Communal Washing

There’s one universal problem around the world. It seems in every country I’ve lived in – Spain, Chile and China – where I’ve lived in shared accommodation, there’s been problems with washing clothes. Here are some of them.

Broken washing machines

There’s always at least one faulty washing machine, the one that turns your whites yellow, or is just constantly filled with dark, dirty water. Because they’re communal washing machines, nobody will pay for them to get fixed and the admin departments are also reluctant to get people in to fix these machines.

Washing peak time

Most people have free time at the weekends, and what does that leave time for? Yes, your washing. So at the weekend, you have to get in really early if you want to find a working washing machine.

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Drying clothes on chairs outside in Chile

Drying problems (1) no air flow

Not everywhere has suitable outdoor places to hang washing. Some places I’ve lived in haven’t had washing lines, so I’ve dried my clothes on chairs outside in the sun, hanging over slats of wood by the fire and hanging precariously by coathangers hanging off the curtain rail. When you’re living in a place with bad ventilation and no air moving around to dry the clothes, it’s also difficult, so you may have to use a hairdryer.

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Drying clothes by the fire in the Chilean winter

Drying problems (2) no space

Sometimes because of the washing peak, there actually aren’t any places for you to hang your washing. The clothes horses are broken and already being used, the banisters have been hogged by someone drying sheets so what can you do? Be creative and find other banisters on the staircase, use the backs of chairs, coathangers hanging from your door handles, find some string to tie between two trees outside…all of these methods require effort and thinking though.

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Hanging clothes from my curtain rail in China

Clothes thieves

No matter where I’ve been, I’ve always encountered clothes thieves, and that’s what led me to write this blog post today. In Chile, I had a pair of jeans and some shorts stolen at the same time. In Spain, my t-shirts would disappear off the shared rooftop balcony. And here in China, I’ve had a dress stolen.

Clothes thieves confuse me in a number of ways:

  • when do they steal the items, when they’re semi dry, or completely dry?
  • do they go through people’s drying laundry looking for a new tshirt or dress, or do they just see it, grab it and go?
  • now, I always wash my clothes inside out, and the inside of my dress was dull and black, so why did they take it?
  • do they plan to wear my clothes? and if so, what if they meet me? that dress was from the UK, so I will know it’s mine if I see it
  • why is is such a global thing?

So that’s it… you spend all this time traipsing each floor trying to find a working machine that isn’t being used, then you have to find a place to hang your clothes to dry and hope that someone doesn’t move them when they’re still damp (another thing which I won’t go on about today). And if you’re lucky enough to be able to wash and dry your clothes, you still have to be aware of pesky thieves, who will steal your jeans, t-shirts and dresses!

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Everyone has the missing socks problem, right?

I can’t blame laundry thieves for my missing socks though, as I always hang them in my bedroom!

 

Sneaky Chinese and my first flag raising ceremony.

I’ve found that my Chinese friends can be incredibly sneaky. I think because I’m a foreigner they want to treat me well and look after me. I often go out for meals in China as I cannot cook food in my dormitory and the canteen closes at 6pm. If I go out to eat with my Thai, English or Korean friends, we’ll always split the bill between how ever many of us have eaten. But I’ve found when I’ve eaten with Chinese people they often sneak off and pay for the meal, without telling me. So when its time to leave I ask them to get the bill and they say they’ve already paid…and I don’t know how I always miss them paying. We’re all students, so I don’t know why they feel obliged to pay for my meal too. Also, Chinese people’s ideas about prices are different to mine.

Coming from the UK, where a meal out may cost £10+ in China I find eating out extremely cheap, an average meal out costing about £3. After they’ve paid I always try to give them some money towards it, but this is often met with hostility as they seem to enjoy the fact that they’ve invited me for a meal. The funny thing is, often its my idea to go out for dinner or I invited them at the last minute but they end up paying! Of course I feel guilty but I don’t know how to deal with this situation in China. In the future shall I sneak off to the “toilet” and pay or is this rude? Do I tell them at the beginning of the meal that we’re going to go Dutch? Its hard to decide, any advice is appreciated!

