Monday, May 08, 2006

Balitang Madrid (November 2004)

Plaza MayorMe lo estoy pasando bomba pero extrañando a mijo tanto! I am having a great time so far. My first day at the language school is officially over. While everyone is having their siesta, I am here typing the afternoon away. The best thing about this school is that internet access is free! (Although I wish the keyboard is U.S.style, ha!)

The SF-NY leg of the trip was around 5 hours. It was uneventful except for short chats with a friendly Mexican anesthesiologist from Los Gatos. He is flying to New York to run the NY Marathon that weekend. I took this chance to practice Spanish which prepped me for the next leg of the flight. I glanced at the Empire State Building through the window before landing in New York and the next thing I know I was waving at a college friend M who dropped by the Newark airport just to see me. I had a little over 30 mins layover.

Museo del PradoBoarding the plane to Madrid was a bit chaotic. The majority of the passengers were Spaniards who couldn't wait to get back home. If you've been on a Philippine Airlines flight to Manila you can probably picture this out. Everyone was talking in Castillan Spanish which is very fast to my untrained ears. Any conversation becomes noise after a while when you don't understand any or all of it. The flight was full and there were too many college-age kids. I learned from my seatmate that they are part of Alcala's Philharmonic Orchestra which toured New York. As expected, I stuck out like a sore thumb. People looked my way everytime I spoke Spanish with the flight attendant. While some people develop strange accents at parties in San Francisco to attract attention, having one in España is probably not a good thing.

The language immersion program provides students with a choice of staying in an apartment or 'homestay' which basically means staying with a family. Not only I would eat home cooked meals, I figured I'd be immersed in the culture in no time if I have steady contact with the locals. My 'homestay' is three blocks from the school and is located in a neighborhood called Malasaña. Malasaña is the university district of Madrid. At first, my cab was having a tough time finding the street number I gave him. I must have mixed up the names and numbers. Finally, I handed him my cheat-sheet and let him figure it out. The flat's facade is full of details and the interior is charming. I love it everytime I look out the window with a terrace and see the view of Calle Galilleo. I love it everytime I leave él piso and hear the huge solid double-doors close. Me encanta the echoing sounds produced by high ceilings and concrete floors. Very Spanish indeed!

The owner of the house E has three young boys P, D and G. P is the oldest at 8 and G is the youngest at 3. G is the cutest of them all with a matching Spanish lisp when he speaks. D me preguntó if I am Chinese making a reference to my eyes. I would have taken it personally had he pointed on my nose. The dad is a great cook. I think it is safe to leave it as that.
I later learned the E and his wife E are separated. A French girl J and a Polish guy T son amables are also staying at the flat with the family. My gifts consisted of a San Francisco version of the Monopoly game, a Philippines coffee mug and four packs of family-sized microwavable popcorn. Playing the board game in Spanish is a whole story in itself.

Parque del Bueno Retiro
Spain has gotten expensive with the EUROs. I don't remember spending this much three years ago. Since I arrived on a Saturday I had a full day's worth to sight-see. E convinced me not to go the El Rastro (sunday farmer´s market in the Lavapies) because of too big of a crowd. He's just being polite by not saying I am a foreigner and a magnet for pickpockets. I went to check out the places J and I failed to see when we were here visiting for the first time three years earlier. I can already see J rolling his eyes everytime I take a photo of yet another Madrid landmark. There is a Rizal shrine on Avenida de Filipinas and very much like the one in Rizal Park in Manila. There is a metro station called Islas Filipinas. There is also a chocolate or milk covered pretzel called Filipinos. (how rude!)

I took T's advice to go to school 30 minutes early to make time for the oral and written tests to determine my proficiency in the Spanish language. As expected, I was put in the A2 class which is an Intermediate level. The class starts at 9:30a and ends at 2:30p in time for siesta. There are three sessions - Grammatica, Conversación, y Cultura y Artes. There are optional field trips in the afternoon but I decided not to go today because I thought I had enough Spanish already. Estoy ya cansado! A girl in my class started crying (for real!) because she's
stressing out everyone is speaking impeccable Spanish. I consoled her by telling her how bad I am with the Imperfect tense and that is why I am in the immersion program.

