Sunday, March 24, 2013

Health Care Buenos Aires

After hearing so much about the occasionally lauded, more often derided, Argentine public health care system, I decided that it merited investigation. Or my girlfriend wanted me to get tested for HIV, gangrenous penis and other sexually transmitted boogiemen. In either case, I went to the hospital and was treated to brief (thank god) anthropological journey through medicine in another country.

Being that I've still not finished/done my paperwork to be legal here in Argentina, and thereby get the health insurance my company would provide, I'm on the public plan. I'm not sure as to what the limits of the public plan is, in light of the fact that I have done zero actual research regarding the topic. So I can only offer what I might call hearsay, or what anthropology might call the data from my informal interviews.

In conversation and eavesdropping with my friends and co-workers (that is to say, a statistically non-representative sample, but c'mon, how do you know what YOU know about the health system in YOUR country?), I've determined that the healthcare system in Argentina is great, except for the fact its not.

As an American, and this topic being debated in my country, I rush to point out that health care in Argentina is free and, reportedly, comprehensive. In conversation, there has never been a person that has complained to me about a lack of coverage in the public health care. I must admit that my circle of "informants", as they are called in the anthropological argot, is decidedly skewed to the young. There is no one I engage in frequent conversation that is over 40 years in age. Non-withstanding, As far has been reported to me, if anything happens to me, or I otherwise need medical attention, I can go the hospital the process of getting that which I require. However, it is that process which is so heavily criticized by the Argentine media and people.

The first sentence to leap out of an Argentine's mouth while discussing the medical system invariably has to do with the "la cola". Literally tail, this is the local word for lines (as in the kind you wait in). The hypothetical Argentine constructed of the pastiche of my remembered conversations would say something like "Yeah, sure, the medical system is world class after you wait in the line for a few hours. Take some mate, a book and some kleenex, it's a good time". To be honest, I can't recall anyone giving me even a casual figure as to how long the lines would take, but most have emphasized the physical size of the lines.

Thus armed with replete and comprehensive information to this effect, I didn't really see a time I could schedule an entire day to wait in line to be attended for what was a non-essential operation. Also, as a foreigner, I'm beyond clueless as to how the system actually functions. After all, the first step in Yankee-landia is to call and make an appointment, so at the get-go the first instruction (go wait in line) is somewhat bewildering.

Hence, I had not made any moves to get tested for STD's. My girlfriend had been initially less than sympathetic towards me and unwillingness to go bumble through the procedure myself, but then, she took matters into her own hands and found a contact in the hospital that would speed us along the procedure.

So let me contrast what I did, and what I would have had to have done if I were just a normal, unconnected Argentine guy.

I wake up at 7 AM on a cold monday morning, to hop a short bus ride (crowded, as usual) to the nearest hospital. Some of the buildings were actually as old as the iron gates and fences would suggest. Sadly, their vaguely colonial architectural stylings were lumped together with the standard Argentine government building from Peron's day: an ugly and failed exploration of the design concepts first used by manufacturers of hamster tubes and the large versions with ball pits destined for children. And of course, this being a high traffic location, the same guys that come to hawk fried bits of sugared dough and pastries from tupperware containers at the park on Sundays hang out at the gates of the hospital on Mondays.

Going in, you get in line to get a card which in theory authorizes you to be in the hospital. And then after you figure out where the hell is the wing you need (no one knows where anything else)Therein I would have to wait in line that stretched up two stories of ye old grand staircase and all of a small lobby to get to the door of the portion of the clinic that handles this sort of thing. A full day's work in short.

What ended up happening is that Luana got in touch with a cousin who is a doctor of the blood-drawing kind in the hospital. She told us arrive before the doors opened at 8, skip the first line, skip the second line, wait outside the door, and send her a text message. Then in front of all of these people who has been waiting for god knows how long, sashay into the clinic where she took the samples in all of ten seconds and sent on our merry way.

Long story short, social capital can make the public option a real option for you. But if you have some sort of recurring health problem, get paid health insurance. It's cheap by American standards and you can avoid the lines.

(This post from some time ago last year, in 2012)

It's with a heavy heart that I make post number 70 on this blog and eradicate the 69 from post count that has stood so long as warden to this mostly ignored corner of the internet.

I thought I would write something, it being late and I being bored, but reading previous entries has moved me to make a post in the vein of the spotty narrative that has sort of evolved out of the last couple of entries. This country, despite it's great size and previous importance to international politics, exists in a paucity of information about itself. As far as I know, my blog is the only English language source detailing the day-to-day in Buenos Aires that isn't run by an idiot tourist/exchange student breathlessly detailing their life-changing experience. Well, that's not true exactly. My gringo friend Ben has a friend Paul (our names truly are hideously monosyllabic, aren't they?) who has some kind of internet presence, but he teaches English for a living and I think writes for free for some kind of English language rag here in town, which is basically the same as the aforementioned breathless exposition by college students.

