delicious things (guacamole, sour cream, onions) and served up. And while I dont' have any other flautas in my culinary history to compare them to, the location C&Y took us took made some AMAZING flautas. What's this place called, you ask? Well, I don't know that it was a named restaurant, so much as it was the front porch of a very gifted flauta-making family.

Yeah, that's right. Their front porch. That third picture is the patriarch, who fries all the food in front of maybe three or four small card tables that you can sit at while you eat. If you want a pop, you ask their 5 or 6 year old daughter, who will go inside the house to grab one for you out of the fridge. Their mother is the cashier and additional chef. Highly recommended. Oh, and that other picture would be Fiance saving me from yet another jalapeño. If I may toot my own horn for a moment, I DID try the very tippy-tip of a pepper at this meal... but then chugged about half a soda. So that was fun.
Saturday: Actually Saturday was fun but I don't have any pictures.
We had another carne asada (cookout) with friends M and her boyfriend C poolside at the hotel with some friends. It was during this afternoon of excellent grilled meat, tortillas and Tecate that I realized the back of my knees were sweating. Which of course was an excellent time to utilize that aforementioned pool.

Sunday: Marcoplaza, THE HOUSE, and Cola de Caballo**.

We did A LOT on Sunday. *whew!* First stop was to check out the Macroplaza, which is a large outdoor/indoor space in the middle of down town Monterrey with small artesan stands peddling wares, up through high-scale store fronts (there were a lot of shoes for sale).

Immediately after arriving/parking, we came across one of my two favorite chains in Monterrey- One is Mascota (which means Pet in Spanish, but is usually written out as +cota because mas means more. I find this very good branding), and the other is Timo (their motto is Mas cosas y mascotas which means more things and pets. Again, good play on the word Mascota.). Which is also a pet store. Pets stores here rock because they're not just where you go to pick up a bag of cat chow. They sell some pretty crazy stuff, and this particular Timo was no different:

"Saca un foto con el tigre - 100 pesos" Is the display sign in the window
What's that mean? Fiance asks me. And so I tell him, welp, it means you can take a picture with the tiger for 100 pesos (which is like, less than a ten bucks). If you have ever met fiancé, you already know that we totally went into the Timo to get a picture with the tiger.

We looked around for a few moments, and bumped into a man who informed us that we couldn't take a picture with the tiger, because they had sold it. But there was still a jaguar upstairs if we wanted to pay 30 pesos a piece to go up and look. You know, as I type this it sounds super shady, but I promise the place was well lit and professional. In any case, we paid our 60 pesos and went upstairs.

Upstairs? Was like a mini zoo in the middle of the pet store, in the middle of the shopping center, in the middle of the city. It was crazy! And I'm fairly certain, for the right amount of money, every single critter we encountered was for sale. There are a few pictures above there, the Ocelot (which is as close as we found to the promised jaguar... maybe they sold that too), Fiance with a macaw, a crocodile, and a toucan.

The rest of the trip to the Macroplaza was interesting, but not quite as cool as the randomness of Timo. We bought bubba a new mouse toy, and me a new book in english (they only had one - it's called "The Five Children and It" and it's a children's book. But worth a laugh for only 8 pesos/ $7.50USD). Satisfied with our shopping experience, we decided to check out the new house next.

We have to drive through a mountain to get there, it's in a suburb of Monterrey, and it is really a very lovely house (I'm very impressed with Fiance for picking it out!). There's not much to say about it since our stuff isn't really here yet, so I've posted just a few pictures.
pictured above, the outside of the place. my fun little new backyard, complete with built-in grille and palm tree. a bathroom, for no other reason than to prove I took these pictures and am actually still alive, and my kickin' new bathtub. you might not see it, but there are jets. and maybe even a waterfall (there's totally a waterfall).

Oh and one more thing: Here's the view off the balcony:

*It's celebrated in a manner pretty similar to the U.S. 4th of July, with the addition of the yell. Depending on where you are at, a major government official will come out the night of the 16th and lead a cheer for the glory of Mexico. Pretty much your job as a spectator is to yell ¡Viva! loudly between chants.