The name of the school is Enforex. It is bigger than what I've imagined. The school's structure is similar to the very first Spanish school I attended in SF (Casa Hispana) but several times bigger in terms of number of students. Madrid is the main campus but it has branches in Barcelona, Sevilla, Salamanca and in major cities in Latin America. Most of the students who go here are from other European countries. There's a Filipina I ran into at the Cultura y Artes class who works as a nurse in London and is only here for two weeks. There were hardly any Americans. I think most Americans shy away from this place because of Madrid's attitude towards the English language.

My schedule here is as follows: wake up at 7:30a. Exercise. Shower. Desayunar y charlar at 8:30a and then leave for school at 9:25a. Almorzar y charlar is at 3p and then siesta. I take this time to roam around town as a tourist. Dinner is not served until 10p. Breakfast consists of coffee and tostadas which is really two pieces of toasted sliced bread with margarina and mermelada. I am under the impression that most Europeans do not eat breakfast. Thank God lunch is heavy! Wine is also served in the afternoon before siesta. We finished the Rosada yesterday and we had Jerez today. Kids drink mosto which looks like wine but it does not contain any alcohol. Plainly referred to in English as grapejuice. By the way, my meals are included in the program so technically I should not be spending any money throughout my stay here.


Stores are closed on Sundays. You'll find most Madrileños in their homes, churches and the city parks on during the weekend. Madrid's Parque del Buen Retiro is like SF's Golden Gate Park but the only difference is that Retiro is much smaller and there are more puppeteers and tarot card readers than joggers, skaters and cyclists. The foliage adds to the character of the park. I finished my cafe con leche right next to the Estanque del Retiro while listening to a group of locals playing Spanish tunes. I became increasingly homesick after seeing families and groups of friends at the park. Before heading back to my homestay for lunch, I decided to pay Calle Hortaleza in the Chueca disctrict a visit. This is where J and I stayed three years ago. It remains unchanged as I recall the names of restaurants and stores dotting the area. As expected, the neighborhood is dead as the stores are closed on sundays.

I brought Dunkin Donuts for dessert one afternoon. I learned from one of the kids at my homestay that English brand names are pronounced as it is spelled. For Dunkin' Donuts it is doooon-keeeeendo-nooots. I smiled when I heard this. My host E seemed surprisedwhen I told him that the brand started somewhere in New England in the States. Donuts without the hole is called something else which I forgot (where are those darn notes when I need them!). Rice with ketchup is the kids' favorite. I learnedthat the kids also like Exxis Men (X-MEN), Popey - El Marino (Popeye the Sailor Man) and El Señor de los Anillos (The Lord of the Rings). We also eat salad last after the main meal which is the opposite in the States. Unlike in California, Foie Gras is in abundance here.

One of my afternoon excursions was to see Picasso's Guernica on display at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. This museum showcases avant-garde arts which I enjoyed more compared to the classical paintings at the Prado. The Sofia museum has a whole room just for the works of Picasso! A smaller room houses Salvador Dali's works. I am not a museum kind of guy so 2 hours is already too long a time for me. There are more to see because the museum is huge. I only saw the permanent collections on the 2nd and 4th floors. As always, I get fifty percent discount as a language student!


I also went to checkout El Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, the home of the city's soccer team Real Madrid. Real Madrid is like the New York Yankees of American Baseball. Football superstars like Beckham, Raúl and Ronaldo play for Madrid. I wanted to see the Exposición de Trofeos but it is closed two hours prior to the start of a game. Unfortunately, I went on the day when Spain was hosting England. Spain won 1-0 in a controversial match. I learned that, like on Sundays, Mardrileños stay home whenever there is a futbol match. A weeknight would virtually look dead when Real Madrid (or España for that matter) is playing in town. I'll quote my host E in saying that Madrileños breathe, eat and dream futbol.

