Saturday, August 1, 2009

Santiago (continued)

On the plus side:

  • Excellent public transport - easy to use and navigate, and remarkably cheap (about 70 cents to ride anywhere on the system - bus or subway)
  • Excellent supermarkets - well-stocked and well-staffed, and people are extremely helpful
  • Excellent symphony orchestra - after the rigors of Thursday night, last night's concert (Mozart's overture to "The Magic Flute", Richard Strauss's concerto for oboe and small orchestra, and Brahms's second symphony) was extremely comforting. And the price ($14 for an orchestra seat, fourth row center) was certainly right.
  • Generally low cost of living - in general, prices for food and general commodities seem to be pegged at roughly 60 to 70% of those in the U.S. so, while it's not as cheap here as in Buenos Aires, it's certainly very affordable. And certain things (movie tickets, symphony tickets, museum entry) are markedly cheaper than at home.
  • People are extremely friendly and helpful. With the notable exception of the bastard who tried to steal my camera, and that one waitress on thursday evening, everyone has been extraordinarily helpful.

Marginal to neutral:

  • The school, I'd have to say, is not quite what I had expected. It may be that I have hit it at an all-time enrolment low (the number of students in total seems to be no more than about 20, 90% of whom are Brazilian), but the level of instruction has not been all that impressive. As an example, I really could have done without the hour and twenty minutes class time spent on punctuation exercises on Wednesday. Not that comma placement is not important, but it hardly makes for riveting class time. My other minor gripe (which I am assured will be remedied next week) is that I ended up having the same professor for all six hours of daily class time this week, which is hardly optimal. There also appears to be a complete dearth of facilities such as books or DVDs to borrow - every other school I've attended at least had the rudiments of a lending library and other resources for students.
    The mitigating factor is that all of the staff are genuinely nice and very responsive, so that it feels churlish to criticize. It seems likely that limited enrolment is having an effect on the available resources.

Firmly in the negative column:

  • I'm sorry, but there is no way around this. East Berlin - meet your match. This has to be the physically ugliest city I have ever been in. Offered as supporting evidence - I can think of no other city I've been in where there appear to be no postcards on sale. I've scanned multiple kiosks throughout the city, and postcards of Santiago are conspicuous by their absence. I mean, that's got to be considered pretty weird, right? Other than the Plaza de Armas, right in the city center, vistas are pretty grim, though there are occasional uplifting views of the Andes in the distance. This afternoon, I went out with my camera, and here are some of the resulting photos. I don't think I was choosing unduly unrepresentative views:

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This is the apartment building where I live. Let's just say, it's functional.

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Not the guy who tried to bite me. But it could be his cousin.

Am I irredeemably shallow for wishing for something a little more aesthetically pleasing? Possibly. But so be it.

But never mind. Tomorrow it's on to Valparaiso for the day, which I'm assured is far more picturesque.

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