Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Day in Mexico City

(This blog was handwritten in class tonight starting at 7:45 pm. I eventually finished this entry at 9:30pm)

Today was a particularly silly day in Mexico City, a city sure to be full of them as the capital of a country that this year celebrates the 200th anniversary of its Independence and the 100th anniversary of its Revolution. I started off with my typical morning routine of watching the silly Mexican morning shows (which my mom is not a fan of since they have too many scantily-clad women dancing around the set for no apparent reason) and reading a bunch of newspapers online. Without any set daytime schedule for now, my weekdays can be very different day to day. Today I had a meeting at noon in Lomas de Chapultepec, near my church, which is a 30 minute taxi ride sin traffic from my casa in Tepepan, Xochimilco, and, as I experienced yesterday, an hour and 40 minutes during the rush hours. Tired of paying for taxis, and with plenty of time to spare (as someone who has always been late my entire life, I love living in a city where everyone is always late. My good friend Ale (check out her Mexico City blog) once even said that I am always on time, something no one has ever told me in my life) I decided to take the Metro. On January 1st of this year, ticket prices for the Metro went up 50%. Additionally, I live so far south (ha, getting tired of me saying that? Don’t worry, I’m trying really hard to move to Condesa, Roma, or Polanco) that I don’t even live remotely close to the Metro. Though I live within walking distance of my school, it’s still so far south that this part of town has its entire own train line that is not part of Mexico City’s Metro, the Tren Ligero. After a 20-minute ride passing, among other things, Estadio Azteca, the northern end of the Tren Ligero arrives at the same station that houses the southern-most part of Mexico City’s Metro. Unfortunately, you have to buy separate tickets for the TL and the Metro. And, TL tickets went up 50% as well at the start of this year. Granted, Mexico City has among the cheapest Metro tickets in the world, and both tickets went from being just 2 pesos (16 cents) to 3 pesos (24 cents), but I still think it’s worth a mini-rant when anything goes up 50% overnight. Nearly 4 million people a day ride the Metro, and DF can certainly use more money. Keeping the poor in mind, this still is the cheapest Metro in the world, but, as I just realized, relative to the daily minimum wage, the Metro here is more expensive than Chicago’s.

So, I left my house around 10am, and stopped to get a chicken quesadilla at a little food stand around my house (apparently saying I wanted a “quesadilla con pollo” wasn’t enough to include cheese until I asked specifically for it. Hmm). So anyways, I walked over to the Periferico stop on the always packed TL (RUN MORE CARS!!), got to the Metro at Tasquena, bought some tickets de Nuevo, and got on the #2 blue line, which is always a los less crowded. The Metro here is a much smoother ride than Chicago’s and moves very fast. I knew I had to transfer to one of the train lines going west, and then to another line going north, but I forgot to specifically check which stop I had to get off to in order to transfer west (the cars don’t have full Metro maps, just maps of their own line). Turns out I picked the wrong one, but it wasn’t that big of a deal, as the new line I was on would drop me off near where I wanted to be.

While on the Metro, I started thinking about my favorite episode of Seinfeld, “The Subway.” In this episode, the gang meets up at the coffee shop, and realizes they each have to ride the subway somewhere that day. Jerry ends up on a car with a very obese man who happens to be naked, but the two become friends and spend the day at Coney Island. Elaine is on her way to be the “Best Man” at a lesbian wedding, but her train undergoes a power outage and she is stuck for a long time. Kramer hears a tip about a horserace, bets on a huge long shot and makes a killing; unfortunately, someone followed him out of the OTB and back onto the subway trying to steal Kramer’s money (fortunately for Kramer, an undercover cop arrests the jabroni). George, on his way to an interview, is invited to a hotel by an attractive woman he assumed he was rich because of the nice clothes he was wearing. In the hotel, she ties him up on the bed (which he first enjoys), and she plans to steal all the money in his clothes. Considering it’s George, he has virtually no money on him, so she decides to just steal all his clothes. During the closing credits, the gang meets again at the coffee shop, with George naked covered only by a bed sheet, and Kramer paying for the meal with his huge wad of cash. I tell you all this because while I was on the Metro today, I really think it’d be funny to do a remake of that episode in Mexico City. Maybe one of my economics will let me do that instead of taking a test our something.

