Tag Archives: Chile

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.


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.