Category Archives: Fun personal

Reflections from Buenos Aires

I have so much blogging to catch up on! These last 2 weeks have been a blur – first a trip to Buenos Aires, then Anuprit and Geoff’s birthdays, and now the Chilean National Independence Day, dieciocho. All while trying to get work done for our October Gym-Pact pilot!  Needless to say, 24 hours a day have not been enough.  But Buenos Aires was such an experience that I need to at least write out my impressions, if I can’t get across everything I saw over the 7 days there.  The city has given me more perspective on Latin America, Chile and my own experiences.

Upon arriving in Buenos Aires, my first impression was, of course, of the differences from Santiago.  Cafes on every corner, greenspace, a restaurant culture, unique crafts being sold in markets, architecture, blue (smog-free) sky, and most of all, an overwhelming sense of scale and grandeur from a city that prides itself in its culture and past.  All these things I had been craving in Santiago, and experiencing them all at once was sensory overload but not in an unpleasant way.  We spent the first day just walking and taking it in.  There were those spontaneous surprises around every corner – street musicians, 2×1 café con leche, a public garden, 3-story high graffiti art – that made Buenos Aires seem endlessly large and ripe for exploring.

Buenos Aires had a distinctly Italian flair – from the accent of the Spanish to the cappuccinos to the tricky cap driver who tried to charge us $140 USD for a 140 peso ride.  But it was also different in that it wasn’t solely focused on a grand past, but also looking to its future.  This we saw in the beautiful Palermo Valle where Argentina’s startup scene convenes.  The Argentinians are naturally more entrepreneurial (maybe because they are more willing to argue?), but most of them also have a deep respect for the Chileans when it comes to business, despite the natural neighborly rivalry.  One Argentinian entrepreneur told me that the Argentines are better at starting businesses but the Chileans are better at growing them.  This statement didn’t surprise me at all.

Given their complementary strengths – Chile with its orderly, business-friendly government, fervent anti-corruption (fought with a mountain of paper receipts), straight-forward people, and safe, easy-to-live-in capital, and Argentina with its creative, artistic spirit and rich culture – I am surprised the two neighbors don’t work together more often.   Indeed, many Chileans I spoke to have never even been to Argentina, and vice versa.  This is a tragic loss of opportunity that can very easily be remedied.  I don’t pretend to be an expert on Chile-Argentina relations, and I am sure there are many historical and cultural reasons for the rivalry, but still, going forward, I think there is always opportunity when different strengths come together.

Tear gas, fire and tanks in the fight over education in Chile

So this was a surprising interruption in my otherwise normal day. We were told at around 4pm that it was a good idea to clear out of the Start-Up Chile office due to the riots tonight. Having heard a bit about the students’calls for quality education, I thought that this would just be a small if somewhat rowdy protest. The tear gas in the streets and Chilean carabinero police in full battle armor probably should have warned me otherwise.  But it wasn’t until we tried to leave our apartment around 8:30pm tonight for a friend’s birthday party did we really get a big dose of reality.  Here are a few pictures of our short-lived attempt to walk 6 blocks just south of the Alameda:

Masked against tear gasFire education

I’ve never been tear-gassed before, so it was a pretty shocking experience.  Even though we managed to avoid the worst of it, we could see the multiple fires down the streets, smoke and sirens, all underneath a constant banging of pots and pans in a typical South American cazerolada protest style.  From what I could see, it was definitely an overuse of force on the Chilean government’s part.  The quotes from some government spokespeople were quite disturbing: Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter warned, “The time for marching has run out”, and Andres Chadwick, a government spokesman, said, “The students are not the owners of this country.  We cannot be held prisoner as a society by the idea that the only rights that matter are those of students to protest.”

While I don’t condone when reckless violence is masked in the form of protest, and while the fires and crowds of young men running through the streets was rather disturbing to see, I still cannot believe this is the amount of force necessary against students who are calling for change in education.  If anything, seeing students passionate and willing to speak out in the name of something they cared about was refreshing to see, not a dictatorship of students over a country.  If anything, the police with their full battle gear, tanks, water cannons and tear gas were the ones that terrified me the most.  I agree with the spokesperson for the student demonstrators that riots likely would not be as violent, not as war-like, if the government did not treat it so much like a war but rather as compatriots trying to improve the situation for everyone, which is what it truly is.

Looking more into the actual educational issues up for debate, it seems that the heart of the matter is whether education should be a public or private good.  Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has made clear that he believes education should be private, tacitly supporting for-profit activities in education, while the student demonstrators believe in greater government intervention and funding.  For me, the biggest question is, what is the value of an education?  As an immigrant to the US who arrived as a family with basically nothing in our names, education has been the open pathway that led me, if not to guaranteed success, at least to opportunity and the freedom to choose the life I want to lead.  Beyond even healthcare, which becomes an issue only when one is sick, education affects each and every one of us and determines how many doors will be open to us later in life.  For me, the value of an education is priceless, which makes it difficult to price in the private markets.  It also has unbound positive externalities for society to have an all-around educated population, regardless of income.  So I guess I am on the side of the protestors, despite getting a faceful of tear gas and missing a friend’s birthday party because of them.

Quick interlude: The (almost) whole Start-Up Chile group!

Wanted to post this lovely picture of us, freshly fed from our BBQ!
Start-Up Chile groupMore photos can be found on my Facebook here!

What’s so different between Chile and the US?