Except for my Polish housemate T who constantly bombards me with tips in Spanish and who I practice Spanish with during meals, I haven't really made any sensible friends yet. Most of my acquaintances at the language schools work as nannies and bartenders so they couldn't really hangout after class. While those who have time to spare are already part of a tight clique.



~~~

I am almost halfway through the language program and it already feels like I've been here for a while. For one thing, I can now pronounce vale very much like a local. Nothing fancy in there. It is just a way to say OKAY in Spanish. I learned that a good conversation starter is to ask where one originally from. Like folks elsewhere, Madrileños are said to be regionalistic being loyal first to their city, and then to their province, and finally to España. I noticed that they take pride in their family heritage, the famous people they know and the people they went to school with. Unlike in San Francisco where everyone is a transplant, you can easily meet folks in Madrid who were born in Madrid.

I find it difficult to converse with other students. Hearing a local talk is tough to begin with. Now add a German or British accent on top of that! Students of languages tend to convert their thoughts directly from one language to the other which does not translate correctly most of the time. Using idioms is the more sophisticated approach. I usually talk to my maestras during our 10 minute breaks. One of my teachers M, who teaches Gramática, is married to a Dutch national and will be leaving Spain to move to the Netherlands this summer. She said Spain has become more expensive because of the Euros but the pay has almost stayed the same. Teacher S, who teaches Conversación, has the best wardrobe in the school. She lives in a town called Guadalajara which is an hour north of Madrid. Teacher I, the only male teacher I have, teaches Artes y Cultura. Today, we had an introduction to Spain's wines and regions where they are produced.

J and I were here three years ago but we were unable to see Museo del Prado's entire collection because of time constraints. Now I am back and since I am a tourist in the afternoon, I decided to continue our unfinished business. After seeing the works of Goya, Velazquez and El Greco, I had 30 minutes to kill at the la tienda del museo before closing time. I also got a 50% discount because I have a student ID.


Tuesday was a public holiday. I took my maps, books and my electronic translator in the morning and went to a nearby town called Segovia. It is already part of a region called Castilla y León and is an hour away from Madrid. You can find here the antiquated aquaductos erected by the Romans. The walls near the Alhambra reveal the sweeping views of the Castillan landscape. I got back to Madrid right on time for dinner. That evening, Madrileños celebrated the feast of their Patron saint which the name escaped me. The locals gathered around Plaza Mayor in the evening for a procession and a mass. Tomorrow is friday. I plan to spend the weekend in Santiago de Compostela if I am fortunate enough to get a sleeper train ticket this late.

I think I saved a lot in food and lodging. I strongly recommend doing a language immersion and staying in a homestay while in Spain. You don't have to attend class for 5 intensive hours. There are students here who go only for a 2 hour class and then site see the rest of the day. Some were sent here by multi-national companies and only go for 2 hours in the morning. Anyway, I skipped the Artes y Cultura class today because Monday is a joint class held in a big conference room. I had gone to one on monday a week ago and it was ¡tan aburrido! The class is back to normal the rest of the week under teacher Ívan.

Lunch was served early today at quarter to two so I had time to ir de compras in search for the ultimate (ok, ok, cheap but stylish) Madrid outfit. I found a couple in Zara and Massimo Dutti. I think I spent 2 hours trying clothes on and figuring out whether it can be worn in SF. San Franciscans tend to wear boring earthtone colors like black, gray and beige during winter time. Madrileños are more open minded in blending and matching colors. Orange, burgundy, and all shades of red seem to be popular among men here. And the shoes - this place is a haven for shoe lovers. And the bags and leather jackets. So far the prices of clothes are relatively cheaper by American standard. ¡Especialmente, sin impuestos! Computer and computer products are very expensive here. Gas is almost the same. I bought some Madrid pop-rock cds from a side walk vendor around the Gran Via district.
