Wednesday, May 30, 2007


It has been a rough couple of days. A couple days ago someone broke into our garage and stole a bunch of stuff. Our old house that we are in the process of cleaning/selling has a separate two car garage in back, and it seems that someone just busted the door in and helped themselves to lawnmowers, a bike, maybe more. My childhood neighborhood isn't what it used to be, so I guess its good that we are getting the heck out of there. Anyway, I suppose it is fortunate that it didn't happen at our current residence.

Angelica got turned down a second time for a visa to come back to work in Carlinville, so it looks like she won't be coming back any time soon. Her experience has definitely educated me about our current visa application process, at least as it applies to Colombia. First, one has to pay for the government's permission to apply for permission to work in the US. Then, each time she applies, she has to buy a sort of pin number. Then she has to pay for a phone call to schedule an appointment for an interview. Then the interview itself costs around 100 dollars. She said that this time the line to get to her interview was around 5 hours long. Then comes the really bad part. An interview with one of the consulate people. Imagine paying all of those fees, waiting in line all that time, just to have a 5 minute interview with a bureaucrat through a prison-like glass wall with the aid of an intercom. Pretty rough stuff. Here is the website for the US embassy in Colombia... I'm considering whether I should write someone and complain.

In order to get my Japanese student visa, I had to send one sheet of paper to the consulate in Chicago along with my passport. A few weeks later they sent me back my passport with a visa inside, just like magic. I guess being an American does provide a few advantages.

Here's some random entertainment. This is what seems to be an Indian ripoff of the Thriller music video. Its so bad, its good. Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Christmas in May

My lone free day during my Michigan work trip ended up being much more interesting than I had figured. During our 8 hour long drive to the customer's site, we saw billboard after billboard advertising for a place called Frankenmuth, MI. That much advertising on a highway could mean one of two things. Either the place is really desperate and lame, or really cool. I just had to go and discover which.

This place is crazy. It has around 5,000 residents, so not a large place in any respect. The majority of the downtown area is built to look like a German hamlet. Everything is covered in that brown and white checkered pattern people use when they want to seem authentically European. It seems that the city has some sort of "everything you build has just got to be fake German" law in place, as even a nearby convenience store was quaint looking. While this place does flirt with cheesiness, there are enough quality things to check out that I was willing to forgive its shortcomings.

Kinda cool. The place did give me a few childhood Germany flashbacks.

Since I didn't have to work this particular day, I slept pretty liberally through most of the morning. So, the first thing that I was concerned with once I arrived was food. I at a massive restaurant called Zehnder's. The building (buildings?) had multiple levels, including a giftshop and a small food court kind of place. The wikipedia site boasts that it can seat 1,500 people. Rather than wait at the end of one of several good size lines, I opted to skip all that and just walk right up to the bar and eat. Good chicken there...


After eating I walked around the town a bit, but my tolerance for silly little gift shops is pretty low. There was a few cheese shops, some sausage places.. candy shops... just like Germany! The city boasted in several places that it had a sister city in Germany. I thought to myself, what sort of self-hating person would travel all the way from Europe to hang out in a fake version of the place that they had just left.

The next place on my list was the place that had been advertised all along the highway a few days before. The place that helped to bring fame to this small town in the middle of nowhere. The one and only Bronner's Christmas Wonderland, the largest Christmas store in the world!! Hehe. That's one thing I can finally cross off of my life goal list. This place is ridiculous. I'm not really even that interested in describing it. Its giant, like 1 and a half football fields worth of all the Christmas stuff ever assembled. Its open all year round... and its big. So big that they hand out maps of the place at the door. And thats that. Once I was thoroughly having the It's a small world after all shivers, I had to rush out of that town back into the dirty, harsh world that I know and love.

Deep in the jungle that is the Christmas store.

Giant Santa: Check

I barely escaped the cheerful clutches of this place with my sense of sarcasm intact.

Up next: the thrilling conclusion of my Colombian odyssey.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Today is my third day in the city of Saginaw, MI. With about 60,000 residents, it is a fairly average place from what I've seen so far. Yesterday me and my coworker toiled for almost a 12 hour day at the customer's site. This trip involves replacing an old server with a new one, and moving all of the old information over. Its not very exciting, so I won't get into specifics. The sight of the old server left an impression on me, though. It was installed around a decade ago, and is the size of a large mini-fridge, only deeper. We had to open it up to do some drive switching, and I just had to take a couple shots of what it looked like inside. I believe that this machine has experienced some unspeakable things.

You know on tv, when someone digs up a coffin and opens it up for whatever reason? They sort of hold a rag to their face, and recoil for a few moments. Same sort of thing happened here.