**My phone's battery totally died after we left the house. Cola de Caballo is a very beautiful waterfall, and I shall share those pictures with you just as soon as I steal them from Fiance's camera.

Monday, September 12, 2011

¿No Estás Aburrido?

(aren't you bored?)

This has quickly become my #1 F.A.Q. (frequently asked question). I get it. Fiance works all day, and while he's gone, the hotel is my playground. But there can't be THAT much to do in this hotel, could there?

Well, I've been here a whole hot week, so I can't say I'd want to do this forever, but I'm keeping plenty occupied, thank you. (so to answer, NO. I'm not bored.)

I'm a bit of a creature of habit, and since this place works on a pretty reliable clock, I have a pretty reliable daily schedule:
  • 8:30/9:00 Housekeeping will knock on my door to ask if we have any laundry for them. No matter how many times I say "no, we do not, and we will not have laundry, you do not need to keep asking," tomorrow they will knock again.
  • 9:00 As long as I'm up, I might as well capitalize on free breakfast. The breakfast buffet downstairs is really pretty bomb. I would go on about their gracious selection of fresh fruits and postres (little desert doughnut type stuff), and an assortment of beans/tortillas/eggs/salsa, but I'll instead be very honest that every day I have a bowl of corn flakes with milk, a coffee, and 1 large glass of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice. There are many things to enjoy here, but so far the juice is pretty high on the list of culinary perks living in a more "tropical" country.
  • I'll read whatever book I have for about an hour or so downstairs, and around 10:10, I'll head back up to the room.
  • 10:10 Back in the room, I'll play with Bubba for a few moments, make sure his box is clean, and check my e-mail. Then I'll get changed and head to the little gym.
  • 10:45 At the little gym, I set the treadmill to the "calorie burner" workout, and turn on the TV to Spanish cartoons. The simple language childrens' programming offers is great practice. I've become rather fond of Chavo* and Kick Buttowski, because both feature children voiced by adults... which is waaaaaay easier to understand than high pitched voices. Sorry Pitulfos (Smurfs. Woah there papa smurf, your tiny voice is impossible to comprehend!).
  • 11:15 Will see me back up to the room and maybe I'll catch the tail end of our housekeeper finishing up. She loves Bubba, and she's happy to help me practice conversational Spanish. She has a hard time slowing DOWN when she speaks though, so I only understand about 40% of what she tells me. This past week's fantastic conversations have included her cleaning my hair brush in order to have a segway into telling me she likes my long hair; her describing how she plays with Bubba under the door when I'm not there and he's crying; and my personal favorite, when she told her mother about her new favorite guest at the hotel, and how he had soft orange fur that she liked to touch. Her mother got upset and told her to be careful not to risk her job - and then she realized she had neglected to tell her mother that Bubba is a CAT, not a person. (I think this may have just been a made up story for me, but it was a good joke, so I'll go with it) Ja.
  • The afternoons are the variety of my day - some days I work on keeping our bills/ receipts straight, some days I do laundry (I do it. Not housekeeping), some days I blog, and at least one day last week I just READ, all day, which was pretty nice. Sometime later in the afternoons I'll head back downstairs to work in my "Basic Spanish" workbook, and enjoy the free daily HAPPY HOUR (that's right, my hotel serves free beer from 5-7 every day. What does yours do?!)
  • After that, Fiance returns and off we go - errands, dinner, whatever need be. We try to be back by 9/10 so F can get some homework tackled and then get to bed.
So you see, there is simply not time for me to be bored. You can quit asking. :)

This is Chavo (the dude in the green hat) and his friends (I actually do not know the tall kid's name, but the fat one is Ñoño, like Nyo-nyo.) If it wasn't a cartoon based on a live action Mexican show from the 80's, I would TOTALLY say they rip off South Park.