Yes, I can sneer at the gringo's teaching English because that's no longer my main gig. You may ascertain from my use of "gig" that I have gracefully joined the creative class as a young artiste, as it corresponds a young man of my WASP background! I get about half or more of my income from music related sources. The truth is, most of that is teaching private lessons, so really I haven't actually stopped teaching so much as changed subjects, so I'm really not any different from the gringos teaching English. You decide. I don't care.

What I do for money now is trombone playing and teaching, supplemented by giving English classes to students have all been attractive young females about my age. Incidentally, in reference to an older post, that is exactly what was best about working at Wall Street. So many beautiful women stumbling through modal verbs with charming accents. I'm still as boned as I was though, having slept with an unfortunate 0% of my students then and now, being monogamous with Luana, a person who I think appeared in a picture from some 4 years ago.

Playing trombone in Buenos Aires is a pretty good gig. It's universally difficult to get by as a musician so that I'm able to scrape by eating lots of lentils and rice after only a year and change of trying I think speaks to the easiness of my situation. I'll give myself a little credit, too, I've been pretty smart about all this.

Inflation has gone up, rent has gone up, and so have the price for my services (a little). I live in a different house (the long story of what has happened with the other house is tale I will tell only if someone whose name I do not know requests it) with more youngish students from Córdoba, a city known for its accent and amiable inhabitants.  I pay 1100-1200 pesos a month to cover an odd list of expenses. The rent, some kind of tax and building expenses (paying the unhelpful "superintendent" to throw water all over the floor of the hallway every once in awhile) and a common fund with the cordobeses and I spend on things like buying toilet paper and bulk bags of lentils. It's a little expensive considering what it is, but it's pretty cheap rent, still.

Listen, I have to be perfectly honest with you, blinking nether. I had kind of hoped that my blog was of service to some mysterious person out there, considering a trip to Argentina. There were a couple of hits from places I had no connection to or from google searches that helped me entertain that fancy. I held on to this idea that my posts would be of interesting historical/ethnological data to someone at sometime. I was interested by my inclusion of numbers and prices and in my mind compared it with some of the earliest forms of writing that we humans have discovered, a bunch of bullshit detailing trivial mercantile transactions in the ancient past.

But I've just lost faith in that idea at the end of the paragraph beginning with "Inflation".

I'm compelled to confess some ideas that have motivated my life since graduating college. I'm sure this is less interesting than even the price of eggs in Argentina (about a peso each, I'd reckon), but I've never articulated them before and I would like to do that now.

I've stopped writing and taking pictures. I haven't really done anything of that kind since moving to Argentina. It's not for lack of time, though at one point I did try to avoid spending too much time "in" English. And its not cause I'm worried about my camera getting nabbed either.

I was motivated to stop doing this indirectly by my brother, Matt, who deserves far more credit for influencing me than I think he realizes. He quipped to me, I don't even remember about what, I think about photographs, that such and such was "commodifying experience."

What a phrase, what a concept. I struggle to put its whole meaning and its implications down on paper, but: turning experience into a commodity. Experience, that beautiful ephemeral non-thing, indefinable, immense and unknowable transformed into commodity, that ugly quotidian widget of life, to be put in the same category as pork bellies and oil barrels.

The object we come up with at the end of our process of commodification might be a poorly composed snapshot inside of an Argentine discotheque or a book about dancing tango well past midnight in a certain now ruined tango salon, but its really the same. We're afraid to just let that experience lie. We need to have it, we need it a thing.

Aren't things the source of all the trouble anyway? People with too many things, too few things, with other people's things. There are lot's of ways to look at it, when you stop and think about there are entire fields dedicated to the best way of sorting out our things, but I think its a road that need not be traveled. The experience was fine on its own. Why do you have to go and make a thing of it?

That's where I'm at, these days. I just want as few things as possible. I think that at death, everything we ever owned is tied to our bodies and we're cast into a great dark sea.

I saw this one thing in Brazil

I took a trip to Brazil and this scene has been on my mind ever since then. I can't explain why.