So anyways, I got out of the subway in the middle of the gorgeous Chapultepec Park, a park with a zoo, historical monuments, museums, and a lake for paddleboats, among other things. This park is west of downtown, and bordering Reforma, the most famous street in Mexico City, which fortunately has seen a resurgence over the last decade, with lots of new high-rises being constructed, including a new HSBC building and Torre Mayor, the tallest building in Latin America. There is a club on the 51st floor of the building called Piso 51. Once a month, I attend a breakfast at the club called “Cristianos en Negocios” (for Christians in the Mexico City business world). We’re planning a big event to reach out to the business community in April, it should be good.

…So, (many more random thoughts to come, an homage to Bill Simmons, ESPN’s ‘The Sports Guy,’ the author I’ve read the most of over the last year. I enjoyed his 700 page “The Book of Basketball” (clever title!). The book was released in the fall, and, 6 weeks after arriving at a shipping warehouse in Mexico City, was finally delivered to my house one day in December). So, I’m in Chapuletepec Park, and still have about an hour to spare, so I take a lovely stroll around the park. There was a winter from November to mid-January, with lots of highs in the 50s and lows in the 30s, but that seems to be done for good. For the next four month, until the rainy season starts in earnest in May, it’s abundant sunshine nearly every day, and litrally no humidity. Today it was gorgeous, high in the mid-70s like it’ll be from now on, and clear skies (for the most part, ‘smog’ here is way less common than most people think). Being so high in the mountains, it still drops quite a bit once the sun sets, to the low 50s or high 40s overnight. I enjoyed the park, and started heading north along Reforma to the office I had to get to. Along this strip of Reforma, hanging on the fence that borders the park, there is always a cool art series on display, in a line of a few dozen 3-foot by 3-foot posters with a common theme. The last one celebrated the 50th anniversary of Fidel taking power in Cuba (That’s gone well!). The current series celebrates a very influent political cartoonist that was very influential in the second half of the last century. I forgot his name right now, and didn’t have time to read but of few of the cartoons, but hopefully I’ll be back there before it’s gone. Reforma closes during the daytime on Sundays for bikers and pedestrians, and the city rents bikes for free during that time. For as chaotic as any largely poor city with 20 million people would be, the city does do a lot of little things to make life more enjoyable. I already wrote about bringing winter to the Zocalo. Last year, a Harvard environmental center gave DF a major award for creating the Metrobus, which is a step in the right direction, and its noteworthy that Mexico, and possibly Mexico City, will likely host this year’s global environmental summit (which was held in December of last year in Copenhagen). Today, I saw something pretty cool. Pino Suarez, a major “intersection” Metro stop, has a computer center where people can go in and access the Internet. In a country where internet access is extremely overpriced due to the virtual monopoly allowed by the government, allowing access for people at home is a small but meaningful step in a country with such inequality.

Not wanting to be late to the meeting at noon, I hopped in a taxi, and five minutes later, I was at the office, 10 minutes early for our meeting. The whole ride cost $2. It’s nice living in a city where a decent length taxi ride can cost cheaper than the taxi flag fee in Chicago.

My meeting was with a fellow gringo. He has lived here for twenty years and he played a major role in developing many of the city’s biggest office buildings. Two of my best friends have worked in commercial real estate for a few years, so I’ve heard a lot about the industry. This was the first time I had met him in person, and he was really friendly and told me lots of interesting stories about the changes in Mexico over the last twenty years. We talked about Denzel Washington’s “Man on Fire,” and he pointed out how it really was was an extremely realistic look at life in Mexico City. I also highly recommend “Y Tu Mama También” for its ability to show the panorama that is Mexican society.

After the meeting, I went over to a small mall near all these offices, mainly because I wanted to see Sports City, this fancy health club that has a few locations around the city. The place was nice, but apart from having a pool (and, since this is Mexico, several tubs of hair gel in the locker room), it wasn’t any nicer than the gym at my school, which I can use for the rest of my life for free. The Sports City I went to costs $2000 US to join, and $400 US a month. Wow! Definitely a bit more than the $40 a month I paid at X-Sport (and, from what I saw while I was there, the Old Town X-Sport has much better eye candy).