Yesterday it was the university sports day and the exchange students were invited/coerced (it was a 7am start and some people only went for the free tshirt) into participating in the opening ceremony. We hadn’t been told what we’d be doing, just to arrive at the Minxing building at 7am.

I arrived on time and nobody from my class was there yet, there were some other students and my teacher. My teacher found me an incredibly attractive pink tshirt and then told me to take one of the international flags that were leaning on the wall. The British one had already been taken so I found the Spanish one. I opened the flag and the crest was upside down….oh China! As we lined up for the parade, my classmate who had the British flag was summoned to be the flag bearer of the department flag. We didn’t want a random Korean (no offense) holding the British flag so I put Spain back (lo siento) and held the British flag.

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We walked to the athletics track and there were hundreds of people in the gallery. We walked around the track, waving our flags and the crowd went wild for us. Foreigners are still pretty foreign in China and I don’t think they’d seen so many foreign people in the same place at the same time. Me and my classmates felt like we were at the Olympics, the atmosphere was great and everyone was very excited to see us.

After all the different university departments had done their lap of honour all of a sudden everybody stood up and faced left. A Chinese man told us to look so we all turned to face the flag posts as the Chinese flag was raised to the national anthem. I really like the Chinese national anthem and although I’ve heard it before as the flags were raised for a Chinese gold medallist at the paralympics in 2012, this time it felt more noble, patriotic and symbolic. I guess because I was surrounded by Chinese people and there were soldiers in white with guns and gloves raising the flag. I was actually disappointed that there wasn’t a gun salute at the end, cmon China, be more fun!

After the national anthem, the school anthem was played as the Qingdao university flags were raised. The school anthem is a phenomena I first heard of in Chile where at every special event and most assemblies both the national anthem and the school anthem were played. I wish that I had had those experiences at school, even though as a child I would have thought a school song was boring and pointless, I think it shows the identity and community spirit of a school.

I also want to mention how I believe that Chile is the most patriotic nation I’ve lived in. Within only a few months I’d heard the national anthem dozens of times in both Spanish and Mapudungun (one of the indigenous languages). I can still remember the words now and I will always remember one time in assembly the national anthem was playing. The children in year two were pouring all their energy into singing, they had their hands on their little hearts, their heads held high and they were singing with so much passion. I miss you Chile!

Tomorrow I leave for Beijing and Xi’an as we have a week off university. I’m very excited but still haven’t packed!

Patitas the Internado Dog

Patitas

This is Patitas (Paws), he is a street dog of CholChol who has chosen the William Wilson girls internado as his home. He comes on weekdays for his breakfast, dinner and tea with his friends, and I’m not sure what he does on weekends, I’ve never really seen him around. The girls don’t always eat all of their bread, so what’s left over gets given to Patitas. In return for food, he protects the girls from the ‘dangerous’ people in CholChol – ie men on bikes, the dustman, and men in general. When he sees any of the above mentioned outside the internado he will bark, growl and chase after them until they go away. This frustrates the men (the binman in particular) and poor Patitas normally gets a few stones thrown at him in the process.

Patitas is well loved by the girls, and a few of the girls have brought in proper dog food for him, rather than just leftover bread. Kathy is a real dog lover, and she asked the inspectors (the peple who look after the children in the boarding house) if we could build a kennel for him, so that he’d be warmer and so that he’d be the official internado dog. She said that he protects them, and she wanted to give him something in return, and that she hates to see him cold and lonely.

Last year (before the summer holidays) Patitas was much healthier, he had a spring in his step, his eyes had a sparkle to them, and his fur was in much better condition. Before the summer I had my doubts that he’d survive without the girl’s bread….However, he spent the summer down at the CholChol river, where people camp out selling sopaipillas, and other typical Chilean fast food. I was at the river with my Mum, and I saw Patitas and shouted out
“Mum! Look, it’s Patitas, he’s alive! And look at his belly, he’s been eating well. Isn’t he so cute? I’m so happy he’s still alive!”
My Mum had never seen or heard me be so compassionate about a dog before, because before I came to Chile I was super scared of dogs.

Now that it’s winter, and the weather’s getting colder, and Patitas doesn’t have his kennel, he’s getting ill. His fur is looking worse, his eyes are dark and closed (one was a bit pussy the other day too). He sits on the ground shivering, and his legs are just skin and bones. He’s looking really ill, and I hope he doesn’t die.

