Monday, September 30, 2013

Out the Window

Damn you, Spain bloggers.  :)  I read so many of your entries before coming here, and although most of your information was extremely helpful, I built up a pre-conceived notion that it would be an easy, glamorous move here. How naive of me.

What I'm throwing out the window:

Everything falling into place quickly: I stupidly thought that within a week I'd find an apartment, have a cell plan, a bank account, and my job schedule worked out. Hells to the no. The only thing that happened quickly was gaining friends. I've met some really nice chicas in Úbeda.

Cheap rent: Ha ha ha ha ha. Although I live in a tiny pueblo (pop. 13,000), my rent is more expensive than most Auxiliaries. I tried but couldn't find someone to share my piso with me. Plus, in my village, anything under 2 bedrooms is unheard of, and the ones that are only 1 bedroom cost the same as a 3-bedroom anyway. Not to mention I have a cat, which makes some people balk at having me as a roomate. While most have managed to find housing for E150 - 250, I'm paying E290, not including bills. Ai ya!

  Clubbing - it's a pueblecito, plus I'm jet-lagged
  Travel - (local bus company)Alsa, I hate you
  Fine dining - it's super-uncomfortable eating alone here, therefore I'm limited to mostly dive-bars. Thank goodness the food here is good, cheap, and quick.
  Dating - being the only Filipina, I don´t think the locals know what to make of me. Plus it seems all of the men my age are married with kids. I may as well throw out the condoms now.

What I'm welcoming with open arms:

MASSIVE apartment: my 3-bedroom piso is f'ing huge. It's practically a journey to go from the foyer to the bedroom - I love it! The extra rooms will go far in helping me develop my hobbies, e.g. photography. And the VIEWS.... I can't wait to post a video for y'all.

Warm people: yes, I get a lot of stares but I've smiled back and learnt how to greet people. The ones I've gotten to know have been lovely and super-helpful. I actually have enjoyed my quiet, pueblo life. My glamorous city life seems so long ago.

Best coffee ever: and I'm not even talking about the cafés. I make café con leche in my piso and it's AWESOME.

Cheap nights out: a glass of tinto de verano = E1.70 max. Each glass comes with free tapas. Dinner last night? E2.00

Beautiful streets and views:
Úbeda side street

Úbeda restaurants at night

My Spanish: it's gotten SO MUCH better, and it's only been a couple of weeks!

True, things didn't happen the way I thought they would. But that's life, isn't it? The good things that did happen were pleasant surprises, and I'm really happy about them.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Letter to my Spanish Teacher

A couple of days after arriving in Andalucía, I was slightly freaking out because of culture shock. I decided to let it all out to my Spanish teacher back home:

Sorry, but I need to write in English because it is overwhelming being here in Spain, especially in Andalucía! Profe [Teacher], you were right, I am CRAVING English right now! I speak en español all the time, which is excellent for my advancement. The first two days, I could NOT understand what people were saying here. "Es veinte-tres centigrados aqui, hace calor! [It's 23 degrees, so hot!]" becomes "Eve'tre'cengraohkee, cecalo." I'm actually scared to talk, which is unusual for me. But already after only a few days it is getting easier and easier to understand people . Almost no one speaks English, or if they do they WON'T speak it with me except for a few people. So I'm happy about that; no doubt I'll be close to fluent soon!

It was a little bit stressful in the beginning because it was a bit of trouble getting my cat here. I was so relieved when he was finally with me in the hotel in Madrid. From there we took a train down to Linares-Baeza, with Renfe. All of the staff loved him and called him "Precioso". Dijé que se llama "Gordito" [I said his name is "Fatty"]. I had to balance his cat carrier on top of my gigantic 23kg suitcase, while wearing a large backpack. Yay.

We're now in Úbeda, one of the most beautiful cities I've ever been in. I am going to work really hard to live here, perhaps by negotiating my work schedule with the school. I haven't visited the village I'm working in yet but when I mention it to locals they all say, "Ew. It's boring there." One lady even said, "People go there to die." Great.

And it's so cheap to go out here! I met some local girls and we had tapas. I ordered 3 tinto de veranos [summer wine] and each time, they brought out a free tapas plate. I paid only 6 euros!!!! Unbelievable.

Well, today is Sunday and everything except the bars are closed, so I'm going to enjoy my day off and relax. 'sta luego! Y de nuevo, gracias por los lecciones españoles, que yo puedo hablar con la gente aqui. [And again, thank you for the Spanish lessons, so I can speak with the people here]

Monday, September 16, 2013

Can't Eat Alone in Spain

One unusual fact about me: I can eat alone in a restaurant. I've done it, and I usually like it. Except here in Spain.

On my first trip here, in 2005, I was alone and had no problem eating alone in Madrid and Seville. Granted, I had a few tricks up my sleeve, one of which was finding restaurants that were not super-crowded. I didn't always end up eating the best food, but at least I felt comfortable. It's easy to eat alone in the big cities.

Fast-forward to 2013 in Úbeda, a small town where everyone notices everything. Especially an Asian. Especially an Asian female that eats alone. I have gotten to know a few locals, but I'm not the type that needs to cling to someone everytime I feel lonely.

Today being Sunday, and having neglected to buy groceries the day before, everything was closed. Bars were open, so I decided to go out for dinner. I searched for a restaurant where I would be comfortable eating alone: a place not too crowded, or that had other singles. Or a place that was not too dead, because I didn't want to be in the spotlight for eating alone.

I ended up walking for an hour, starving. Every restaurant had people eating with others. I could not find a single restaurant where someone was eating alone. As I kept walking, a strange feeling of loneliness mixed with wanting to hide grew inside me. In a moment of desperation I tried to go to Mas y Mas to buy groceries, so I could scuttle back to my apartment and cook, but it was closed.