So, these guys were definitely due for an upgrade. Anyway, today I don't have to go in, so I'm considering my options. It looks like the closest trip to the Canadian border would take less than 2 hours, but I think that I am feeling a bit too lazy for that. We will have to see what happens.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

More Colombia Chronicles

Now, on with day 4, the 8th of May. It was a very foggy morning, which was unfortunate because the place I was about to go next was known for its great view of the city. We took a beautiful cable car ride to the top of Monserrate Hill(wikipedia has a pretty complete page on this... considering it is a hill in South America... wikipedia is so great...). During the little cable car's long climb to the top of the hill, we could see parts of the faint foot trail to the top. As the top features a 17th century church, many pilgrims show their devotion by climbing up this dangerous looking path. It was raining lightly on this particular day, so I didn't get to see anyone struggling up the steps.

Here's a nice shot while we are awaiting our cabled chariot from the sky.

A foggy view of downtown Bogota.

The city is slowly being sucked up by the mists.

Once at the top, we had a nice lunch at Saint Clair's House restaurant. We sat by one of the many large windows so that we could continue to enjoy the view through the clear patches in the deep haze that hung over the city below. Apparently the house was built in some other town, but it was later moved to the top of this hill. Why you would move a house up what is almost a mountain, not to mention how, was not explained, but still entertaining to imagine. I had a glass of wine that was warmed up with spices, the taste of the alcohol is strengthened, but so was the flavor and aroma of the wine.

Here's a view of the restaurant. Notice the giant religious statue on the hill in the distance.

After a light lunch, we continued to what is the main attraction of the hill, the little chapel. The Colombians have an interesting way of depicting religious characters. While we generally just have white statues of saints and whatnot, the statues that I saw here were much more graphic, and a lot less peaceful looking. The statue of Jesus at this small church was almost too much to look at. The skin was the color of a man who had spent his life under a harsh sun. His crown of thorns caused blood to run down over his face. It looked like more of a wax replica than a statue.

An outside area of the church is covered in small plaques. When people pray to the scary Jesus statue, and get what they want, they buy a thank you stone and place it here.

After another fun ride on the sky ride, we were ready to continue our exploration of downtown Bogota. One of the big things I was interested in seeing was a bull fight. Apparently the Spanish tradition has a firm footing in this country as well. Unfortunately there is only a short season for the fights.. Oh well, something to look forward to I guess. One of the most interesting sites on the whole trip was near the bull fighting ring. The Museo del Oro(Museum of Gold) contains countless examples of golden artifacts crafted by Pre-Hispanic peoples. At times, the level of detail that these people put into their work was amazing. If one can make generalities, many of the artifacts fell into two groups. Some were for emphasizing the power of the ruler at the time, making him seem more stable and awe inspiring. Things such as large breastplates and masks could make a normal person seem like a god. The other large group of artifacts revolved around the shamans of the civilizations. The gold figures depicted the powers of the shamans, and the terrifying creatures that they could transform themselves into. With our little audio guide/players, we walked around to each of the cases and listened to an explanation, by the time we got to the second floor though, the sheer mass of information and material there causes us to wander and only listen to the especially interesting exhibits.

An interesting side note. The legend of El Dorado, the lost city of gold, originated from stories about these gold covered people living in present day Colombia.

A popular motif in the leaders' accessories was the jaguar.

Here are a couple of implements for the use of coca leaves. They are shaped to symbolize man and woman.

Some pretty excellent headgear.

At one point in the museum, I turned and realized that a small group of school children were standing motionless and staring at me. Among other mumblings, "where are you from?" seemed to be the question coming from them. I replied with a deep "Estados Unidos". Angelica said that their next question was "where is that?". I think that this is a nice illustration of the situation in the country. Even in Bogota, a city of over 6 million inhabitants, I rarely saw a white person. I think that until just recently, tourists have avoided this place because of the threats involved. The fact that the government has been pushing the crazies farther away from the popular areas means that this place will be crawling with annoying foreigners in no time, for better or worse. In the mean time though, I can enjoy being an oddity in a strange land.

After another long, but satisfying day, it was time to go back to Angelica's home and do some quick packing for our next excursion. More on that next time.

A Colombian airport is quite a large pile of confusion.

Having spent some time in such a wonderful place makes my current reality a bit more harsh. After sitting in my little gray box for a week, its time for my weekend reward. Tomorrow starts an over 8 hour drive trip to Saginaw, MI. Ought to be cold and dull. Exciting.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Back to Keeping it Real Domestically

After quite an adventure, I am back in the ol' US of A. I was unfortunately not able to access a computer very often during my stay, so I will have to do my best to recollect everything that I experienced in the correct order. Anyway...

It seems that I left off on day three. Oh what a day the third one was. My lovely guide and I toured the Casa de Moneda, which I like to pretend means the house of money. Situated in downtown Bogota, the museum houses a collection of coins which illustrates the progression of coin making technology in the country. I'm a big coin nerd, so it suited me very nicely. A substantial art collection is housed in an adjacent building. Much of the art present were works by the artist Fernando Botero. His specialty is fat people and fat animals(sometimes fat fruits), in both paint and sculpture. My favorite was a quite over weight version of the Mona Lisa that he painted.