My girlfriend and I were staying with her cousins, people who definitely inhabited the upper half of that famously abrupt divide between the rich and the poor in Brazil. We had been staying in their daughters playroom--a little space about as large as a walk-in closet, but every conceivable surface covered in dolls and toys. When we laid down on the inflatable mattress that we nestled in between the overstuffed bookshelves (stuffed mostly with toys, no books) we would look up towards the ceiling the three tiers of shelving bolted to the wall, so full of dolls that they leaned precariously outward, looking down at us with their shiny fake eyes. The father of this toy-laden child told us that it was impossible to reduce the number of dolls that she had; that if one were to go missing she would know instantly. I doubted it, being that at least half of the dolls were obstructed from view by more dolls and that this child of six years old would need to stand on her own shoulders to even reach the bottom-most shelf. Then one day, we returned from the beach and Sofia, the name of the girl, had climbed the low-lying pink bookshelves via a toy chest and a chair and had created a landslide off of the high shelves in search of one particular doll. If later events in our trip are any indication, I think she was looking for a doll whose main feature was that you could give it water from a bottle and it would wet its diaper.

One day, the mother took us to accompany her and Sofia to the mall as an excursion. I had politely declined the same offer when it had arisen in the first discussions of what we could do while we were in Rio. I had made it to Rio de Janeiro! In no way did I want to spend that time in invented consumer paradise. But, our hosts and their family repeatedly insisted that this was a good entertainment option. Despite my mindset that a traveler should do what the locals--and particularly his hosts--do, I was still greatly opposed. Then, as I heard conversations about bulletproof cars, the hidden armed guard in the street, and saw a man in very expensive sunglasses hot-footing it across the scorching pavement explaining "they stole my sandals" as he rushed by,  I came to understand a little better my hosts point of view. They lived their lives to not get robbed, as many do in Rio. The mall, then, with the subtle exclusion characteristic of the Latin American take on the the middle American institution, was one of the only places that Sofia could run around.

After treating us lunch in the food court, (considered to be lightly luxurious in Argentina, at least) we walked to a toy store where Sofia, for having finally cleaned her plate, was allowed to have one toy in the store. This required 30 minutes of painful deliberation on Sofia's part. And after that, our extremely generous host insisted on buying all of us some ice cream on stick.

Sofia ate two child-sized bites of hers before announcing that she didn't like it. In my upbringing, this would have brought recriminations raining down upon my by mother, something about starving children in Africa, but our hostess merely told Sofia to return to her the treat. We stepped outside and while Sofia's mother continued chatting politely with us, she seemed distracted as if she was looking for something in immediate area. As we headed towards the parking garage, I heard her cry out "Moço! O Moço!" I knew this word only as the word you used to summon a waiter although the dictionary tells me it can simply mean young man.

She had singled out one of the many tanned, shirtless, sandal-wearing men that walk around in the beachy streets of Rio de Janeiro who I could never quite decide were beach bums or just bums. I knew which when I heard her say "Moço, would you like this ice cream? I bought it for my daughter but she doesn't want it anymore, she hardly ate any" Lightening ran up my spine and my gut tensed in that sensation you get when you see someone brazenly do something that somewhere, somehow you know you aren't supposed to do.

Far from be offended, which I suppose is what my my expectation was, the man stopped walking and put his feet together, and placed one hand on his bare chest and accepted the ice cream giving his thanks in the most dignified manner I have ever seen. And that's where I don't know what to make of it, where to separate my feelings from my cultural from that present moment from everything else. As I saw it then, seeping past my tensed abdomen and creeping up my anglo, electrified spine and was the idea that I was seeing modern feudalism play out--that the correct thing to do was force the child to eat it or to eat it ourselves or throw it in the trash with a feeling of waste and disgust, not give it some stranger in the street. And if this unacceptable situation has indeed come to pass, then the man should have kept walking or expressed an insult to his dignity. To accept it, and (to accept it like he did!) was all wrong. He might not have even been a bum! She could have offered her alms to someone who was just walking back from the beach! Then what?

And then, I also think, and then what? So she would have offered her slightly used ice cream to a stranger who could of bought his own. Maybe he would have been hungry, maybe he wouldn't even have said "Oh, you've got the wrong man, I'm not even poor." Maybe he would have just eaten it. Maybe the real waste is to have forced it on someone who didn't want it, like me or Sofia, when there were people in need right around us. Maybe throwing it in the trash in front of someone in that street who really wanted it--never mind what I think is "dignity,"--is what really should have tensed my gut and stiffened my neck. Maybe my reaction to gift-giving is what's wrong. Maybe that word charity and the hidden directive to reject it is what's bizarre.

And what about the feudalism I saw play out? The modern lady bequeathing a pittance to a shirtless peasant. Isn't that all wrong? But what was she supposed to do, throw the ice cream in a trash in the name of dignity and avoiding these feudal comparisons as can as someone hungry looked on?

