Monday, January 27, 2014

Five-month Update

Wow, it's cold here in Spain. I don't have heating in my apartment, but neither do many of my friends so I'm not alone in my suffering. We do what we can to survive, such as sitting with the brasero for months, drinking coffee, coffee, and more hot coffee, and huddling indoors in warm bars. Honestly though, some nights I feel like I'm camping. Funny enough, years ago I had considered living in a camper and traveling on the road, making a living by working online or obtaining odd jobs here and there. Not that it's the same, in my HUGE apartment. Despite the fact that it's an absolute bitch to stay warm in, I still love the views of the sun rising and setting over the Sierra, my quiet street, and my caring neighbours.

In terms of my job as an English teacher..... uff, I feel like I'm working like a dog. It has been a true immersion experience, in that I work almost as hard as my friends in the village do. The difference for me has been my popularity – people are absolutely clamoring for my time, and as much as I want to help all of them pass their exams it's been impossible to say yes to everything. I'm hoping next year I'll have more time to help them, as they're all absolute darlings and invite me to hang out all the time.
Teaching the young kids English words for 'family'
There's a moment that stands out in my memory.... one night after school, some students invited me for a drink, at a bar I'd never been to. At one of the tables were two brothers. One of my students used to be their teacher, and asked me if I liked Flamenco music. He walked over to the brothers and asked them to play something. Out came the guitar and, in the near-empty bar, our group started dancing sevillanas (a type of local dance) to the sounds of Flamenco singing. So random; so Spanish!

Speaking of hanging out, Spaniards work hard and damn do they play hard, too! I can't count the number of times we've been at the bar, and I've asked what time they start work in the morning and they say “7:30 a.m.”, and I look at my watch and it's 3 a.m. Yeesh. One of my friends asked what my secret was for looking so young. Besides being Asian, I said the other secret was I SLEEP.

So I'm having a really good time here.... it's not an exciting, go-to-the-beach-all-day, travel-every-weekend kind of life, but I'm sincerely quite happy living in the pueblo. So happy that I've renewed my contract for the coming year. As a second-year renewal, I could have applied for a change in region, but I've chosen the exact same pueblo and same school, too. We'll see what the next few months bring!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Madrid and Porto

Near the start of my Christmas holiday I traveled to Madrid with a group of girls from various parts of Jaén. We had a nice time exploring the city centre. I was soooooooo happy to be in a cosmopolitan city where I wasn't being stared at for being Asian, I could go shopping whenever I felt like it, and there was a nice variety of food!

The foot traffic near Puerta del Sol was too much.

San Gines, baby!!

I rang in the new year with a group of lovely friends at Puerta del Sol – my first New Year in Spain! The tradition involves gulping a grape for every ring of the clock at midnight – 12 rings total. I cheated and picked the tiniest grapes for myself. I was so glad I had made a big Canadian flag – we met some nice tourists in the crowded plaza.
Roscón - {insert Homer Simpson drool}
After eating a pile of food and indulging in roscón, we walked over to Kapital, a 7-floor club. I loved the variety of music and the strong drinks, but I absolutely hated the coatcheck lineup (god bless my friends for lining up for me) and the boys. I say 'boys' instead of men because so many of them tried to touch the mask I was wearing, my hair, my friend's hair, or greeted me with “Konichiwa”. WTF. I love dancing, but I will never go to a youngin club ever again. 35+, please!
7:30 a.m. Turkish breakfast, anyone?

After recovering from New Year's I headed to Porto, Portugal by myself – although I made contacts on Couchsurfing so I wouldn't be completely alone. On a recommendation I stayed at the lovely Hotel Poveira, and had to take either the metro or train to the ancient centre. This trip was the first time I studied absolutely nothing about the language or culture of my destination. I had no idea how to say hello or thank you or please, which disorientated me. Luckily, the people of Porto have an incredible command of English, are super-duper friendly, and are used to seeing Asian tourists. I asked one storekeeper what was up with all the Asians, and she stated that the wealthy ones visit to see if they can buy vineyards and other properties. I understood her point – the land surrounding Porto was perfect for growing grapes. Portugal is a place where you can't NOT try their local spirits. Or food. Or fabulous desserts.

Francesinha - SO.GOOD.
This is living: in-house dessert and 40 year-old port.

Many buildings had beautifully tiled outsides.

Boats with port barrels

The buildings were old and needed rehab, but were moving and beautiful in their ancient way. Many stated it was too bad it was raining so much during my visit, but it didn't really bother me as I'm quite used to rain.

As happy as I was spending time in big cities again, I'm glad to be back in my tranquil pueblo and seeing my friends here. The differences between small-town life and a cosmopolitan city are sometimes huge, but only one of them is the right choice for me at this point in my life. To visit? Cool. But to live in? It's the pueblo life for me.