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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Observations - 2nd Edition

I continued to keep notes of more observations after my last post and I received a few responses from people, adding their perspective.   So, I might as well stay on the same track by continuing the theme of observations I (and others) have had during my adventure here in EC.

BTW...a friend of mine, George, provided some good entries.  He used to live in Florida, moved to Cuenca, got horribly sick (not related to Cuenca), spent weeks in the hospital, nearly died, got out of the hospital and journied to Houston for specialized hospital care, had a new heart valve installed, changed his air and oil filters, damn neared died AGAIN (had a 20% chance) but is now out of the hospital and getting better in his new home.  Cost?  Nearly ONE MILLION dollars!!!   SHEESH!!!   What a drama queen!!!  (just kidding George).

Ok...on to the list:
  • Bathtubs are a rarity in homes here.   Big showers, though, are not.   My house has 3 showers...no tubs.
  • Hot-tubs are nearly non-existent
  • A large majority of houses do not have light fixtures.   They have dangling light bulbs.  Drives me nuts, even in newly constructed homes, to see a wire coming out of the ceiling with a light bulb on the end of it....that's it.  UGLLLLY.   And, to make matters worse, incandescent light bulbs are banned here.  Therefore, the light 'fixture' is made uglier (if that is possible) with those swirly flourescent bulbs that, in addition to being ugly themselves, give off the WORST lighting. 
  • You're lucky if you have more than one electrical outlet in a room.  Two, you're doing good.  More than that is a rare exception.
  • 98% of all homes do not have any heating built in.  Not even canned wall heaters or baseboard.   NADA.    When it gets chilly, there's almost nothing you can do aside from putting another layer of clothes on or throwing a blanket over you while watching TV.  I've looked everywhere.  The only heaters I can find to add to the house are small portable 1500 watt dealybobs.   I bought one...an oil-filled radiator style on wheels... and it heats an area about....ohhhh....6 feet in diameter.  And, those suckers drive your electricity bill up!!!
  • Speaking of heat, it is very stylish and common to have one or more fireplaces built into the house.  BUT, they are 9.9 times out of 10, strictly for looks only.  They are not functional.  I have a big fireplace, a nice fire box, but stick your head in and look up and about 2 feet up is a 'ceiling' of concrete.  No hole extending to the roof to let out smoke.  Purely cosmetic.   UGH   You can see chimneys all over the city but nary a puff of smoke coming out of them.
  • Hot water heaters like we're used to back home....the big 50 gallon kind...are dinosaurs here.  Nearly everyone uses 'tankless' hot water heaters that produce hot water instantly when called.    You never run out of hot water because there's no tank to drain, and, when there's no tank, you're not burning $$ keeping a tank full of water hot all the time even when you're not using it.   I don't know why these haven't caught on long ago in the US.   They're pretty common in Europe, too.   And, they take up a lot less space (about the size of a suitcase).
  • You like pork?  Well, drive down any number of streets here in Cuenca and out near the sidewalk, you'll see people roasting pigs...the WHOLE HOG...head, hooves, tail and all.   Walk up, place your order, and plop down and enjoy some juicy pig pickens with the entire carcass rotating in front of you.
  • Buses pretty much don't stop...they coast to pick you up and let you off.  And, you can wave them down almost anywhere on the street along with the pre-defined marked bus stops.  Cost .25 cents
  • The EC government passed a law a few years ago allowing gays to get married.  Interesting, the country is 95% Catholic (which is the primary reason most gays are closeted here)...whereas...in the USA, which one would think is far more progressive and it's not as heavily Catholic, there is no such federal right.   Odd.