I often wish he was a bit prettier and had less fleas so that I could stroke his ears and ruffle what’s left of his fur – but he’s an ugly dog, let’s be honest. But at the end of the day, I respect him, thank him, and am starting to love him.

Climbing Volcano Villarrica

So, on [insert date] I went with Rachel, Eadie, Sahar and Chiara to climb the active volcano Villarrica, located in the 9th region of Chile. I really wasn’t prepared for the volcano climb, the biggest hill I’ve climbed being the one on Coll which is about 100m high. The summit of Villarrica is 1400m! I thought it’d be like a long country walk, I didn’t really think about the ice, snow, steepness, rocks or anything. I also imagined that when (if) we reached the summit that when we looked down into the crater, it would be full of thick orange lava, ready to burst out at any minute. I thought it’d be freezing walking up, because of the snow, but then I thought that at the top it would be roasting hot cos of the lava.Smokinnnn

How wrong was I? Haha

We arrived as far as the road went in a minibus, and looked up at the summit, and it looked really far, but not that far. I was ready for the challenge, although when the guide said it would take us 4-5 hours to get up I was a bit shocked.

We decided to take the cable car up the first bit, cos the guides recommended it, saying we’d need strength to reach the top.

We started walking up, seeing other groups up ahead of us, and also a group behind us, which quickly caught up with us and took over. We got to the first break stop and I was so tired! Because I thought it’d be cold, I was wearing 6 tshirts, a hoody and a coat, so I had to start taking off some of my layers.

And the adventure carried on, us slowly waking up, with pickaxes to help our balance, stopping for breaks, me taking off layers, eating manjar sandwiches and listening to Daddy Yankee for some inspiration to get to the top.

Eventually we reached the top, and much to my disappointment there was no bubbling lava, only some clouds of smoke, and a sulphur smell. The views were really good, we could see the lake, the little town of Pucon, and also other volcanoes, Llaima and Sierra Nevada. The day was really clear and we were really lucky with the weather.

Volcán Villarrica

Then, to get down we had to slide down on plastic seats and slide down the snow, using the pickaxe as a brake, which didn’t work very well. I don’t particularly like speed, falling, snow, and being out of control of my own body. This activity involved all of the above, and I was scared and didn’t like it.

Then when the snow ran out, we had to walk down on the rocks, which was equally as scary. I fell down so many times, once falling onto a bigass rock on my bum/spine bone, which hurt. Then I was a bit shook up, so the rest of the descent I held the guide’s hand, so if we fell, we’d fall together.

I was so proud of myself though, when I got up and down in one piece. When I got down to the bottom and looked up at what I’d just climbed it was a real sense of achievement. I was super tired, and wanted a Mars bar to celebrate.

Campo Fridays

So on Friday’s, me and Rachel are now working with the municipilidad (CholChol council) going out into the countryside with a couple of guys from UDEL. The first week we went out with Oscar and Yasmin, and we went to a meeting in Coyinco (the countryside is divided into different sectors with different names). The meeting was about the lack of water, because they do not have running water in this area. They take water from the river, or from a well, but there is not much for them, and not enough for them to be able to use it for commercial use – growing crops for example.

The president of the group was a very outspoken man, and he was angry with the council, because the water problem has been present for a number of years, and each year they’ve been given bits of paper, they’ve had visitors come and see them, but there’s been any solutions to their problem. This time, Oscar and Yasmin came to do a survey about the water situation, and we helped out. The man who we surveyed had such a small amount of water, he didn’t have enough for personal use, let alone commercial. Without water, his family of 6 is suffering.

It was shocking for me, because althought I knew that in Chile there is poverty, and I knew that people in the country live in basic conditions, I didn’t realise that people right on my doorstep were living like this. I wasn’t aware of the gravity of the situation.

Last week, because Rachel was in Santiago, I went on my own, and in the morning I went out with Oscar and Rodrigo to two sectors called Quelimanzano and Malalche Quelimanzano for monthly meetings. On the way to arrive to these places I saw the most beautiful views, of untouched nature, and it was really pretty. The roads are dirt tracks with lots of bumps, and hills. At one point we were up high, and I could see 5 volcanoes as clear as day.