It's hard to say that discomfort should preclude generosity when you you don't know if "discomfort" will make a better society.

I don't know.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

  • Another technical account of getting started up in Buenos Aires. Per my training in anthropology, I would like to whine defensively that this is based purely off of my experience living in Buenos Aires and is no way representative of what living in Buenos Aires is an standard/typical/objective sense, if such a thing could be established. A different friend informed me that he is planning to come down to live here had some questions after reading my previous posts. Therefore, I answered them and now, published them, grammatical worts and all.

  • Thank you.

    That did help me gauge where I'll be stepping off, I think. My goal is to be down there in September. Would that be shooting myself in the foot from the get-go?

    Also, who did you fly down with? I'm planning on buying a ticket this week.

    What's your story with health insurance?

    I don't have a TEFL certification. Is this necessary going in or could I take a class while there if necessary?

    What would a good cushion be going down in terms of cash? I was hoping to have about $5000. More, less?

    I'll send more questions as I think of them...

    Thanks again for your help,


  • Good questions, some I know the answers too, otheres I will find out the answer.

  • As my friend Teo Valdes put it (he was teaching down here before me) somebody who was contracted for a year walks off the job on a friday in september because they felt like quitting and they can put whatever they want on their resume for the time they were down here. That institute promised to have a native teacher year round and suddenly they need someone to start monday. Its all about the money here, no one REALLY cares if the students develop a proper relationship with their teacher. In short, while the main hiring season will have officially finished, many American schools start up in september and I´m sure lots of people who were planning to have a short english teaching adventure before going to college have given their employer the bad news. Thats what I calculate anyway, I,ll try to consult some peeps.

    Plane, no idea, I could ask my mom if you want. It was a graduation gift.

    Tefl will definitely make you a more attractive candidate. Again, in my experience, no one really cares if you´re a good teacher or qualified for that matter, but many of them throw some acronyms on their advistement (TEFL/TOEFL/BBQOMG certified native teachers) and they want to be able to back that up. So, in my experience, no one asked to see my tefl before interviewing, although I did make sure to mention it in my resume (CV) and they did want at least a digital scan of the article after they hired me. But, no one followed up on it or otherwise verified it as far as I know, asi que, you could probably make a convincing enough facsimile and send digital images to people if it gets asked of you.

    of course, that route is rather ¨argento¨. I think taking a course is a fine, if less rogueish, method. I do believe they offer month long training courses here and I believe they advertise they fact that they{ll hook you up with a job afterward. No idea if thats true. I do also believe that they give you some kind of field training, where you actually get some students and you make lesson plans that you actually execute with real ESL students. this kind of TEFl certification is seen as the most desirable, if youre looking at this as a long term investment. Sadly, i found that out from the teaching of my TEFL certification which was in the basement of a local university and definitely involved no real esl kids. So I would say, come down and take a course, if you want to take a course as it offers the most advantages.

    Cushion? Brother I came down here with 2300 dollars. I live/lived pretty cheaply, but if you can find some rent outside of the usual fuck the foreigner gangbang, you could retire on that money.

    In precise terms, it depends on your estimated expenditure. Going out in this city is ungodly expensive, at least relative to what you{ll earn. Drinks in a bar, food in a restaurant can set you back 200 pesos pretty easily, and thats 20 hours of work for me. Two and a half days work (I work four hours a day, so sue me). Food remains quite cheap, although inflation is imperceptibly working its magic, a weeks worth of groceries couldn{t cost 100 pesos. Meat is quite expensive actually, because Argentines will pay any price for it. I have a student who works for Southern Beef who tipped me to that bit of info. Aguante chikin, loco.

    So 5000 seems like a lot of money to me. You could have quite a bit of fun between that and a job. I had a lot of costs starting up and before i got employed i think i spent almost a 1000 dollars. (Rent was 450 dollars of that) I ate out some (1 to 3 times a week) and bought wine with my girlfriend, so I wasn{t exactly bare bonsing it, but I scrimped during the week.

    I hope I}m not spelling out the obvious or talking too much, but the key is to think in both dollars and pesos. I used to think only in pesos and refused to spend anything out of my savings, but I was living like a poor man in buenos aires. If anything is worse than living like a poor man in the united states, its living like a poor man in the second-world. So ive opened up my bank account to some things important to me, like tango singing classes, and hopefull, capoeira classes. A bit pricey, but what on earth am i doing in this city as a musician if I{m not learning about tango. I{m also hopefully going to start investing some of my money in rehearsal room shit for a band I want to start, pay some musicians, etc. this is a great city to start something creative up.