  • Jaywalking is perfectly ok as well as crossing against the light.  If there's no traffic coming, why not?
  • There are no RV motorhomes here
  • There are no travel/camping trailers here
  • There are no single-wide or double-wide mobile homes here
  • There are no manufactured homes here
  • If a family owns a toy, it's usually a motorcycle or ATV
  • Right of Way is Left of Way here...the car on your left has the Right of Way.  Confused?
  • Roundabouts are everywhere here.   They are very effective.  No lights to hold up traffic....traffic keeps moving, albeit it may appear chaotic, it works.
  • Even in new construction, it is very standard to have defined space for a maid's bedroom and own bath.   The bedroom is very small, large enough to fit a single bed and a bit of space around it.   The bathroom for the maid typically does not include a hot water tap at the sink and the shower (again, no tub) typically has an electric shower head (sometimes dubbed the suicide shower) that barely warms the incoming cold water.  Quite frankly, I don't want a maid living in my place, so I converted 'her' bedroom into a storage room and 'her' bathroom (which is outside the house) to the one I run to when I get out of the car and have to pee but can't wait to get the front door unlocked.
  • No such thing as you wheeling your own groceries to the car.    Grocery carts are prevented from leaving the store.  At the checkout, the goods are bagged and placed in another specialized cart by the box-boy and he/she will cart everything to your car and load your trunk...for a .25 or .50 cent tip.  ZERO wayward carts strewn about the parking lots like back home.
  • Very few places will take a credit card.   Generally, only larger stores.  Otherwise, it's cash, or debit card...sometimes not even a debit card.   And, forget trying to use anything larger than a $20 bill.  No one will take anything larger.  I paid for my furniture ($2,000) all with 20's. 
  • Sorry, no self-serve gas here.   It must be pumped by an attendant.   Hey...they have a job!!
  • Speaking of gas stations, the air and water dispensers are FREE!!!    So THERE....take THAT USA!!!
  • I'm taking Spanish classes.  The alphabet is interesting.   Yep, even that is different.   WE have 30 letters in the alphabet!!   'CH', 'LL', 'RR', and 'N' (with the squiggly-do over the top) are added to the standard 26.    Now, get this, 'B' is pronounced 'Bay' and 'V' is not pronounced like 'Vee'.  It is pronounced like a 'B' (Bay).  Soooooo....how do you differentiate between a 'B' and a 'V' when you are telling someone how to spell 'Victoria' or 'Belagosi'?    Well, for 'B' you say 'bay grande'.  For 'V' you say 'bay pequena'.    Got it?   Now, explain it to ME!!
  • I mentioned before that all the lawn mowing of the parks, street medians, sidewalk strips, etc are done by a crew of weedwhackers annnnnnd the cuttings are hand-raked...YESSSS....you read correctly.  Can you imagine?  I have NEVER seen a lawn mower, much less a riding one, used to keep the public greens manicured.   There's more.   Recently, I saw crews working on the weeds growing in the cracks of walkways, and those clumps that creep and overgrow their bounds.  They were using simple hoes and picks to manually and laboriously conquer the weed demons.  No chemicals.   In fact, you can't go to a hardware store (for example) and buy from an array of weed killers like you can at Home Depot or Lowes.   The only people/stores that can sell chemicals such as that are those who carry the proper license.   For example, nurseries typically have chemicals for obvious reasons, but they can't (or won't) sell it to the public.  Chemicals are tightly controlled here.
  • I've seen only a few fire stations in the entire city of Cuenca.   What's going to burn?  Everything is made of concrete or brick!   Sure, the couch and drapes may go up in the flames, but there's little other fuel for the fire to find to bring down an entire house.
THE END