In the meetings, Rodrigo and Oscar talked to the country people about the different opportunities there are for them to make money. For example, there is a company who is looking for people to grow pine trees for a contract of 3 years. The ins and outs of the contract were discussed, and the countrymen asked questions. Also, Rodrigo is a very scientific man, and he was explaining to the countrymen why you should rotate crops, he talked about acid rain, the acidity of the soil, pH, how to get rid of rabbits etc.

I really enjoyed it, because I like science and haven’t learnt any whilst being in Chile, and I was fascinated. Also, I got to learn more about the day to day life of the people in the country, and how different issues can affect them. For example, we also talked about diseases that plants and animals can get, and how you have to get animals vaccinated, and if there’s a dying plant you have to take it out and look at the roots to find out the problem.

A lot of work goes on behind the scenes that I had never thought about. If the animals and crops die, what will they eat? If all their wheat gets a disease, how will they reach the quota that the company wants them to produce? If the summer is really dry, where will they get water from to water their plants? All these things I had never considered, but for them this is their way of life, and all these if’s and but’s are really important for them.

For me, living in a city I’ve always been guaranteed that in any weather, any time of the year I can go to Tescos and find bread, tomatoes, cheese etc on the shelves. But here, you’ll only eat tomatoes in the summer when they’re in season. If you want cheese, you have to milk the cow, make the cheese and leave it for X amount of time before being able to eat it. Even in CholChol, the village, if I go to the supermarket there will pretty much always be things that I want available, but for the 5000 people who live in the country it’s not so simple. Although they all live in the comuna of CholChol, if their only method of transport is a horse, how will they get a sack of potatoes back to their house?

I really like my campo (country) Fridays, because it provokes all these questions in my mind, and I’m learning so much about an aspect of life that I’d never experienced back in the UK, and probably won’t ever experience again.

My First Christmas Overseas

So I’ve already opened my presents, and eaten my christmas dinner, and it’s only 2pm on Christmas Day. This is because, for once, the Chileans celebrate something early. Last night, on Christmas Eve, we went to mass at 10pm, which lasted until 11.30pm. Before we went to mass, the girls left Santa a bowl of biscuits and a glass of coke. Then, when we returned home, Santa Claus had been, drank the coke, eaten some of the biscuits, and most importantly delivered the presents!

Here in Chile, most children only get one present from Santa Claus, it’s not like in the UK where all the kids are forever wanting more things to open. Also, the Chileans open their presents with a lot of delicacy, and care… rather than the ripping method I’m used to. So we sat and watched the children open their My Little Pony aeroplane, and their Barbie car. Me and Rachel recieved Mapuche earrings, a diary and a scooby keyring (scooby as in the scooby strings).

Then, after we’d opened the presents, it was time to sit down for our christmas dinner at 1am. We ate roast beef, a spicy sausage, mashed potato in balls, with salad of green beans, peas and sweetcorn in mayonaise and lemon juice (not altogether). It was super rico, but at 1am I felt more tired than hungry.

I managed to stay awake for a bit longer, before going to bed at 2am. I woke up this morning at 11.20am (Mum would normally have woken me up at 9am on xmas morning) and we had a late breakfast around 12pm.

Our breakfast was relatively healthy, pan de pascua (xmas cake without the icing and marzipan), biscuits and scrambled eggs on bread. I had warm chocolate milk with oats too. And so now, it doesn’t feel xmassy, there’s nothing to look forward to really either. On the tv are cartoons, all with tons of snow on, but here it’s warm!!

It was a really surreal xmas, cos aswell Chileans don’t send xmas cards. I still haven’t recieved my presents from home (6 day delivery, whatever). I prefer xmas at home, with roast turkey, roast potatoes, stuffing, gravy (they don’t have gravy in Chile…I don’t even like gravy that much, but I would be nice to have the option), swede, parsnips, sausage in bacon, CARROTS (I miss boiled carrots). And of course, opening crackers, reading the silly jokes, and wearing the pathetic xmas hats.

But I did have a lovely xmas, and I was really happy to share it with a family as nice as this one.