I finally found a place where I could sit inside and not be too much of a center of attention. It had no atmosphere, and terrible lighting, but luckily a futbol game was on and I could concentrate on that.

In Canada, I was lucky that I could hide amongst a huge population filled with Asians and other single eaters. Here, I feel like there's a magnifying glass on me. In the culture of Spain, where singularity seems to be a foreign concept, I am going to have to adapt. 

I am so buying groceries tomorrow.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Airlines Almost Killed Me

Finally, after weeks of holding in my emotions while embarking on  my journey to Madrid, I collapsed onto my hotel bed and sobbed. I stared at the ceiling and let it all out.

It all started about 10 days prior, in my hometown. I had mapped out the steps to fly my cat over to Spain. I did my research, consulted with British Airways Cargo and the veterinarians, and scheduled my appointments early. I did them all without a car - save for the cat appointment where my friend was kind enough to drive us there, because the carrier was too large to lug onto the metro. All other appointments took an hour or more to travel to.

Just when I thought all of the paperwork had been taken care of, I received an email the day before my flight: the vet at Heathrow airport claimed the certificate I'd sent was an outdated format. But when I compared London's version to the Canadian agency's version, it was almost exactly the same. I sent an email explaining that the flight was the next day; could they accept the version I'd already sent? Meantime, I made an emergency trip to the vet with London's certificates, begging him to fill it out.

Why was I sent an email so late? I had informed B.A. Cargo that I did not have internet readily accessible, and had provided my phone number. They failed to phone me and used email instead. For the entire day I was on pins and needles, praying Heathrow would accept the old certificates. Which they did, at the 11th hour. Thank goodness.

The next day I headed to B.A. Cargo to process the cat's paperwork. The inspector looked at my cat and his carrier, and remarked, "That container is too small. Did you read the regulations I sent you?" I replied that I had before buying the carrier, and pointed out that I had personally seen my cat stand up and turn around in it pefectly fine. Luckily he accepted my statement.

Unluckily, the bill for my cat turned out to be $700. I was floored. But I paid it, and my cat was put in the cargo hold while I boarded the plane above him. We set off for Heathrow.

A day after arriving in Madrid, I took a cab to Iberia cargo. I naively assumed it would take only a few minutes. Thank goodness my cabbie offered to help me with translation, because it ended up being a journey: back and forth between three buildings, security checks, and paper stamping. Plus the usual Spanish breaks, where we had to wait until the administration returned. Meantime, the cabbie's meter was running. With all the stress I felt and rapid Spanish involved, I was willing to pay anything to have him help me. Unfortunately, it involved having to tolerate his "touchiness". 

Let me say this about myself: although Canada can be physically a "colder" country than parts of Europe, I am fairly liberal. I'm okay with kisses on the cheek, hugs, a lingering touch. But Mr. Octopus cab driver was too touchy. And I know this because my instinct told me, because I was still thinking about it hours later. He kept stroking my cheek, saying I was beautiful, putting his arm around me. I would shut him down and break away, but I also had to tolerate his crap because I was beyond stressed and needed his assistance.

Finally, when it came time to pick up the cat, I was shocked to see him come out in a HUGE carrier. It was literally big enough to house a pitbull, and the top of it came to my waist. Apparently Heathrow decided my original carrier was too small, which I still disagree with. 
Come on.
The new carrier was so big that when I was lugging it to my hotel room, it blocked the entire width of the hallway. A guy that couldn't pass me was kind enough to carry it to my door. The cat and I went in, I let him out of the cage, lay on the bed, and cried. I felt incredibly guilty for putting him through the journey, and I felt relief that probably the worst of it was over.

You have to be a really tough person to be able to fly your pet. Knowing what I know now, I probably would have tried harder to find someone to adopt him while I was away. Thank goodness we're safe and can continue settling in our new country.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

He Llegado - I've Arrived

All I want to say right now, at midnight Spain time and having had very little sleep and some Spanish wine, is that I have arrived alive and somewhat intact. Due to weight limits and breaking bag zippers, unfortunately I had to let go of some pretty sweet shoes (I know, I'm such a f***ing girl), sunglasses, and awesome chocolate at the airport.

Look out for a post about the ordeal I had with my cat.

Buenas noches.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Career Change

When you work in a high-intensity industry for years, and then announce you're moving to a sunny, relaxed country on the other side of the world to teach English, people get confused.

For 13 years I have been an Editor at a television news station, where it's all about "if it bleeds, it leads", turning around a story in sometimes less than 20 minutes, calm, matter-of-fact anchors on your screen while in the background people are yelling and putting out fires. High-intensity sometimes, but thrilling.
It's not like this, but good movie otherwise.
When I sent out the company email announcing my impending plan, some expressed surprise at my career choice. I'm going from sitting with a reporter and crafting how to tell a two-minute story with two hours of footage, to teaching students why we can say a few books but not a few water *.  For 13 years, I came to the same place, worked with the same people, and overall did the same tasks. To say I'm about to embark on a big change is an understatement. Going from that to teaching English as a Foreign Language may seem like a strange choice, until you see my circumstances: Canadian; moving to a country with a poor job market; no EU passport; not yet fluent in Spanish. The thing is, the lure of Spain is too great: fantastic weather, fantastic food, an opportunity to become fluent, and great proximity to other countries for travel. After lots of research into how to make income while in Spain, it was clear that my only job choice was to teach. Hence getting my CELTA, which I feel was a worthwhile investment for the possible return in job opportunities and salary.

Many ask if I will ever return to News. Perhaps. I know I love to edit. With the part-time schedule I'll have as an English teacher, this coming year will see me working on developing my skills and building freelance work.

* Count nouns vs. non-count nouns.