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Observations - 1st Edition

- Gosh, I'm very tardy with this post.  Not that I have a schedule I must adhere to.  Nothing is a 'must' here in EC.  I've been pretty busy lately, and when I'm not, I've been lazy.   No photos this time, sorry.  

Being an Analyst in my former profession, I analyze everything to death.   I have to be careful with my Ecuadorian friends because I tend to make a lot of comparisons between the USA and EC.   What we do, what we have THERE and what we do and what we have HERE.    I make it a point of reiterating I'm not saying one is better than the other, I'm just making an observation of the differences.   If you've only lived in one place, there's nothing to compare to.  I've lived in Washington and Califiornia, in the country sticks and the beeg ceety, and traveled all over Europe, a bit in Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean.  I love to observe the culture, lifestyle, laws (or lack thereof), habits, and character of the people wherever I am.

Here's a random list of observations I've had in the 7 months I've lived here in Ecuador.
  • There are virtually no drive-thru fast food joints.  No Jack in the Box, Carls Jr, McD's, Taco Hell, or Arby's.
  • It's challenging to find any coffee that resembles what we used to order up on a daily basis at Starbucks back home.  Once in a blue moon, you'll find someone who serves a cafe latte, but forget about any flavors or special ordering.
  • Baking Soda is next-to-non-existent.  Bicarbonado in a small plastic bag can be found at specialized spice tiendas (stores).
  • Kitchens in homes here are purely functional.  Cabinets, countertops, and appliances are there for a job, not for looks.  Kitchens are not designed to be a social gathering place or a status symbol.  Dishwashers are extremely rare, even in new construction.  Kinda like a toilet.  It's there for pooping and peeing...not to ooh and ahhh (though you might find yourself uttering those sounds while pooping or peeing).  But, I digress.
  • People seemingly don't care about noise.  Constant horn-honking, incessant dog-barking, car alarms running rampid (or chirping when turned on /off) is just part of everybody's 'normal'.  NOT MINE!!
  • Everyone is pretty kick-back.  Long lines at the bank?  No problemo.  No one is in a hurry or stressed out.
  • Dogs don't have collars, or ID tags, and they wander anywhere and everywhere they damn well please.  They are very adept at maneuvering through all the dangers of roaming free.   They are rarely bathed or groomed.   There are verrrrrry interesting combinations of mutts here....like german shepard and chihuahuha.  Freaky.
  • You are not allowed to turn right while the light is red...even if there is no traffic coming.
  • Drivers regularly drive through stop signs.   Frequently, even red lights.
  • Rarely do people just say 'hi'.   99% will address you formally "Good Morning"  "Good Afternoon" "Good Evening"....but in Spanish of course.  You always have to be aware of the time of day so you know which expression to use.
  • Burger King and KFC are the most common recognizable fast food joints in EC...typically associated with a mall.  McDonalds is a rarity.  (thank goodness)
  • There is no house-to-house mail delivery service in EC.  NO JUNK MAIL!!! 
  • I have yet to hear the sound of someone slamming on their brakes and the resulting screeching of tires.
  • Gyms, the few that exist, are small, not sprawling, glamorous complexes.
  • There are maybe 5-6 large supermarkets that serve the entire city of Cuenca....a city of over 500,000....made up of 2 or 3 companies. 
  • Property taxes are low.  Approximately $100 - $200 a YEAR (vs $5,600 I pay back home).  And, they go DOWN the longer you stay in your home. 
  • Out of gas (for hot water, cooking , etc)?  Just listen for one of many small trucks loaded down with a hundred 70lb tanks driving slowly thru the neighborhood beeping his horn.  Run to the front door and wave him down.  Give him your old tank and he'll give you a full tank.  $2.  I guess if his horn stops working, he's outa business.
  • So far, I have not had to produce one prescription for medications I take.  I walk into any pharmacy and tell them what I want, buy it, and walk out the door with product in hand.
  • Whether old house or new house, every single freakin door has keys.  Every bedroom, office, bathroom...HAS A FREAKING KEY!!!   That's one of the first things I got rid of.  I swapped out all my interior doorknobs with simple privacy locks that don't require a key.   I must've thrown away 20 keys!!!
  • There doesn't appear to be a maximum limit on how many people can be on ONE motorcycle.  It's all too common I see a male driver with a young child between him and the handebars, with wife behind him, with baby in wifes arms....all without helmets.
  • Speaking of motorcycles, for some unknown reason, it is extremely rare to see a motorcycle larger than 250cc.   Almost all the shops sell 125cc, 200cc, and 250cc.   Even the cops ride 250's.  To give a perspective, my 'road hog' I had back in the USA was 1,300cc !!
  • Chevy Grand Vitaras are probably the most common car in EC.  They are assembled here in EC.  Try counting all that you see on the roads while out running errands and you'll quickly be into the 3 figures.
  • Regular gas almost never fluctuates from the $1.48 (a gallon) price.  Super generally bounces around from $2 to $2.20.