And just because it's about all I thought about as I watched today's Chavo episode, let's take just a second with this comparison. Indulge me. Even visually - the green hat that the ginger kid wears, the fat kid in red. In Chavo, the kid in the green hat is actually an orphan, so that's a little off, but Ñoño and Eric Cartman share a common ancestor, I swear. Every episode of Chavo I've seen has some plot point about how the fat kid is rich and entitled, the butt of every fat joke, and usually the mastermind behind some ridiculous plot to make him stand out as the best, richest, in charge (Authoritah!), or just privy to the most doughnuts. He's also a super stereotype of Germans, which ties in nicely with Cartman's allegiance within every WWII reference ever made on the show. So that makes me wonder... do the creators of South Park know about Chavo? Because the live action Chavo was definitely in the 80's, but the cartoon re-vamp wasn't until the 00's. Did South Park rip them off, the other way around or neither? It's a very chicken and egg question really.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Still Moving, Part 2

(in 8 more steps)

Hi All! Bienvenidos a México.

*Whew* It's been a crazy weekend, but Bub and I made it! How did we get here, you ask? Well.

Step 1: Say goodbye to the best puppy ever.
I am not about to say I didn't cry. Fiance's father was nice enough to drive us out to the kennel. We're boarding him over the labor day weekend and then F's parents will pick him him and care for him until it is cold enough in Mexico City for Mac to fly there (this may well be a month or two).
Once we got to the kennel I fought pretty hard to keep it together, because no one else at the kennel knows this backstory so I would just look like a jerk. But they put him in his assigned space, he turned to look at me with those "what's happening?" eyes, and F's father nudged me and said "what, aren't you gonna cry?"

F's father is the dad of 3 boys, so I don't think he was really prepared for me to actually start sobbing right then. Sorry dude. He took me out for coffee and breakfast after that - he's a pretty awesome guy, I am very excited for him and F's mum to be my in-laws soon.

Step 2: Take this very content cat...
And stuff him in a bag bound for the airport.

I'm quite proud of Bubba. He was very well behaved for how traumatizing I'm sure that ordeal was. Have you ever flown with a cat before? Fun facts for you:
  • When going through TSA, cat must come out of bag. (ok) Collar has a aluminum tag, so that has to come off too - hold on tight, if he gets away he's GONE with no ID (really?! we can't think of something else to counteract that one tiny tag?)
  • Dear Detroit Metro: Your light-show, whale-song tunnel art installation thing? That is flipping TERRIFYING to a cat. Work on that. Also, sorry to everyone who was in that tunnel around 5:45 Friday morning, I know you weren't expecting your peaceful whale songs to be interrupted by the best example of fear-induced Caterwauling I've ever been privy to.
  • The change in pressure as the plane lands will almost certainly cause your kitty to evacuate every bit of anything in his digestive tract - out both ends - simultaneously - through absolutely no choice of his own. The other passengers on the plane will go from cooing at how cute he is, to instantly hating you for bringing the source of such a foul smell to place where the air does not circulate.

Step 3: Get through customs
I have no pictures of this - The greeting at the gate for Mexican customs is a team of three military personnel with machine guns. I was not about to take a picture. They are nice people though, one of them helped me figure out I was in the wrong line. They also didn't give two poops about Bubba - for all the fretting I did about bringing him into the country. This may be due to the fact that he was covered in poop and puke and they didn't want much to do with that combo. I can understand that.

Step 4: Kiss fiance who is waiting on the other side of the customs gate, check into the hotel, become immediately aware of how much more hospitable Mexican hotel staff are than American staff.
I got a hug from the manager upon arrival to the hotel. Some of this is because Fiance has been to this hotel so much that they know him. Some of this is because they were eager to meet the gal he'd been talking about all week. Some of it is because they knew Bubba was coming along (this is kind of a special situation - usually this place does not allow pets. But they do very much like Fiance here.) But most of it is because they are genuinely NICE people, who want to make sure you are happy. So nice in fact, that this is what we saw as we came in the room:
A little hard to see, but there is a box of chocolates with a big red bow for me, and a food dish with a toy and cat food for Bubba. It was a really wonderful way to start off here.

Step 5: Wash. The. Cat.
This is a face that promises to murder me later. But I think deep down, he was happy to not be smelly anymore.

