Thursday, December 25, 2008

5 differences with Christmas in Buenos Aires

What is different about Christmas in Buenos Aires? Well this depends a lot on one's personal experiences. Here are a few of mine:

Weather: We have a sunny 80 degrees this morning. I just skyped my Mom and Dad in Massachusetts and they are enjoying a balmy 40 degrees with hopes of seeing the ground after some recent snow storms.

Food: Typical Christmas fixings here are Lechon (suckling pig in the photo) and ensalada russa (russian salad) which is potato, carrots, and peas mixed with mayonnaise. My family has always been non-traditional with our holiday meals and luckily this seems to be holding so far here. (I am not a big fan of ensalada russa.) Another item you see a lot of are Pan dulce, the holiday equivalent to the obligatory fruit cake. We bought ours in the neighborhood bakery, but if you happen over to Palermo I'd check out Sugar and Spice. They seem to be taking Pan dulces to a higher level.

Celebration: Here Christmas Eve is really the big to do, not so much Christmas day. Last year for example, I spent christmas eve at a friend's asado in Boedo. At the stroke of midnight, people start shooting off fireworks. This might be one reason why Santa, tracked by Norad, stopped in Cordoba and only did a fly by of Buenos Aires. Too much shrapnel in the air space. My other theory is the naughty index was a little too high here this year, but I haven't been able to confirm this yet. It's just a hunch.

Opening presents: For kids, the fireworks are more like the sound of the starting gun. Here they get to open their presents at midnight. None of this going to bed and waking up super early nonsense for them. I assume this is because Argentines are accustomed to eating dinner quite late, typically betwen 9-11pm. However, it seems adopting this custom on present opening would be a good idea judging from the number of my friends in the US who made comments on FaceBook about their kids not going to bed on time.

Silence: Ok, this is not a difference between home and here, but a common comment I get from those who call me is, "Where are you? outside!?" We live on the 5th floor of a street side apartment and when a bus passes, it sounds like we are next to the landing strip of an airport. Noise pollution is rampant in Buenos Aires. However during the holidays, the city and our neighborhood in particular clears out. Since we are at home this year, the silence is wonderful. The down side of this is relying on public transport, in particular on Christmas eve. I tried to take a bus back from the asado in Boedo and was nearly stranded.

Those are some differences that come to my mind. What differences stand out to you?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My vote is in. How about yours?

Obama says he wants to hear ideas from all Americans so is taking him up on it. Vote for your favorite idea and the top 10 will be presented to Obama on inauguration day.

The causes range from Agriculture to Women's rights, so I'm sure there will be at least 1 idea that you will find worthy of support. And if not? You can submit your own idea. This is the wisdom of crowds at it's finest.

I found out about this vote through an email I received from Citizen Schools. Citizen Schools provides an after school program for inner city middle schools. What they do is convert ordinary you and me, who have some sort of expertise and/or passion into Citizen teachers. A Citizen Teacher is guided through a workshop with Citizen schools where they help you turn your expertise into a 10 week apprenticeship (hands-on learning projects) which the volunteer citizen teacher delivers twice a week and culminates with a "Wow Project". As you might guess, it's a project that literally leaves the kids saying "Wow" in amazement at what they have learned and accomplished.

While in Boston, I did the program twice, the first at the Edison middle school in Brighton and the second time at the Umana Barnes middle school in East Boston. Not only were the kids amazing, but I was also impressed with the organization run by supportive, dedicated and professional people.

So needless to say, I encourage you to vote for Citizen Schools so their organization and program can get some air time with Obama and deliver more positive experiences to more middle schools across the US.

What ideas do you want to see in the top 10?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Start-Ups..Buenos Aires After Office this Tuesday @ Casa bar

START-UPS BUENOS AIRES AFTER OFFICE. Tuesday DECEMBER 16, 7-10PM @ CASA BAR. 1150 Rodriguez Pena (and Santa Fe)

Come on down and socialize at our our last after office for 2008. Our group has grown considerably. As usual it will be a great opportunity to connect with new people and talk some end of year shop. Also take the opportunity to find out where the spots are to cool off for the summer!