Lonquimay

Lonquimay is a small village near the border of Argentina, it’s surrounded by a beautiful river, lots of mountains, lakes and it has it’s own volcano of the same name. It takes 3 hours to get there on the bus, and we left at 11.30am on Saturday morning with the English teacher Karina, as she was born there, and has family and friends living there.

On the way, the scenery was beautiful, the winding roads, the snowtopped mountains and volcanoes, the beautiful still lakes reflecting all the mountains and the clear sky. Also, there were rocky hills, filled with young goats jumping around and bleeting. To get to Lonquimay we had to travel through the longest tunnel in South America (tunel de las raices) and it took 5mins to get through. It felt like I was in a cartoon, travelling through space and time or something!

River

We got there, and discovered a lovely tranquil village, kind of like Chol-Chol where I’m living right now.

The Saturday we spent just walking around in the lovely sunny weather, talking to Karina’s friends, and seeing bits of Lonquimay, then we went to her Godmother’s house, and had homemade bread with avocado, manjar, cheese, butter, it was super rico! Her Godmother is Mapuche, and makes lots of woollen goods to sell, also, she gets the wool straight from the sheep, and she makes it into the wool herself! We saw how she dies the wool with natural products, like lemon peels, onion skins and flower petals. After, she washes the wool in shampoo to get rid of any smells and then she knits the socks/ jackets etc, it was brilliant.

We met a friend of Karina’s called Randolph, and he invited us to go to the countryside on the Sunday, which sounded like a really good idea. At 10pm ish, we went to see Karina’s friends again, and had a lovely roast of chicken, beef, steak, ribs and yummmm it was really nice.

On Sunday, I had the best day ever, we went with Randolph to the countryside, went over a rickety bridge, and drove on winding country roads to get there. When we arrived there was a massive coutnryhouse, like something out of a movie, the river was rushing on the lefthand side, and on the righthand side there were pure mountains and trees. We met the family who looked after the house from Autumn – Spring, because Randolph’s family only live there in the summer.

Randolph's Place

Inside the house, there were lots of abandoned books, games, bikes, ornaments, animal skulls, it was brilliant looking around, it would be the perfect set for a scary movie. Outside, there was a big herd of goats, many of which were kids, running around in circles and jumping in the grass. We had a bit of lunch, before walking around the fields and by the river. I drank water out of a fresh stream too!

We came back and the horses had arrived, we got them saddled up and went for a lovely horse ride. I had a really lazy horse, so the man gave me a stick to whip the horses’s bum to go faster. We went on a nice little stroll on the horses, with the mountains and the river and the volcano surrounding us. It was just beyond words, and I had the best time ever in this house.

When we got back from the horseride, we had to leave, but before we left, we had a lovely snack of freshly made tortilla, and roast goat! Yummmmm!!! I really want to go back in the summer, we were invited, and hopefully I’ll get the chance to go again.

Michael Jackson

In the boarding house (internado) there are around 30-35 girls aged mainly 12-15 years old. We were talking one day about music, and we named famous English/ American artists that we thought they would know. They all seemed to think that we know Justin Beiber personally, and also Hannah Montana, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Beyonce etc.

One girl asked me and Rachel if we liked Michael Jackson, we replied yes, and the girl Rosa reacted really badly. She looked at us with a serious and worried look in her eyes, and explained to us that Michael Jackson had signed a pact with the Devil, so now he is in hell (where he belongs). She went on to say that all of his songs and dance moves are satanic, and that if people sing, or dance to his songs, that they too will go to hell. Me and Rachel found this really funny, and were laughing at all this propaganda she was telling us, however a few other girls came up and agreed with Rosa, telling us that they watched a film the other day in the internado which told them about Michael Jackson and his friendship with the Devil.

To test it out, me and Rachel asked various girls in the internado if they liked Michael Jackson, and sure enough, all of them replied promptly “No tia”, and explained how he had signed a pact with the Devil and if we sing his songs, we will go to hell with him. It’s strange how they believe this.