After the tour, around 1:45, I wanted to go to a part of town a bit north of where I was, Interlomas. I’ve only been there once, a week ago went I went to a friend’s apartment there, and I wanted to see it a bit more. The first taxi I got in wasn’t using its meter, and only quoted me a price, something that I refuse to do when I don’t know what the ride should cost. As it turned out, I should have gone with him. Woops. The next taxi used a meter, but told me he was going to double what the meter said at the end of the ride. Here’s why. Even though we were only going a bit further away, we were still going to Mexico State. Mexico City is exactly like Washington, D.C. It’s often called ‘DF’ because the city (Ciudad de Mexico) is also the Federal District (Federal District, DF). Additionally, many people, especially those that live in the provincia call this city simply “Mexico.” Like DC, this city is surrounded by states. Mexico (the country’s official name is the ‘Estados Unidos Mexicanos,’ or ‘United Mexican States’) has 31 states, plus the federal district, which is surrounded by the states of Mexico and Morelos. Wait a minute, a state with the same name as the country’s capital? That’s so dumb! I’m glad the U.S. doesn’t do … oh, wait … burned!

Well, I still wanted to get there, and even though it was only 10 minutes away, by leaving the District, the taxis wanted to double the fare. Having none of this, I finally found a driver that didn’t say anything about double the fair. I made it clear that I wanted to go to “Interlomas,” and, several times during the ride, I made sure we were still going there. His route didn’t seem right.

Sure enough, it wasn’t. At all.

We ended up in Santa Fe, fifteen minutes away from where I started, and not remotely close to Interlomas. Normally, one could blame the accent I hope is improving, but Interlomas and Santa Fe sound nothing alike, and he repeated the I-Word several times. By the time we got there, he said he had gotten the two confused. Taxi drivers here aren’t so good when it comes to knowing where things are, especially outside of the small neighborhoods each one likes to stay in. I got out of the taxi without paying, and he drove away without trying to fight me about it. Santa Fe is a very modern and upscale commercial and residential area on the far west side of town. It has Latin America’s largest mall, and lots of office buildings, but not much else. It’s dead on the weekends, kinda like like the Loop is on the weekends. I had only been to Santa Fe once before, and that was when Boston Consulting Group flew me down there for an interview in April of 2008 (got dinged on that one). I didn’t feel like walking around there, and it’s basically necessary to have a car in that part of town (no Metro stops there … think of the Woodfield Mall area in Schaumburg; though, sadly, Mexico has no IKEA yet (an IKEA that my roomies, Linda and Molly, and I once had a funny trip to). So, I hopped on a bus that I thought would take me back to where I wanted to go, so I hopped off and looked for another taxi. Fortunately, the driver was my age, and was really knowledgable about the city. By this time it was around 3:30pm,

(it’s 9pm and class let out an hour early (w0rd!), but I’m still on campus, trying to finish handwriting this blog. It’s pretty fun handwriting a blog. Often in class, paper tweets get passed back and forth between @alepalestino and @vikingdrewby)

and I just wanted to get back home. So, we quickly got on the Periferico (a highway that I live very close to and use a lot, it encircles Mexico City) and headed south for the 30 minute drive home (thankfully there wasn’t traffic at this point). In six months here, I've never seen things so clear. I was finally able to see the snow-capped volcanoes in the surrounding states. I didn’t feel like going over to Tec for lunch like I usually do, because I then would have to go back to my apartment before going back to Tec for class at 6:30. The dining options close to my house are rather limited, a few women run mini-restaurants from their kitchens but I can’t say I’m a fan of those.

