Learning Uruguay

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Cold in Brrrrruguay

Posted by urufish on May 24, 2007

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Dont be too excited by the title.  It’s kind of tongue ‘n cheek.  It isn’t really cold here at all.  But everyone looks like it’s cold.  Today it was 11 degrees at 17:30 when I took these pictures.  The way many folks are dressed, you’d think it was 10 below in Duluth or Winnipeg, (which is kind of balmy to the locals there 🙂

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Uruguayans really bundle up dont they.  Scarves everywhere, and not around the neck either.  Around the head and what is particularly interesting to a Toronto boy, around their faces.  I get this discombooberated feeling when I see that.  I expect to see frost on the scarves, but I dont. 

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After living here through a winter and into this colder part of the year, I’m starting to understand why they do this.  I think it has to do with the time Uruguayans spend outside.  Unlike us northerners, they’re not running from the house to the car and from the car to the office or school and back again.  Here, they are walking, and walking and walking… and waiting for the bus.  I remember when I was a kid, we’d sneak out at lunch to have a smoke.  But we couldn’t go our lockers, so we’d stand out there in a shirt and sweater at 10 below zero, huddled together on a street corner.  The point is this:  you can take the cold if it’s for a short time.  If you had to spend an hour outside at 11 degrees, northerners would bundle up like this too… but probably not with a scarf wrapped around our head 🙂  I think that has something to do with the thing Uruguayans have about their lungs…  Many believe that inhaling cold air is bad for the lungs.  Gives you all kinds of terrible illnesses. 

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Meeting other English speaking ex-pats

Posted by urufish on May 6, 2007

Last night was our the first time in our lives, and the first time since we took up residency here, that we went to a large, group gathering of ‘gringos’.   It was Southron’s cinco de mayo fiesta and it was great fun.  Lots of wonderful, interesting people from US and Canada and by way of those 2, other parts of the world.   The group spanned the entire age range from bebes to retirees.  Food was great.  The house was very nice and easy to find.  The weather, for the most part, was on our side. 

You knew it was a northerner’s party because it started at 6 and many people left before midnight.  We met Dave, aka Southron and his staff.  Nice people. We look forward to the next one.

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Mail… junk mail, junk email, mail of all kinds

Posted by urufish on May 4, 2007

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Today was a memorable one.  Got my first junk email at the email address I adopted in Uruguay.   Not bad for over a year without a single junk email. 

Since it’s in Spanish and it follows within 10 days of my first post to a blog, I assume someone has figured out how to get email addresses out of blogs.  It’s from Chile, so that surprised me a bit, because I’ve pretty much kept to Uruguay, but it’s still south of the equator. 

As someone who averaged 400+ junk emails a day back home, I’m not exactly intimidated by them..  Just a matter of setting up filters.  But it was nice not having to do any of that when I came here.  Let’s see how this plays out.  If it’s a few a day, I wont bother.  But usually, once they get one hook in you, more follow, non stop. 

On a related issue, since we moved into the house, we started getting junk mail… as in the printed kind.  For over a year in the condo, we didn’t even get the Devoto or Disco flyers.  I think the building policy was to shoo away junk mailers.. or perhaps, they burned them for fuel.  But we never saw any.  We’ve been to many buildings where the flyers are lying around the front, or stacked up somewhere.  But for whatever, reason, that wasn’t the way our building worked. 

The paper is different than a northerner is used to.   It’s thinner and the printing isn’t as glossy.  Seems there’s big business in ‘cursos’, informaticas and other types.  Makes sense because Uruguayans place a high value on education.  It’ getting close to Mother’s Day and the flyers we’ve seen recently are tilted in that direction.  I wonder if perhaps flyers are mostly related to special days, like this one.  We’ll find out over the next year.  Reading flyers is not difficult, unless it rains.   We’ve only seen a couple of kinds of mailboxes here.  They’re cheap plastic made in China.  It’s good they’re cheap because we know they are frequently stolen, but the problem is they’re also porous.  When it rains, your mail gets wet.  I’ll have to mark that down on the apartment vs. house section on the blog.  It’s definitely an advantage in an apartment because your mail never gets wet.  Also, your magazines never get bent.  We subscribe to the Economist and our delivery guy must be a decent sort because instead of scrunching it into the mailbox, he pitched it onto the sidewalk inside the fence.  Had I been responsible and took it in yesterday, all would be fine.  But it sat out overnight in the rain.  Even though it’s in plastic, it’s still a little mojado this morning.  We put it on the rad to dry it out. 