    Health insurance, I got my fingers printed the other day, ha, so at best it would be another 1 or 2 months for me to get ¨pre pago¨which is like the nice company sponsored shit. I{m on the public plan at the moment, which involves long times, I{m told. I don{t know much more about it, except that. Part of the plan is not to get sick (bad plan, I know) but in a real emergency if it happened tomorrow, i would go to a nicer hospital and foot the bill. The heatl systems prices aren{t jacked up by malpractice insurance shit here asi que its much cheaper.

    Hit me with the next round, and I believe I will publish this correspondence to my blog.

  • Monday, April 18, 2011

    A Letter from the Informed

    This is a Facebook message I wrote to a friend who was thinking about moving to Buenos Aires himself. It's funny how I respond much better to prompts than to total freedom. I blame education.

    Sam old buddy, howdeedoo,

    Funny you should ask a question that is so eminently on my mind.

    Regarding your questions, BA is exactly how I remember it. Kind of a pain of the ass, kind of great. The moneda situation has been rememdied, the people are still short tempered, it's still over crowded and a pain to get around anywhere. The primary difference would be my economic standing now that I'm here under my own power and, more importantly, earning in pesos. But even from a dollar perspective, the city is a little rough.

    Inflation has struck the city pretty hard in our absence, and food prices have also risen pretty extremely. Whereas before, on the dollar, I always said that Buenos Aires was not cheap exactly, but a surprisingly good deal considering what you were getting, now it has moved firmly into the expensive side of things. I would say prices are more generally along the lines of what you would be willing to pay in the united states if you are accustomed to living cheaply there (like an unemployed liberal arts grad for example). Randomly, some food things will be exceptionally cheap (a kilo of mandarin oranges for 75 american cents or a bundle of onions for the same) whilst other things remains inexplicably (relatively) expensive (3 dollars for 400 grams of butter, garlic for 50 cents a head). Poor college student food remains quite cheap (noodles, eggs and the like) but meat and dairy (and any interesting fruit) is pretty much american prices.

    The problem is earning in pesos, and not earning very much. The English teaching market here, though perhaps the gentlest, is about as exploitative as any other based on the labor of unconnected immigrants. Jobs range in price from about 20 pesos an hour to 40+ hour (pesos). They don't seem to hard to get, although there is a large pool of applicants. Most applicants are here on some poorly founded concept of adventure and admit that to their potential employers, saying that they will only be here for 3-6 months. Humorously, are totally bewildered when they find themselves without work for the duration of their "working" vacation. Needless to say, making a serious commitment to Buenos Aires, or at least pretending to make such a commitment, is great help in getting a job. I said that I was funny in my cover letter and that appeared to be the sole basis for accepting me for an interview.

    But the exploitation. I have accepted a job on the bottom end of the pay range (20 p an hour) because I am compensated for almost all of the hours that I work. Also, if I ever get around to doing the paperwork, I can be here legally, but that's a detail. I was also working at another english institute which compensated me 35 pesos an hour, which is a pretty good pay at first glance. I recently quit the job, because after some calculation, it wasn't worth it.

    I received 35 pesos an hour for every hour I was in front of a class. That's fine, but I was not otherwise compensated for the time it took to prepare for these classes (which, as a novice, I can assure you is lots, especially considering how much time you end up wasting running around making copies). On top of that, the institute required a great deal more planning than what I am told is normal here. I was expected to come up with my own annual plan (based off of some textbook that were given to me) and the supplement it with certain items that, though requested specifcally, were completely left up to me to design. Two movies a school year, broken into small parts with prep and breakdown worksheets, class lessons related to cultural events from my own country (halloween, 4th of july, etc) exam design and grading, and participation in the end of school year concert and all of these things made entirely of your own hand. And they wanted us to attend two uncompensated meetings a month for which they don't even give some pesos for the subte (now 1.20 a ride) For veteran teachers, its not such a bad deal, as they might have accumulated some of their things in their experience and are probably efficient in designing such things. Also, if your passion is teaching, I'm sure you would become an expert pretty quickly. But I'm certainly not in this country to help some parents force English onto their kids and certainly not for that price.

    When I told other argentines that this is what I was doing for 35 pesos an hour, their eyes bugged out and there was a moment of stunned silence, surpassing, even, the portenio ability to have a comic line for everything. Teaching is a profession notorious for the hours of work outside the paid hours of work, but for comparison, my working in the white, employed by the government teacher friends made 85 pesos an hour for their work.