  • Latino men LOVE their hair.  Whether they're going to be digging ditches or work in an office, their hair is PERFECT.
  • Professional dress is still the requirement in the office.  Suits/ties for men.  No such thing as 'casual day'...or, on the rare occasion there is, it's slacks and dress shirt.
  • In Cuenca, we surpassed our average annual rainfall of 29" by JUNE!!!!  We are STILL having torrential rainfalls.
  • Very seldom do I see anyone simply panhandling without anything in exchange.  Everyone here seems to WORK (read 'earn') the money they receive, even if it means standing in the middle of an intersection and bouncing a ball on their head, juggling swords, or twirling colorful flags....then walking between the rows of cars to receive tips (if any)...smiling and thanking their audience.
  • Kids play freely and without fear in the streets, yards, parks, and neighborhoods.  They walk home from school with their friends, unaccompanied by an adult. 
  • School busses are generally the size of a VW bus.  They are yellow.  They don't have swing-out STOP signs.  You are not required to stop behind a school bus loading/unloading students.
  • There is no such thing as 'don't talk to strangers' here.
  • 99% own small cars and/or small pickups.  They don't own enormous gas-guzzling behemoths, but you'd think they would what with all the hills, rough dirt roads and such that screams for a 4x4 and big powerful engines.   No, they keep things simple.   I guess the big, domineering, ego trucks are only for those city dwellers in the USA, that never see the light of day of a rough hilly road, but need to at least fantasize of the idea.   But, I digress.
  • It's ALLLLL about families here.  BOTH parents dote on their children, young or old.  Kids WANT to be with their parents...even into their 20's and 30's.  Kids show a great deal of respect for their parents and grand parents.  It's very common to see young adults walking arm-in-arm with their Moms.  It seems as though everyone has kids-in-tow here...everywhere you go.  Thank goodness, it's rare to see and hear a brat screaming and flailing about because he/she wants something the parent won't give.  Kids are spoiled here..but with affection...not with materialistic things.
  • Speaking of...you're hard-pressed to find any home or yard scattered with debris in the form of abandoned toys.  Dunno why.  Maybe parents don't buy that many for them.  Kids seem to be content with a stick, chalk, a soccer ball, or whatever else they find and make use of.
  • Soccer is KING here.  Everywhere you look, kids and adults are kicking the ball around in yards, parks, wherever there is space.
  • Pedestrians do NOT have the right of way....cars do.  It's so strange to see pedestrians purposely stop to let a car pass, whereas back home it would be the other way around...pedestrians would flip you off if you hindered their walking.  Sometimes I'll stop to let a pedestrian cross and the expression on their face is HUH???...then they express a 'Thank you' and go along their way.  I think it makes better sense here...it keeps traffic flowing.  People take responsibility for their OWN actions.
  • Ice cream is a normal, everyday treat here.
  • Good luck getting anything done between 1pm and 3pm.  Either the store is closed, or if they're open, the person you need is invariably out to lunch...come back after 3pm.
  • Peanut butter is not a commonly purchased product here.  I have YET to find one peanut butter cookie to buy.   WAAGGGHHH!!!!
  • Eggs and milk (in cartons) are on the dry shelves in markets...not in coolers.  Markets sell very little in the way of frozen foods and next-to-none in the way of pre-packaged frozen meals.
  • Haircuts cost $2 to $4.
  • Need your car cleaned?    A manual car wash, including pressure washing the engine, and underbody of the car (a guy descends into a pit below the car and manually sprays the underside), wheel wells spic-n-span, vacuumed, interior wiped down and treated, windows cleaned, exterior dried...all of which entails about 45 minutes of work.   $8.50
  • The average shop rate at a dealer mechanic is $25 an hour...versus over $100 back home.  Far less, of course, if you go to one of a zillion neighborhood mechanics shops.
  • Speaking of mechanics, you ARE allowed in the shop and you CAN crawl under the car (or go down into the pit) with the mechanic (with their approval, of course).  No fear here!!
  • Doctors give you their home phone #.
  • There are no sprawling (or multi-level) parking lots at the airport.  There is NO overnight parking, either.  There's one small parking lot to pick up your family/friend.  Otherwise, taxi's are used.
  • In Quito, you can walk right up to the Presidential Palace (equivilant of White House).  The busy street out front is maybe 50 ft from the front.
  • Everywhere you go, there are armed guards (not pistols in holsters...but holding a rifle in front of them) posted at the front doors, whether it be a bank or a pharmacy or appliance store.   It isn't because it's unsafe, it's to squash any notion of robbing the place.   It's very effective.  And, they actually say hello to you and welcome you.
THTHTHTHTHTHAT's ALL FOLKS!!!

About Me

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Cuenca, Azuay, Ecuador
This is all about my transition from an American lifestyle and culture to my newest adventure, life in Cuenca and greater Ecuador. I'll be recapping some of my day-to-day experiences (and mishaps) to highlight what it's like to live here.

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