My globe-trotting friend Yi gave me some good advice on travel-blogging: write down strange and surprising things about your new environment before you get used to it and stop noticing the unusual.  Now that I’ve been in Santiago for almost a month, I think it’s time to note some of the interesting differences.  For the most part, Santiago is a modern city that may have a bit of a US crush, which lends it to be fairly similar to “The States”, as the Chileans would say.  Starbucks and McDonald’s?  Check.  Smooth-running subways and buses?  Check.  Skyscrapers and suburbia? Check.

Santiago panoramaHowever, there are four main things I’ve noticed that are significantly different between Chile and the US, and I’ll be writing a separate blog post about each one to avoid boring you all with one gigantic essay.  They are:

  1. The Beauty of Aggregation (And Why I Now Appreciate Wal-Mart)
  2. The Pre-Consumption, Consumption and Post-Consumption Evolution
  3. What Entrepreneurship Can Do For Chile
  4. A Rich Country that Remembers Being Poor
So today’s topic is The Beauty of Aggregation.

I never thought that I would be dying for some Wal-Mart, but here I am.  While living in the US, I seriously under-appreciated the supreme awesomeness of being able to go to one place and buy everything.  Seriously, think of all the things that you can buy at Wal-Mart – shampoo, vegetables, a vacuum, yarn, fish, t-shirts, contact solution,  paprika, hangers, etc etc.  Here in Chile, you will most likely have to buy every item in that list in a separate store!

There are perfumerias that just sell bath stuff, the Vega Chica for fruits and veggies, electronics stores, yarn stores (I am not joking, there is an entire district just for yarn), the Mercado Central for fish, specialty stores for clothing, eye-glass stores for contact solution, spice stalls, and on and on.  And while they try to be helpful and amass in one place either a bunch of the same stuff (think 30 eye-glass stores on one street) or a bunch of different stuff (gigantic malls that include rides and full-service restaurants), each store is still under separate management.  What this ends up meaning is that you spend 3 hours going to 7 different stores on a grocery shopping trip.

On top of that, even within each store, there are different people who manage different parts of the shopping experience who seem to despise communicating with each other.  For example, to buy some sausage at the meat market, I got a receipt for the meat I selected from the guy behind the counter, which I brought to the cash register people to pay and receive another receipt, which I brought to the checkout guy to redeem my purchase.  This was all within a 20 ft x 20 ft store.

I guess in the US things used to be the same way, and Wal-Mart as a concept simply aggregated “malls” that had lots of different stores under different management into one gigantic store.  Wal-Mart may be on one hand an evil, soulless monster that eats mom-and-pop stores and destroys local culture, but on the other hand, it does provide a lot of value in terms of time efficiency and ease of mind, for people unfamiliar with where to buy their staples.  As Chile continues to open up and receive a bigger influx of foreigners unfamiliar with the city, I expect that more and more megastores will open up to accommodate time-pressured and confused shoppers.

Skiing in July for my birthday!

Lol, I LOVE this picture from the awesome Sanivation team who met us on the Andes ski slopes yesterday on my birthday.  This is pure me versus uphill gravity (and the reason why my arms are so tired today).  More photos to come!

Me vs. gravity

First week in Santiago!

So I promised a lot of people that I’d post pictures and stories of Santiago.  After a week without regular access to email – the silence from lack of iPhone alerts was both irking and oddly peaceful – I’m back online, almost back on track with life, and have some time to post first impressions.

At the Start-Up Chile officeAfter making it off the plane with over 150 lbs of luggage each, Geoff and I made it to Giselle’s house, then to the Start-Up Chile office.  Imagine 140 entrepreneurs crammed into one floor of a high-rise – craziness abound and wireless internet strains under the burden.  But it’s been great to meet everyone!  We’re from all over the globe with companies as diverse as apartment renting, sanitation tech, photoshare and us – fitness.

Meanwhile, at Giselle’s house, we have been getting an awesome dose of Chilean hospitality.  From Sr. Huerta’s antics with the heirloom riding cape to Pache, the cutest and possibly tiniest dog in the world, to delicious fresh meals prepared by Carmen, we’ve felt right at home in our new country.

Sr Huerta's heirloom riding capePache the cute tiny dog

Yumm, Peruvian food

Meanwhile, we also took two hikes to see a panoramic view of Santiago – one near Lo Barnechea in the suburbs and one with the Start-Up Chile crowd up Cerro San Cristobal, the Central Park of Santiago.  The views were stunning, despite the pretty terrible smog.

Jumping for joy against the AndesGeoff finds Hamlet the skullAndes, beautiful AndesVirgin Mary atop San CristobalSantiago sky view from San Cristobal  So overall, not a bad week.  Spanish is improving all around thanks to the difficult real estate market. Can’t wait to move into our SWEET apartment this week and add some pictures.  What can you rent for $550 per month in Santiago?  Get ready to be jealous Boston and NYC folks 🙂

Got Grit?

I’ve always been interested in the characteristics of successful people, and I’ve read books from Outliers to Bounce to Everyday Survival, but a great article in Women’s Health caught my eye today. While other books have touted intelligence, practice or instincts as the keys to success, this article says it’s grit that makes a difference.  How do they define grit? According to Angela Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania, “Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges and maintaining effort and interest despite failure, adversity, and plateaus.” That sounds a lot like getting through a hard workout, or even getting your butt to the gym itself!

There are a ton of tips in the article on how to train yourself to have grit, but I wonder whether something like Gym-Pact might help those who really don’t start out with much grit (including yours truly) to even kick-start that learning process. What do you think?