Look forward to seeing you there.


p.s. Special performance by one of our StartUps members- NOT TO BE MISSED!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Barrio Chino prices, what's in the secret sauce?

Because I find Chinese restaurants in BA are pretty average and Japanese restaurants are below average and over priced, I have been doing quite a bit of Asian style cooking at home. I don't live very close to Barrio Chino (China town), so I try to do all my shopping there in one big swoop. Since supplies of essentials were running low, yesterday I made my shopping run. Barrio Chino is located in Belgrano and is quite small consisting of approximately 2 or 3 blocks. Being so small, it should not be such a surprise that those early entrepreneurs must know each other well which impacts what products are offered and how they are priced. (photo from
Upon arrival in Barrio Chino, it looks like the consumer is in control because there are several shops to choose from. The most popular ( I think it was the first market) is Casa China. Casa China looks like your typical chinese market: stuffed shelves and the pungent fresh vegetable/fish/meat section in the back. They also have a 2nd floor with some kitchen items normally only open on the weekends. This market was successful so they set up another local also called Casa China one block down. It's a bit smaller, a much smaller selection of pantry items and frozen foods, but recently expanded and has a bag your own grain section. Then there is Asia Oriental on Mendoza. Asia Oriental is bigger than either Casa China and has more of Super Market feel to it with a larger quantity and selection of pantry items, fresh vegetables, fresh meat/fish, dried noodles, tofu and a food bar which serves soups or stir frys to order. I also noticed a brand new market just opened up a couple doors down to the original Casa China called "Ichi-Ban". Ichi-Ban is a Japanese word (meaning number one) so one would think it carries more Japanese food items. Unlike the chinese markets, the place is spotless, but I think that is just because there was just me and one other gringo in there. From what I could tell they carry all the same stuff, except at super inflated prices. Maybe they are hoping for Japanese tourists?

And this leads me to the point of this post. What I find amusing are the price differentials between the same items that I purchase. They run from miniscule to ridiculous. I needed soy sauce and found a 2 liter jug of Fumeiga soy sauce which was priced at 23 pesos in Casa China was priced at 19 pesos in Asia Oriental and a whopping 38 pesos in Ichi-Ban. Sake was another item you have to watch out for. I bought a big bottle of sake last winter in Asia Oriental for 50 pesos, the same bottle in Casa China was 80 pesos. I rechecked the prices this go around and Asia Oriental had raised the price to 64 pesos and Casa China had lowered their price to 70 pesos. A hot pot that I had also bought last winter in Asia Oriental cost 80 pesos, similar hot pots in Casa China were well over 120 pesos. Other low cost items had small price differences such as the frozen gyoza (9 pesos in Asia Oriental, 8.5 pesos in Casa China) and Dashi (Fish powder) which was 14 pesos in Asia Oriental and 10 pesos in Casa China.

So what's the secret to shopping in Barrio Chino?
The difference to me is psychological. For some reason I expect to be able to find great deals in China town. Unfortunately, the great deals are few and far between. So shoppers really have to be on your toes. What barrio chino offers is a selection of must have pantry items that are difficult to impossible to find in regular super markets, a wider selection of asian veggies some that are also unavailable in regular supermarkets like lemon grass, bokchoy and others that are available, but are much fresher and lower priced in barrio chino such as hakusai (Napa cabbage), daikon radish, cilantro, a plethora of mushrooms, herbs like romero and thyme etc.. (I haven't had the courage to buy the fresh fish/meat yet). Imported Japanese products are expensive, so I substitute when possible like the big bags of locally produced soba and somen noodles in the photo. They are not as good as the Japanese ones, but at a fraction of the price, they get the job done. In the end, Barrio Chino is about selection, not about price which makes it no different from any other shopping area. You need to hunt around for the bargains.

What tips do you have to share about Barrio Chino?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Good news for rich, white folks. Your kids are improving.

A New York Times article, "Math Gains Reported for U.S. Students" sites a new report that the US on average is improving in Math. “It was good to see that the United States has made some progress in math,” said Ina V. S. Mullis, co-director of the Boston College center, “but I was surprised by the magnitude of the gap between us and the highest performing Asian countries, and that should cause us some concern.”