I gave up on the idea to go to Santiago de Compostela for the weekend because the cost of the tickets is enough to buy a new coat. Yes, vanity still prevails! My Plan B was to go to Salamanca and it proved to be a great day trip. Salamanca is a town where you can find Spain's famous universities, kind of like Cambridge in Massachussetts. Its Plaza Mayor is the most beautiful of all the Plaza Mayors I've seen in Spain. Not only it is more engaging than Madrid's, you also don't get too paranoid your camera or anything for that matter will be snatched anytime. Groups of university students dressed in 12th century attire, called La Tuna, serenade the tourists for a donation. Too touristy for me but it is one of those 'you have to see or do' kind of thing. The intricate facade of the main gate of the University of Salamanca is impressive. There is supposed to be a little frog hidden among the small figures on the wall. It is believed that it will bring luck or even a marriage if one can figure out its location without getting help from someone. I looked really hard but with no luck.

I am always singled out during Clase de Conversación because of my Latin American accent or something close to that. At the City College of San Francisco where I took several Spanish classes, we focus on the Latin American version. The j, z and cc are pronounced differently here which is known as 'lisp'. Word usage also differs in Spain. Zumo instead of jugo. Jarra instead of copa. Chulo means 'cocky' while it is 'dude' (?) in the U.S. I wonder how I would sound in English with a lisp? Oh, I know! My teacher in SPAN2B at the City College does it!

I've been hanging out with friends of T and J (roomies). It is amazing how people become drawn to me only because I speak American English. I don't know if being Asian with an American accent (or something to that effect) made me look more exotic. J, a nurse, has been a regular at la casita because he wanted to fine tune his English so I took this chance and struck out a deal with him to have a regular Intercambio. I would speak in Spanish while he corrects me in English and vice versa. He's also the one who helped me pick the right Spanish pop-rock cds, movies, places to eat, drink and shop. Practically my local guide who made my short stay in Madrid a lot easier. He is originally from Valencia but now lives in Madrid because of work. And yes, he taught me the bad words first some of which I already knew because of J. The group is planning to see the movie ´El Lobo´ tomorrow evening - the movies do not have English subtitles.

Time flies even faster when you are not working. Voy a regresar a los Estados Unidos en cuatro dias. If there is one thing this language immersion has taught me, it is confidence. I discovered that Spanish does not have to be complicated. Vale!

There was a black-out or apagón on thursday evening so there was practically nothing to do except to chat with the kids and finish my homework. My last week was not busy at all. My normal day would include going to school in the morning, window shopping for 30 mins, back to my homestay for lunch in the afternoon, visiting a Madrid point of interest, and then head back to my homestay for more Spanish to talk to the kids and do my homework.

My roomie T just got his Diploma Superior Español Lengua Extranjera and will be staying in Spain for one more month. He has a Law degree and he is waiting for a job at the Polish Embasy in Spain. He gave me a book containing Spanish Idiomatic Expressions maybe because out of pity. I sort of mentioned to him earlier that none of the expresiones makes sense to me. Ha! I left him a cd of Spanish alterna-rock collection in return. I hice una broma to remember me when he becomes a Polish President someday. The same girl P (from Czech Republic) who cried on her first day in class because she felt stupid, cried again this afternoon when I said goodbye at the class. She said she does not react well to farewells. She, myself and R (a Canadian from British Columbia) attended our last day at the language school.

The moment my body started getting acclimated to Madrid's rhythm, it is time for me to go. For my last hurrah, I skipped lunch and I went to Madrid's Calle Augusto Figueroa where you can checkout hundreds of shoe stores (of course I'm exaggerating!). I had my eyes on four pairs but my budget is only for one! I was also able to buy some saffron and paella mixes for my honey.

Barajas Airport is maddening. It is not that it is very busy, it just looks like it. It gets really crowded because the airport is too small for the amount of service it does. J and I did not see this kind of crowd three years ago because our flight back to the States was at 6.45a. I am used to the time requirements in the States so I came here a little too early. Check-in time is 2 hours before the flight for International travel and an hour for domestic. My cab fare was 15 euros including tips. Now I know I got ripped-off when I took a cab from the airport to my homestay because I agreed to pay a fixed amount of 25 euros. Oh well, I wouldn't lose sleep over it! The Metro goes to the airport but I chose not to take it for having learned a mistake I made in Paris by taking mass transport to the airport which almost cost me my passport and plane tickets.

For one thing, I wouldn't miss the second hand cigarette smoke and kaka on the streets. I will definitely miss the siesta time and the contagious carefree attitude that makes one love life all the more. Now, it is time to switch back to Latin American Spanish. :) I bought mi hijo a reasonably priced bottle of Rioja vino tinto.

Se cuidan todos los tiempos. Ciao!



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