Where we come from, the post office has exclusivity to deliver addressed mail. For instance, you cant hire a private contractor to deliver bills or other addressed product on a large scale.  Even a utility cant do that in Toronto.  Here, you can do what you want.  My security company uses a private delivery service. Magzines come from another agency.  Of course, there are delivery services like Fedex and DHL, but they dont do local, addressed mail.  Mail is pretty reliable and fast.  A regular posted envelope from Toronto gets here in 5-6 days.  Not much longer than it takes back home 🙂  Utilities are a little funny.  We’re used to a utility sending out the bills on the same day every month.  Here they can vary up to a week.  Being a fastidious chap, I’ll actually look for a bill to pay the day after it’s supposed to be here.  I’m learning to ‘let’ that go, living here. When it comes, it comes. 

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Keeping warm at night

Posted by urufish on April 28, 2007

Our new house was built with radiators fed by a woodfired boiler.  Over the years it changed to coal and then gasoil.  This year, we changed it to a natural gas, heat exchanger  for both hot water and central heating.  The original rads were 80 years old but like the Timex commercial, still ticking.  We added modern, aluminum radiators to heat the 3rd floor. 

With the cool nights, we decided it was time to get it going.  We called the company that installed it and after a few missed appointments, they showed up this morning.  There were 3 or 4 of them, crawling around the house, moving things around and looking very intense.  Mid day, we started to hear strange noises coming from the rads and a short while later, my wife told me she felt some warm air coming from the rad next to her computer.  Success!!! 

Shortly before 4pm, the owner proclaimed that everything was done, except they couldn’t add the electric element to the water heater (backup in case Bolivia (or Argentina) cuts off gas to Uruguay, and simutaneously, doesn’t shut down electricity from the country’s main dam).  They said if they installed it, that would void the warranty.  I believed them because from personal experience, if you change the end of the wire on a an applicance, to fit the one of a dozen different kind of a/c plugs in this country, there goes your warranty.  The country’s distributor had to install the element to maintain the warranty.   So that’s to happen on Monday (Uruguayese for Wednesday). 

When I finished watering the lawn, (another story), we decided to check out the radiators.  First challenge was to figure out how to use the thermostats.  We had ‘smart’ thermostats in Toronto but I had them pulled out the first time we went to use them.  We are used to, and prefer, the ones you set the temperature and there’s an on/off switch and an AC/Heat switch.  The ones we have here are even more complicated than the ones we pitched back home.  But considering the cost of energy, and the fact we have grown to like sleeping in the cold, we decided to give these ‘computerized’ thermostats a try. 

Well, either I am mentally challenged, (which is possible after a year out of the office), or they dont work the way the manual says they’re supposed to.  The technician set them for 21 degs (Celcius – remember we’re in a metric country), 7/24.  We’re dressed in sweaters today so we wanted to lower it to 19.  The manual says push the hold button, the word ‘hold’ comes  up on the LCD, then push the temperature button up or down, which I did to 18.  At that point, the system will hold the 18 degrees indefinitely.  I felt quite proud of myself, because I’m the kind of person who never reads manuals.  My philosophy is if you need a manual to explain something, it’s too complicated and you’ll need to consult the manual every time you use it.   That’s the same reason the clock in my car is always an hour off for 6 months of the year. 

My proud period didn’t last very long.  15 minutes later, I noticed the boiler was still going.  In fact, no matter what temperature you lower the system to, it maintains 21 degrees.  Maybe it has decided 21 degs is the right temperature for older people and for our safety and benefit, it wont allow us to lower it? 

I sent a text message to the architect and told him to deal with it Monday.  Now we’re sitting here writing this post and something else is whacky.  The aluminum rads sound like something between Niagara Falls Jr. and a babbling brook.  I vaguely recall noises like that when I was a pre-schooler and we had steam heat.  I’ve now sent two text messages. 

It’s weird but sitting here at 21 degrees feels hot.  Maybe I’m just mad. 

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Morning radio show – from home

Posted by urufish on April 26, 2007

Yesterday, I went to immigration to renew my cedula at the Geant store, (the fastest place to renew).  The process went without a hitch.  In and out in 20 minutes.  This time without messy hands.  The solution they had worked really well.  Took all the ink off instantly. 

The office is in a mall so I took a walk into the Geant store and decided to check out the electronics section.  I noticed a nifty little device called an FM transmitter.  You plug it into your computer and it will broadcast whatever you’re listening to as an fm station.  You play what you want to hear on your computer and you hear it on your radio. 

I have a laptop in the kitchen and a radio in the kitchen and I got the idea to put the radio station I used to listen to in Toronto at breakfast on my laptop.  Well, here I am, eating breakfast in Montevideo and listening to CHFI-FM, my old local radio station.  My  most interesting observation has been the commercials.  They’ve hardly changed in the year since we’ve been here!!!  

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