So before we pat ourselves on the back, we are still getting our butts kicked in Math by the likes of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and etc. But hold on. Read the report and the other real story is not the magnitude of the gap between the US and certain Asian countries, it's the magnitude of the gap within the US between the rich and poor and between Whites and Black/Hispanic minority groups.

This gap is presented as the effect size in the TIMSS report. (available for download at the nytimes) The report takes the example of Hong Kong (the highest performing 4th graders in math) and compares them with the US. They found the effect size is a considerable 1.1. In layman terms, this indicates that the comparison between these two data sets is something policy makers need to do something about because the difference is real and significant.

On the far right of the graph you can see the effect size between US public schools with the lowest level of poverty versus US schools with the highest level of poverty. This gap is even higher at 1.5.

Check out the bars in between and you can quickly get a feel for the gaps that exist between whites and minority groups.

What does this mean?
Achievement gaps between income groups and ethnic groups in the US is not a new story. It is generally acknowledged that in the US, if you are poor it is more probable you are either black or Hispanic and living in a lower income area. Since US public schools are primarily funded by property taxes, this typically means a lower quality school and a lower quality education. The TIMSS report simply show math test results that support this fact. You can see similar trends in the TIMSS science scores.

What gets me startled is thinking about how much further behind the US poor and blacks/hispanics rank on an international scale.

It's bad enough as the world's hyper power and biggest overall spender on education (see my previous post on the OECD) can barely crack the top 10 on this short list, but down right embarrassing that the scores of our poor and minorities wouldn't even break the top 20. After all, it's not just the rich whites who will be competing for jobs in the global economy.

What do you think we need to do to change this scenario?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bloggers in Buenos Aires: Fair and balanced?

Politics is tough. Bloggers in Buenos Aires are tougher. I've come to this realization after a couple weeks of nastiness leading up to a no-confidence vote of the chairman of the group which was in the end canceled, rather unceremoniously, by the resignation of the entire Executive Committee of Democrats Abroad Argentina (DAA).

For me, DAA was a godsend this year. It got people energized, it got people involved in the election and it got people to vote. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank EVERYONE who made DAA a reality when it counted most. Yanqui Mike, through sheer force of personality and perseverance, and yes I also extend my thanks to what seems to be characterized by bloggers here as the gang of four: Meghan Doran, Richard Tihany, Laura Atkins and Maria Emilia Ramirez for their generous and tireless efforts as well. Yanqui Mike is a tour de force, but no he would not have been able to do it all alone.

In the name of full disclosure, I was a founding member of DAA, showed up early and often to DAA events and volunteered my time to support DAA, but not nearly on the same scale as those on the Executive Committee or even some of my fellow volunteers. I shared a few beers with Yanqui Mike, but also have shared a few with Meghan Doran and Emilia Maria Ramirez as well. I have also met and had pleasant conversations with Laura and Richard who are fine and reasonable people.

I consider Yanqui Mike a friend. He and Alicia have never been anything but warm and welcoming to me. I also consider Meghan and Emilia friends. So to say that I am disappointed with what has happened between all these good people is an understatement.

I'm also disappointed there was not closure to this issue because now the only record of what did or did not happen are emails and blog posts. I'm relatively new to blogging and my naivety is shining through right now by expecting a little bit less Fox News style "fair and balanced" opinion by fellow democrat/bloggers. Where Obama inspires me by trying to raise himself above politics as usual, it seems some bloggers here are all too happy to trade character assassinations in defense of one of their own. This is understandable, but certainly as a DAA volunteer, I don't find it inspiring.

I hope the bloggers who sprang so quickly to Yanqui Mike's defense, also jump into those vacancies on the Executive Committee. DAA is going to need new volunteers in order for the organization to survive next year. If you do not, my guess is that these blog posts will serve as the final nails in DAA's coffin. All the posts (including my own) should be fair warning of what some newbie will be stepping into if they volunteer with DAA next year. It ain't pretty.
Good luck DAA. I'm out.