    And furthermore, conscious or not, English teaching jobs like these are taking advantage of Americans and other gringos who come to Buenos Aires to work. People like me are muscled into the pay range you see here by Americans who pop down here for a months, rely on their savings to pay rent and use their income for booze money. Also, the expectation that I should show up early for work, give two weeks notice or not take unexpected vacations or sick days, while normal in the anglo-world, was considered to be a enormous courtesy--or even luxury--to my employers by the Argentines to whom I described my working relationship. If they are employing me in black, then they have to understand I'm not actually obligated to do anything that they won't fire me for,
    These things however, were outlined in my contract and were vocally impressed upon me by my employer. Furthermore, they rely (begrudingly, I'll say perhaps unconsciously) on the fact that teachers are unlikely to walk off the job because of emotional attachment to their students.
    So I'm very happily at Wall Street where they pay me 20 pesos an hour, but I don't do anything more than wear slacks and show up and gab. And I'll get better health insurance if I file that fucking paperwork.

    So, if you want to make any semi-real quantity of money here, you have to either work like a dog or work like a smart dog and get private students. Which typically pay 40+ for classes and are much easier to prepare for. The only catch is that you have to find them. I've just begun on this myself, so I can't relate how difficult it is, but like many things in Buenos Aires, I think it requires a good network of contacts.

    The real game here in Buenos Aires, in turns of creating a financially stable existence, is getting your costs down. This is really hard to do in a city with such a well-developed tourist infrastructure, AKA, oiled system of separating unsuspecting yankees from their money.

    Step 1 and trap 1 one is rent. Glancing at the Buenos Aires craiglist would lead you to believe that the low end of prices for rentable properties in BsAs is around 300-400 dollars a month, which will get you an apartment in a nice part of town with really nice furnishings. Further analysis of craiglist will lead you to believe that there are no unfurnished apartments available for rent in Buenos Aires and that it is customary to describe rent in a ratio of dollars to the week or day.

    If you're lucky, one day you describe this to a guy from the city and he says "No!" emphatically and tells you for that kind of money you could have a 1 bedroom apartment all to yourself, if you were just willing to live outside of all these fancy districts you had just mentioned to him. What your friend doesn't know and what you just realized is that no one advertises these sorts of properties to foreigners. So the lesson there is that any international or english language resources are going to break your piggy bank, to speak politely.

    The most conventional way to rent property is to look in a the newspaper on saturday and see the properties listing, which can be dizzying in terms of contractions and argot. Sadly, most properties require something called a garantia, which means someone with property in the city vouches for the fact that you can pay, and if you don't pay, the will. Foreigners (and many Argentines) don't typically have a garantia.

    So the search is limited somewhat to "alquila due~no" which means that the owner is renting the property and doesn't have an agency (inmobilaria) representing him. There you cut out a very expensive middleman, and may eliminate the garantia. May. It does cut down your options quite a bit and requires a lot of cold-calling and trial and error.

    Being that there are a ton of argentines and foreigners milling about the city with garantia, there are some services on the internet that have surfaced to help them. comparto depto, solo duenos and a number of internet resources attempt to organize the barbaric latino horde. But its a decidedly web 1.0 affair, there is no central website and information is often out of date or false and posted by a scheming inmobilario that hopes to interest you in another, probably less perfect property. It's pretty gruesome and requires ALOT! of legwork, but this is probably the best option for an unconnected foreigner arriving in the city. But it takes a lot of time. A few conversations I've had with other strapped-for-cash argentines revealed that they spend several months searching for an apartment before finding something that suits their needs. The difference is that they can rely on social capital and live with their parents or friends where as people like you and me Sam, have far less social capital to spend.

    Other options include subletting a single room from a family apartment or something like that. But that was a relationship I was definitely not comfortable with, although it might have been wiser in a purely economic mindset. Those arrangements are somewhat easy to find and can be a rock bottom price (500 pesos a month, ideally) but are usually somewhat expensive and its usually done by people used to working with foreigners (1000 pesos a month).

    For my part, I have worked what little contacts I have made here in the city and came up with the place I am now in. It's 900 pesos a month for a small (perhaps 3 by 5 or 6 meters) concrete box on the roof of a very large house that is shared by a number of other argentines, one chileno and one peruvian. The room itself is pretty shitty and definitely doesn't deserve the 900 pesos I pay for it. It has no insulation, doesn't block the sound of the nearby highway and I have to go down a flight of stairs to use the bathroom that I share with 3 other people. But, it's cheap as I could find
    that gave me any level of autonomy, and I like the neighborhood, which is safe and cheap (Boedo) and its been fun living with all the people in the house. Plus, I can practice trombone and I don't bother anyone. And the roof, (kind of like my patio, is enormous and cool)

    After rent, its just learning how to live in the city and limit expenses, but I haven't found that to be too challenging. Use public transportation, save taxis for emergencies, don't eat out often, buy alcohol at liquor stores, not in bars, etc etc.