Kidnapped by Blanca

On Fridays school finishes at 1.30pm, and they don’t have lunch at the school, so we got invited to Blanca’s house for lunch, she only decided to invite us like an hour before, so I already felt kinda like we were intruding. She’s a “teacher” at the school, but she doesn’t teach, she kinda takes disruptive kids out of lessons, and kids with learning disabilities to play games and things. She introduced herself to us on Wednesday with a big hug saying “Hi girls, I’m Blanca, and I’m crazy!”.

So we’d arranged to go to hers for lunch in Temuco where she lives, however, the VERY protective deputy head Bernada was concerned about us staying alone in the boarding house for the whole weekend. She invited Blanca into her office with us, and didn’t like ask her in private if it was okay… but she more or less told her that we had to stay the night at hers in Temuco. She said it wasn’t a problem, but I felt so bad, like intruding on her house etc. So we had to run back to the boarding house, get some jarmas etc and then off to Temuco we went. In the car she was explaining how she has 3 grown up kids, etc etc.

We got there for lunch and her kids are like 18, 19 and 21 i think, all go to uni which is literally 4 mins walk – lucky things! Her house was really kinda small and not cramped, but I don’t know how to describe it. It was cute nevertheless. She said how her oldest had agreed (although he might have been told!) that he’d stay at his gf’s house and we could have his room whenever we came over. She was also saying how that we can share her house, and can stay whenever, it doesn’t matter. she said that we can walk around in pjarmas, do what we like, she doesn’t care.

For lunch, there was a massive mountain of mashed potato, and 2 fried eggs. Which was plenty enough! then came a massive bowl of mussels, and potatoes, and a bit of chicken and more shelled fish things. They were tasty, but I was so full. Then we went into Temuco centre to meet Karina, the English teacher who would help us registering our visa. We spent the afternoon with Karina looking around the Mapuche market and seeing all these things, she did the whole “these are international visitors, can you tell them about Mapuche.. etc etc” and we learnt like the uses of different horns, and bits of metal… also, they dye scarves and wool with leaves to make it green.

So we didn’t really buy anything in Temuco on Saturday, we also got shown around the mall, it could easily have been an American Mall, it’s huge! with like a supermarket, nice restaurant, and a food court, mcdonalds, kfc etc. Then there’s like nice clothes shops, and a massive arcade, with bumper cars, a cinema, dancemats, pool, a childrens like ride, allsorts. it was great, and we only seen 2/3 floors.

We went back to Blanca’s house, and the action just didn’t stop. She made her daughter invite her friends over to meet us, so we could make friends. But they were all couples, lol. We went to the corner shop, bought beer and rum and coke, which is really popular here…. I didn’t like it anyway. We played uno, and yknow that game where say the topic is countries, and each person around the circle has to name a different one. It was fun, and nice of her to invite her friends, but I was so tired, I jst wanted to sleep, but it would’ve been rude to go to bed. One said I looked tired about 2am, and told me to go to bed, I was like yayyy!

Then in the morning we went shopping with Blanca and she is such an erratic shopper, I can’t even describe it. She just randomnly walked around, spent ages looking at say shampoo, then didn’t buy any. We had a trolley full of things and food but when we got to the till she suddenly realised that she didn’t want washing powder, or bananas, or the biscuits and left them all on the end of the counter. Then after we had eaten there was the arrangements for us going home, cos we had to go to church on Sunday. She said we could stay another night, but I didn’t want to. We persuaded her to let us catch a bus from Temuco at 7pm and go back to Chol-Chol for the night. But it wasn’t that simple. We had to be escorted to the bus stop by her eldest son, and in Chol-Chol, the deputy head Bernada would be waiting for us. Except, it was dark, and there’s a sign at each end of chol-chol saying “welcome to chol-chol etc” and I saw it and was like oooh we need to get off…. turns out we got off at the opposite end, and we saw the bus like disappearing into the darkness. We walked back in like 15mins, not a problem but we were thinking about Bernada waiting in the cold for us, worrying. So I text Karina, who called Bernada, who came to the boarding house with a sweet custard pie, tea and a big hug. we were in the bedroom with her, and she was looking at my pictures, pointing to each of my uncles, asking if he was my dad lol. Then she burst into prayer!

Anyway, we thought we’d never be able to be on our own, but eventually we managed it.