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The International Writers Magazine
: Santiago- Chile Dermot's Chile Diary

El Gringo
Dermot Sullivan in Santiago

I am a gringo in a land of Lilliputians.

It has been two weeks since I departed England's green and pleasant land for Chile. I tower above everyone here. When I am on the metro I am literally head and shoulders above people (at least). Mountain climbing must be a serious challenge for these people.

Chileans also walk slowly on the whole, but this is probably to do with the fact that they are all so small. Occasionally I see the odd freak who is taller than me, but if he's not a gringo like me then his parents certainly are.

I am now working. Originally I wasn't supposed to until the middle of April but my employers asked me start early. It's only part time at the moment but I have the sneaking suspicion that by the end of next week I'll be working everyday. They seem to be under the illusion that I can actually teach, but no matter how hard I try to convince them otherwise they refuse to believe me. The fools.

I go two days a week to a company which supplies all of South America with its most popular beers, fruit juices and even has the license for Pepsi-Cola. I teach their top managers how to speak English. They took me on a tour of one of their warehouses (which was the size of a Boeing factory) and all I could see was beer. To tell you the truth, I could not see where the beer stopped ... that's how vast it was. There are giants vats too where the beer is brewed and they look like the secret nuclear power reactors that America sees everywhere ... sadly I receive no discount (yet).

My students are a lovely bunch of right-wing anglophilic admirers of Thatcher. They send their kids to a sort of British public school where the students are taught solely in British English. There are about two or three of these schools in Santiago. They like the fact that when I speak I don't sound like some American backpacker floating through South America. The best thing about this job is that I get fed there. The portions of food in this part of the world are huge. I don't know how people put away so much food (but I will endeavour to try)! If I get hold of a camera then I will take a picture of the size of the meal and attach it to an e-mail. It is that amazing.

There are some things I don't like about Chile. The food in the supermarkets is overpriced and not much good. The minimum wage here is 115, 000 Pesos a month (115 Pounds) and most things in the shops cost 1000 Pesos.

Banks here are absolute bastards. They make English banks look like charities. You can't even open an account unless you earn 500, 000 Pesos a month and you receive no interest on your money. The charges that the bank makes though are astronomical. If you have a cashcard then it's 17, 000 per month, if your account slips below 300, 000 then there a 25, 000 special 'handling' charge. The list goes on ... not surprisingly, the vast majority of Chileans cant afford to have a bank account and live a meagre existence.
Companies here act like theives and it is extremely unpleasant.

Europeans rule the roost here and it appears the more native looking you are, the further down the economic and social ladder you are. After my meal at work on Tuesday I went for a stroll in the company's gardens. It was extremely hot that day. I thought I was alone in the garden but when I looked at my feet I saw dozens of locals lying under giant leaves in the shade. It was most disconcerting to go from thinking you are alone to finding the place is alive and watching you. They were probably thinking 'who is that tall gringo'!

There are many things that are good about Chile, for example Santiago's Metro system. It's the best I've ever been on (I've never been to Japan). It is large and roomy and always clean. The weather here as well is warm but I must confess to wanting to see a little greenery. Chile, from Santiago northwards, is very arid.

March 22nd 2004
The weather has supposedly cooled down here but you'd never notice the distance. I only wear a t-shirt when I'm out at night (or a shirt if it's been a work day).

My prediction that my working hours would be increased has proved true as I now work four days a week. On Mondays and Wednesdays though I only teach an hour and a half. This will be increased.

Chilean television is the worst television I've ever seen. The highlight seems to be a man who wears an orange wig and matching moustache and his sidekick who dresses up a chicken. I asked one of Chilean chums what on earth it was all about, and the truth turns out to utterly bizarre.

Once upon a time there was a chap with a pink wig and pink moustache and a sidekick who was dressed up as a bird. They presented children's television, providing high quality educational programming (or the sort of programming that the Church and the Military would approve of). These two were on the telly for decades. Then one day somebody clandestinely videoed them backstage. The language was appalling, they harassed the television workers, they started urinating against a wall - then started urinating on each other! This video footage ended up on the internet and they were both fired instantly.

As soon as those two were disgraced two comedians who dressed up in similar costumes appeared on late-night television with a spoof of the children's show. Needless to say it was really rude ... and now those two are extremely famous themselves, on television commercials and merchandise! I would like to point out that they are as funny as cancer and make the guy from 'The Simpsons' who dresses up as a bumblebee seem high-brow. I don't know how this reflects on Chileans and I don't care to speculate.

Also on television here are loads of adverts from the Church urging people to get married! Chile has just passed a divorce law (only Malta and the Philippines have yet to do so) and Church is terrified that it's going to go the way of the Church in Europe (it will). There's an old priest who comes on the telly late at night and gives sermons ... for hours, so it seems. He's not quite up there with Castro and Chavez for giving long speeches but he's close to it ...

Chileans get married early. My students seem surprised that I'm not. One of students asked me whether I believed in god and I told him 'no, I'm an atheist'. He was really shocked! He took it well and was interested, but he sort of regarded me as a Martian.

Thank god for the cinema here: they don't dub their films into Spanish, they have subtitles. The television on the otherhand does dub. Did I mention already that television was bad here? My favourite programme is about mountain climbers. There's a channel where they just show people hiking in the Andes ... which is much better than watching a programme about people walking in a flat country (i.e. Belgium).

All this crummy telly is just the excuse one needs to go out at night. I tried to find a place that sold Guinness but it turns out that it's not sold in Chile ... 'Lonely Planet' forgot to mention this important detail, the bastards. I am considering legal action.

© Dermot Sullivan March 22nd 2004

Santiago Diary 1
Santiago Diary 2

Santiago Diary 3
Diary No 4

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