    And I think that's as complete an answer as I can give. Ah, yes, one more important piece of advice. Take all advice with a grain of salt! Too many times I've gotten advice from foreigners who've spent what seemed like a long enough time in the city to be hip, only to find out that these idiots are still paying 400 dollars in rent, or have split a 2 bedroom apartment between 5 people to make ends meet. Other gringos can be more helpful than argentines in many ways, but only gringos who themselves are not morons. Although I only have some 9-10 months of experience of buenos aires all added together, I appear to be a lot smarter than the average gringo bear. People who know as much as me about the city usually have been here at least 2 years.

    Yeah, so that's a complete answer. Hope you actually read it!

    Thursday, March 24, 2011

    Right, Right Now


    Been awhile, Drugstore-fans, hasn't it?

    Right now, I'm sitting at the table in the kitchen of the same house that I was staying in when we last met. It was somewhat freezing when I woke up this morning in the concrete box of mine on the roof, so I went to where I am now to seal up the kitchen and use the oven, thereby creating my own personal summer.

    I'm making banana bread, that wonderful method by which my mother prevented the waste of bananas. Of course, here, they don't recognize this as bread, so much as they recognize is as "budin," which I take to be somehow related to pudding. The nice thing about that is that it does give lie to the idea that banana bread might somehow be healthy, being that it is not, containing more sugar than all of the export of the Dominican Republic.

    I have successfully completed what I imagined to be the 0th and 1st stages of my plan here in Buenos Aires. In stage 0, I came to Buenos Aires, resumed with most of my old contacts and make temporary arrangements to live. Now completing stage 1, I have found means for what I believe to be sustainable living. I am paying 900 pesos a month in rent, which I tell myself is not a bad price for how nice the house I am living in is. I have also found work at two english institutes which gives me a fixed income of about 3000 pesos a month. This will be month which comes with a full "paycheck" (cash in an envelope) so I expect to be able to pay a month's rent without using my savings and have enough left over to eat and even spend on meals at restaurants.

    There are a few problems. The job I like pays only 20 pesos an hour, is located in the most-loathed downtown of Buenos Aires, and it forces me to wear nice pants and shirt. Irritation aside, this will make a significant increase in my expenses for dry cleaning, and in a country where text messages are a quarter a pop (1 peso), you can never really tell what's going to be expensive and what's not.

    In my other job, I make 35 pesos an hour, I can wear T-shirt and jeans, and is only a 30 minute walk from my home. Sadly, it puts me into daily contact with the most hated thing in Christendom. Small, energetic children and requires me to work much time outside of the hours that they actually pay me. And worse, despite the fact that she is a thin and tall dark-skinned woman who appears to be about 25 years old, my boss is more interested in making sure I do the things they pay me for than flirting with me. As only taxi-drivers in Buenos Aires seem to grasp, there is nothing more terrible than having a beautiful lady-boss who is actually expects you to show up to work on time. Nay! Early, even.

    The other problem as I am transitioning out of stage 1 is that stage makes it somewhat impossible to get to the point where I'm spending most of my time involved with music and saving some money. The job that pays me better (and is some 2000 of my 3000 pesos) is from 5:30-8:30 or 9:30 M-TR. My other job is daily (except sunday) from 10-2 or 10-4. As you may notice this leaves me precious little time to do those important things like find people to hire me as a trombonist, find trombone students or english students, or do any of the things that I wanted to do while I was here, like compose, or start a webcomic. Oh, or eat or sleep.

    I have recently asked that half my hours with the little latino bastards from hell be stricken from my schedule, which will hopefully give me some time to prepare the next stage while maintaining a baseline income.

    Regarding housing: I appear to be doing better than most foreigners to whom I speak. And everyone's rent in the house got hiked, so I'm now paying the least rent! Schaudenfreude, methinks. But it does make me look like a spaz, though, I may still be paying much above what the thing is actually worth.

    Ja ne, friends.

    Friday, February 18, 2011

    As of late

    There's so much to say. Where have I been, what have I been doing? I know you'd like to know, or you wouldn't be reading.
    How I wish I could Twitter every little inane thought that comes into my head and every strange happening that happens to me.

    For instance, the other day, I read about the saying here, its free to dream or dreaming is free, or whatever. And then I halfway managed to execute the phrase with one of my housemates and he taught me to use it more better. Then yesterday, I bought a scratchpad to write on and I remarked to myself that to dream is free, but to write it down costs 5 and 1/2 pesos.