Step 6: Try to remember to keep your jaw from falling every time you look out the window. Makes it pretty obvious you're not from around these here parts.
But seriously. Look at that. Those surround the entire city. And that particular mountain range? When we finally get our stuff through customs and can start living in a house instead of a hotel... that will literally be. my. back. yard.

Step 7: Let's go to the mall! / Make friends
(why yes that is a HIMYM reference, in case you were wondering)
Our new friends, R & his girlfriend C, brought us to the mall in San Pedro. It is literally the biggest mall I have ever seen in my life. When I said this to C, she laughed and said "Really? This is the smaller one." And then we walked inside and I was almost run down by a little boy riding a giraffe. C laughed again and asked if those did not exist en los estados unidos (I think I was staring). These little mechanized animal carts are very common in Mexican malls. Parents can rent them for their children to ride around, and they come in all different kinds of animals (I saw a few bears, a dog, a donkey that was trying to be an Eeyore rip-off, and a pink cat while we were there). C also told me that a while back those little scooters were responsible for a wide-spread illness because they aren't cleaned between uses, and they're plush so the germs thrive pretty well on 'em.

R also took Fiance to get a haircut. They did a very good job, for Fiance and the hairdresser only being able to communicate back and forth with hand gestures. R asked me afterward to draw what I think of the hair. In my head all I could hear was the 80's hit Rico Suave*, so I drew this.
Fun fact - even though Rico Suave is sung in spanish, this was not a song R & C had ever heard. When I pulled it up for them to listen to, however, we all had a great laugh.

*Suave means soft. Which isn't a real great descriptor for Fiance, but the joke was too good to pass up.

Step 8: Eat some amazing food/ enjoy the uniqueness of restaurants in a new country.
That right there was my very first authentic Mexican meal. R took Fiance and I to a place called "Casa de Mama." I got chicken tacos. That little bowl in the background? It is full of limes. If you do it right, everything you eat in this city comes with a little bowl of limes, and you won't believe me until you try it, but you simply MUST put a squirt of lime juice on everything you eat. Including, and especially, your chicken tacos.
This is Fiance eating my jalapeño. Because I am trying to bring myself to liking spicy food with baby-steps - I tried the salsa, but the pepper was too far for day one.
Speaking of spicy food, THIS is a Michelada. Which... is... interesting. You can get one of these at any bar, and they actually sell a bottled mix for it at many convenience stores. I asked R what was in it, but I think the language barrier got in the way of the full enchilada here. What I did get for sure was: chile powder, worcestershire sauce, lime, salt, and pepper. That is what comes to you in the glass with ice. Over the top of it you pour your choice of beer. It's... not the worst thing I've ever had to drink. But it will take some getting used to. :)

While we sat and drank, C surprised me when she asked Fiance (who had wrapped a napkin around his head to keep the sweat out of his eyes) if he was a ninja. I don't know why that was so amusing to me, I think because while the little bit of spanish we know paired with the little bit of english R & C know lets us communicate just fine, there are some random words that you would not expect to hear. I think Ninja is one of them.

These were soo good I took a bite before I took a picture. Shrimp tostadas. The cilantro on top with the requisite lime juice: UGH. So good. Unfortunately for C, I think her food was overshadowed by the lemonade she ordered... which even when watered down was a little much.

This was at the Applebee's. If you're not as familiar with Packers lore as I am (being raised in the great city of Green Bay), this is a statue of Bart Star - a legend of the Packer's past. Why there is a statue of him in a random Applebee's in Monterrey Mexico is past me, but I was super geeked.
And this dude. We didn't even eat in this restaurant, but as we passed we saw this and had to stop and take a picture. Fiance has a video, I will try to get that from him ASAP. But. This chicken mascot was dancing to "Single Ladies" by Beyonce. And when I say dancing, I don't mean he was bopping along. I mean he was actually doing the dance. Having been in charge of a college mascot for a few years, this warmed my heart, and I could not stop laughing to save my soul. After the song ended, they played the Mario "Game Over" noise, and he fell on the ground. It was great.

There have been other observations, but this is already a pretty big dump of words and pictures. Oi. Until next time, ¡olé!