The Casa de Awesome temporarily standing next to the Casa de Moneda.

A nice scene on the way to the big square.

From the museum we took a short stroll to what seemed be sort of the national square of Colombia. I saw the National Capitol Building, which houses both parts of the Colombian congress. At the other end of the large square is the presidential compound. Both, in the spirit of freedom, were closed to visitors.

The National Capitol Building

Here is a church on the square with all of the important national buildings. Rather than try to recall its name, I will tell you that Colombia is a very catholic country, and that there are really churches everywhere... even in salt mines.

Here's me and Angelica guarding this presidential soldier guy to make sure he doesn't try to smile or anything.

As it began to lightly rain, we took shelter in a military museum, which might not have been entirely smart, being as the museum was half open-air. Anyhow, I got a quick run down of all the major conflicts of the country, from before the war of independence, to Colombia's involvement in the United Nations operations during the Korean Conflict. While we were avoiding the rain, we were also stalling until 7pm. One or maybe more times a week, depending on the numbers in one's license plate, a vehicle is prohibited from being on the road during rush hour. Pretty interesting way to cut down on congestion. Well, more on Colombia tomorrow.
A quick peak at some of the armaments showcased in the open courtyard of the museum.

The Circle is Complete

The very first entry that I wrote in this blog was about my experience assisting a small group of Japanese reporters on a tour of Springfield. That was the 7th of December. You can find it if you click on December in the archives on the left and then scroll to the bottom of the page. Now, in May, I return from Colombia to find a letter from the State Department. It turned out to be a thank you card for my assistance with their program. "Dear John, we uber love you" was pretty much the gist of it. I was pleased to get it, but I am pretty amused with how long it took to arrive.

Fan mail from the US State Department.

I was shocked on my ride home today to hear that my high-school, Ursuline Academy, is closing. A press release on the website sites financial difficulties as the reasoning behind its decision to make its 150th year its last. I am a third generation graduate of the Academy, and I was saddened to hear that I will have been the last of my family to attend. Now the dreaded SHG is the only Catholic high-school in Springfield. BOOO!!! Hehe.

Oh and PS. DO check out the Andres Carne de Res Website. Reload it once or twice. Click on the little boat. This is one of the best webpages that I have ever seen. Its interesting despite the fact that I have no idea what they are babbling about. Check-check it out. Later.

Monday, May 07, 2007


I've only been here for a day and a half, but it already seems like a long time. In a place as different as this, my brain is working so much trying to figure everything out that I never have trouble sleeping.

Even the plane ride over here was different. This was the oldest looking plane that I can ever remember being on. Maybe just because the flights to Bogotá are cheaper than others of the same distance... I don't know. The whole immigration/customs experience was much more chaotic than you can usually expect. Granted I can't read many of the signs, but even the ones that were in English didn't make a whole lot of sense. So my approach to the whole mess was to just get in the shortest lines, and to keep walking until someone stopped me. When I finally got to the doors to the outside, I was stunned for a second. I thought I was just going to walk out and Angelica would be waiting there to pick me up. Quite a few other people had the same plan apparently. I could barely see the street through the windows. There were people pressed against the glass, and they were all waving and tapping to their respective loved ones. From the door to the car, I was asked if i needed a taxi by 5 different people. I never felt like I was in danger, but I was happy to be in the car driving away from all of those people.

The next morning we woke and had a huge breakfast. Here they eat a lot in the morning and work down from there... which is pretty much the exact opposite from how I normally operate. We then drove to the Catedral de Sal, which is an underground network of chapels and the stations of the cross. It is making use of the caverns created when mining this place for salt. In addition to the many assorted catholic icons carved into the rock, there are a few interesting rock formations caused by the mineral rich water that was dripping everywhere. I was glad to see it, as it is one of the highlight attractions of the area.

We went to a mall or two, which are interesting in terms of people watching and the occasional foreign thing offered, but for the most part malls are the same everywhere. It was also a lesson in economics, as some things are much cheaper/more expensive than they are in the US. It seems like food and textile stuff is much cheaper, but things like electronics are more expensive to the point that I wish I had brought something with me to sell. A visit to a bit shadier area offered such things as bootleg movies and video games.

Dinner was very entertaining. We went to a place called Andre's Carne de Res, which is much too large to be called just a restaurant. It was more like a small compound. A series of buildings surrounded by fence and covered in all sorts of cool artsy things. Many are made from things that would have been thrown away, such as bottlecaps and old rusty pieces of iron. Duos of performers strolled around keeping everyone entertained. I think that a place like this would do very well in the US, and we brainstormed a bit about how we could run such an establishment. Very cool.