    The last month or so has been so totally dedicated to finding a job and getting an apartment/place to stay. I like to think that I did good job exerting myself towards the goals, a commendable effort when its so difficult to chart progress. I often thought or writing a blog post solely about doing these things in Buenos Aires. I guess you're looking at the paragraph that that has become. Anyway, lonely wanderer of the internet, here is how to find a cheap place to stay in Argentina.

    Forget Craigslist. Americans use Craiglist, and Argentines know it. The only things you'll find on Craigslist are those some hopeful Argentine has put up thinking that some rich Yankee will overpay for. Use American resources and you'll get booted onto the merry-go-round of Argentine for export. And let me tell you that Argentines don't pay those prices.

    Don't expect Couchsurfing or anything the like to be a whole lot better. Yeah, that website is supposed to be about people helping each other out, but the fact is Argentines in tight financial situations often rent out a room in their house to get some breathing room. Having little idea how to do this, the ask their friends and someone says, hey why not this website couch surfing, and they open a profile pretty much for the purpose of getting someone to help pay their rent (probably more than 50%, I'm betting).

    This is how it works in Buenos Aires, and this is why you're screwed: people ask their friends to help them find a place to stay. That's how everything works in Buenos Aires. This town is more italian than spaghetti. You need the friend of a friend of somebody's uncle's mechanic who knows a guy who knows a guy that's renting out an apartment. And even, that doesn't guarantee you a good deal, it just admits the possibility of a good deal, which Craigslist can not do.

    But here's an example of just how necessary it is to know somebody. One day I go to the real estate office and ring the bell. A lady comes to the barred door and asks me what I want. I tell her that I'm looking for a temporary rentals (that's less than than two years, the standard Argentine contract) she says that don't have any and I get the sense that the conversation is supposed to be done. I ask if she knows anyone that might have such a rental and she says that she wouldn't know in this neighborhood. I then took my leave.

    Then after some beer-assisted schmoozing in my friendly neighborhood machine shop, I'm directed to the wife of a retired guy that sometimes comes around to drink beer. I see her and there occurs one of those magical spanish conversations where I seem to understand all of the words but really come away with nothing from the conversation. Except, better than nothing, she tells me of a real estate agency where she knows someone and where the might have temporary rentals. She writes down the name Alba, her name, on a scrap of paper along with the address of someplace she thinks they might rent me.

    I follow her vague directions and wind up at, guess what, the same real estate agency I had been at but a few days ago. I ring, the some women answers in the same way, behind the barred door and I read off my scrap "Uh... I was sent by a women named Alba. She s-"

    "OH! Alba! Yes! Come in! Come in!" And this lady proceeds to actually do what a real estate agenct is supposed to do. Show me real estate. I managed to communicate to her in her flurry of helpfulness that actually I'm looking for a temporary rental and that maybe this place that Alba had suggested to me might be available. The real estate agent says unfortunately they just rented that place and that I should check out some of the two year rentals cause "Hey, things can be arranged". A few days go by and she calls my on my cell phone and lets me know of a "couple" looking for someone to live with them. I check it out and its an actual house (almost, duplex) with beautiful furnishing and all. My own, somewhat large private room with my own bathroom and carte blanche from the owners to have my girlfriend over and generally have my run of the house. (Incidentally, the couple is a gay one as he quickly informed me at the beginning of the house checking out process). And all that for a mere 1000 pesos. 250 murkan dollars. For how nice that house was, its a very good price.

    For the record, there do exist actual independent housings for that price. I saw one studio apartment for 800 pesos plus some expenses that would make it nearly 1000 pesos. It was a small square with a bathroom and one window which pointed to inside the building, a "courtyard" view. That is to say the column of air that was built into the design so that the residents wouldn't suffocate. It also came with a fridge and oven. I would have taken it, had it not required a two year contract and a "garantia". (Some property owner vouches for you. If you don't pay, they do.)

    Anyway, nowadays I'm paying 900 pesos for a little concrete box on a roof of what used to be a mansion for the living of an extended family. What I do like about my situation is that I can practice trombone and not bother anyone, that the facilities of the house are good (kitchen, etc) and that its populated exclusively by other bohemians, not the owners. I dislike sharing a house with someone who is renting a space out to me. (What's with that vibe? "I will rent you this room and let you use my kitchen." C'mon, really?) Oh, and finally, that its 225 murka dollars a month.

    What I do not like about my living situation is that the concrete box turns into a solar oven around 2 pm, the highway is nicely audible 24/7 and that one of the residents of the house is guitar banging rock and roller with stamina matched only by an out-of-tune Apollo with highly accented English.

    I am tired now. I go to bed. Maybe next time I talk about employment.
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