So, facing limited options, I did what any good American would do: I went to McDonald’s. There is one a very short walk from my house. I don’t go there too often, yet somehow I have gone there twice in the last three days. My preceding visit occurred Tuesday after a really good workout. Corey Lambert was happy to hear that day that I ordered his all time favorite food, Chicken McNuggets. Today, since it was the McTrio Del Dia, I went with the Quarter Pounder with Cheese Combo. Solid choice. After that, I headed over to El Globo, a bakery chain around the city. I got some chocolate something or other and enjoyed it with a glass of milk when I got home. It was glorious. I rested for a bit and then headed over to Tec at 6:30 for class. I somehow got good grades last semester, and I like my 4 classes again. The other students in the program are all cool and nice. My program has a summer exchange with Georgetown and Harvard. I’m not sure if I’ll do those, but, having said that, 1) it’d be cool to spend a summer in Boston with my hermana Erin, 2) it’d be fun to be an exchange student in my own country, and 3)it’d be a fantastical ego boost to know that the Harvard stickers on my parents’ cars aren’t technically just for my sister anymore.

Well, that was my day. Time to take my $1.50 taxi home, call my parents, and finish the night watching the second to last episode of “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.” I really like Conan and I hope he can find a new show.

DONE! If you made it this far, I sincerely thank you.

¡Que te vayas bien wey!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Back in the EUM, Don't Know How Lucky I Am, Back in the EU, Back in the EU, Back in the EUM

I got back to Mexico City this afternoon after an amazing month at home. Cold today, but the weather forecast for the next two weeks is very nice, a while in the mid60s before regular highs in the 70s. Yo me gusta! Classes start onday, the semester ends in the middle of May. Like I mentioned, this is my 2nd of 3 semesters to get the master's. Certainly will be job searching some. I really hope to move to Roma/Condesa/Polanco very soon, hopefully something good will work out because I am so bored living by Tec!

Upon arriving at the Mexico City airport today, I had to push the stoplight to see if my bags would be searched. I got green, which meant they wouldn't be. I was so happy I won!

I really hope everyone's year is going well so far. I'm really gonna miss everyone back in Chicagoland.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Mexico City Blog - Heading back to DF soon

One of the girls in my program, Alejandra Palestino, has a new blog. She started last semester full-time like me, and she also works full-time at Profeco, the Mexican consumer protection organization.

Here's the link:

I'm heading back to Mexico City on Saturday. Assuming I stay full-time, I'll graduate from my master's in economics and public policy program in three semesters, so this is the start of my second semester (my final semester would be this fall). This semester starts Monday the 11th. I still hope to find something this semester to keep me busy during the daytimes.

I've had an amazing time in Naperville, lots of fun with friends and families, parties, meals, eating out, watching lots of sports, some shopping and going and playing lots of basketball with the old gang of idiots at Edward's. I've also been doing some volunteering Alexi Giannoulias. He is the treasurer for the State of Illinois, and is running for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when he left for some other job (I can't remember what that job was). The primaries are on February 2nd, and as of now have a lead in the polls for the Democratic primary. If we win that primary, the general election is November 2nd against the winner of the Republican primary. The Republican candidate is very likely to be Mark Kirk, a U.S. Congressman from the northern suburbs with a very distinguished record in the Naval reserves; additionally, he is very popular in the conservative movement. The Democrats currently hold this seat, but Roland Burris, the man who was nominated to to temporarily replace Obama and currently holds that seat, is not seeking election. I expect this will be a very close race in the fall. Anyways, this is the first political campaign I've worked on, and it's been a good experience. I'll continue to help this week before I head back, and hope to be able to continue to help the campaign moving forward, even while I'm in Mexico.

Being home has made me really appreciate the great relationships I have here in Chicagoland. It's really cool to be somewhere new and experience new things and new cultures, and grow as a person and gain new skills. But I was really lonely at times in Mexico and definitely realized how long it takes in places to make new relationships, especially when moving somewhere entirely on your own. One of my good friends is teaching English in Korea and he's gone through a lot of the same things I have. I'm open to staying in Mexico for a while if I get a good job, and if I feel more comfortable in terms of friendships and my overall happiness. And, I truly love living in a warm weather place, and I hope to be able to do it for the rest of my life. But that also means being away from so many great people here in Chicago. Hopefully some balance can work out in Mexico, or anywhere warm, where I can be happy and have a good job. And if not, there's always home. I'm more than blessed with what I have in Chicago, -16 wind chills notwithstanding.
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