Interaction – Week One

31 08 2009

With the end of the first week, I have slowly begun to process all the Spanish fire-hosed in my brain. It’s all a jumbo mess right now: regular verbs – ar, er, ir endings, irregular verbs ar, er, ir endings, vocabulary, phrases, pronouns, possessive pronouns, adjectives, etc. Our maestras (teachers) will only speak to us in Spanish and we have to speak in Spanish outside of class. The first day was full of gestures and hand motions to my host family.

It didn’t take long but I have started taking the American culture out of my system and have taken on the Mexican way of life. It’s a simple and easy life. I love the afternoon break. Stores shut down for several hours and we get a 3.5 hour break. Yes you read that right! Three and a half hours every day. Imagine if Americans took the afternoon off to slow down, to go home to have lunch with their families and took a siesta. We would be much happier and stress free! Classes end at 12:30 and I stay for about half an hour to check email and facebook friends. I get back to the house about 1:15 and then have lunch with Reuben and the extended family. We watch some television (this week it has been ESPN deportes and the Little League World Series) and I get to practice some phrases. By 2:15, I hit the bed for a nice siesta and by 3:30, I make my way back to the school.

On Friday, I took Belen (Britton) and Court to El Centro (downtown). Our maestra Abbie was nice enough to tell us which bus to take and meet us there. There are no official bus signs or stops so we just found the white wall near the school and waited for camion Ruta Tres. Got to downtown no problem. Not bad for some gringos. The girls wanted to get some Chivas soccer jerseys and get their names embroidered on it. I remembered that Greg took me to El Pasito when I got mine so we walked over there. I forgot to tell the girls to haggle. They paid $150 pesos and got their jerseys embroidered at another store.

It was still early and I asked if the girls wanted gelato so we hopped on another bus to go to my favorite gelato store off of Mirador. We didn’t know which bus to take to get to Mirador so we walked the rest of the way (about 2.5 miles). They whined a little because of the walk but I promised it would be worth the exercise. They agreed after sinking their mouths in the double scoops of gelato (see below).

I wrote the phrase last week echame ganas (try your best!). It’s the motto Greg uses for the school and he shared the acrostic GANAS for us. I’m proud to say we didn’t let Greg down during our adventure.

G – Go out (I intend to a lot. And do some exploring of the city)

A – All in Spanish (We were so proud of ourselves. The whole day was spent talking to each other in our broken Spanish)

N – Notebook (We carried our pocket notebooks to remember various verbs and phrases)

A – ACT (Like true thespians, we imitated as best as we could the accents, body language and gestures of the locals). It’s hard to blend in though 🙂

S – Smile (No problem – that’s all we’ve been doing. Wouldn’t you if you get to learn a language, a culture and a country by living here for four months?)

Week two starts soon. We’re learning preterites and I have a tennis tournament to win.



Interaction – study from the best!

25 08 2009


Escharle Ganas – in Spanish it means to try your best. I’m living into that phrase. After a summer of traveling around the globe, I have come full circle and have returned to Chihuahua, MX to learn Spanish at one of the finest institutions south of the border – Interaction. It has become so world renown that two of my old students have graduated from the program and I walked into classes this morning to surprise three more of my old students.

This fall I will be immersed in Spanish with four other students, four days a week. Greg put me in a host family that has an extra room upstairs and they give me as much privacy I want and it’s only a fifteen minute walk to the school. The host mom and dad (Minerva y Rueben) are empty nesters and Minerva works for a law firm dealing with domestic violence against women. Rueben is retired and does all the cooking in the home. He’s an excellent chef. Time to exercise like crazy this fall lol.

I had kept going to the language school a secret from the girls and it was such a fun way to surprise them this morning as I was the last one to walk into the classroom and yelled “Who’s ready to learn some Espanol?”. Welcome to Chihuahua!

School’s in session. As school resumes in the states, it’s the same here in Mexico with thousands of children in their uniforms and backpacks being dropped off at their respective classrooms. Chido!

By the way, the school is building a reputation. All their students have tested out of a minimum of nine hours of college Spanish. 80% have tested out of 12 hours.


The Rice Rocket

24 08 2009

Some people grow up and recall a childhood memory like fishing with their fathers, weekend camping trips or shopping with their mothers. For me it was the cars. I didn’t grow up with warm fuzzy memories of wrestling with the family dog or swinging under the tree. Living in Oakland it was about the cars. Before there was Vin Diesel and the Fast and Furious movie series, there was the real thing happening in the streets.

I remember as a kid wanting to have the dream car. It wasn’t German, nor was it American Muscle – it was Japanese. Hondas, Acuras & Toyotas are what my friends rolled around in. From Integras, to Civics, to CRXs, to Corollas, we found some way to soup it up. I have never owned a new car and I didn’t have the dough to shell out for 20” rims, but I knew that one day I would own a Rice Rocket.

My Rice Rocket didn’t have a Momo wheel or Recaro racing seats or even a loud exhaust. But it was a Honda. And we Asians love our Hondas. I bought mine with 100,000 miles on it. The key to buying a good used car is get it from an old couple who only drives it in town and shuttles their grand-children around. Better yet, buy it from an old Asian couple. They’re bound to put plastic wrap around the interior of the car.

I purchased the Civic from a sports fan. It had a huge RAIDERS logo on the back window. A friend of mine swapped out the factory radio for a cd face plate. And we put some JBL speakers in (No Sub though). There was nothing special about this car. No power windows, no cruise control, no guts. It was a standard 4 cylinder. What it lacked in looks and bling, it made up for on the highway. I got the car in 2001 and drove it from Castro Valley, CA to Dallas, TX. I averaged 42 mpg on that cross country drive!

The Rice Rocket made quite an impression in Dallas. Everyone knew it was my car because of the infamous RAIDER logo. I’m not a Cowboys fan so my car was easy to spot when parked next to huge American trucks with their gun racks and longhorn emblems. In the eight years I have owned this car, I have driven it to Arkansas, Arizona, New Mexico, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and everywhere in Texas. It has taken good care of me. When people complained about getting 15 mpg on their gas guzzling Suburbans and paying $80 to fill up, I would smile knowing I averaged 35 mpg and cost under $20 to top off the tank. My mechanic back in Cali told me that if I took care of the car, it would take good care of me. And it has. I sold my car this week to one of my old students. I know he and his family will continue the legacy of the Rice Rocket. It has been a great car for ministry. I didn’t care if it got scratched or dinged. Takes a licking and keeps on ticking. As I pass the baton along, here are some fun facts about the 1995 Honda Civic 4DR 1.5 Liter 16V affectionately known as the Rice Rocket.

  • 220,104 miles on the car when sold
  • Taught over 25 students how to drive stick in the church parking lots, on surface streets and the back roads
  • Was broken into at the Seminary parking lot. Broken window, stolen toolbox but items were later recovered
  • Survived numerous rain and snowstorms fish-taling and did a 180 on Hwy 121 during the ice storm in December 08’
  • Same original engine
  • Belts replaced twice
  • Clutch replaced twice
  • Battery replaced four times in Texas
  • Four people have hit my car (three of them from Chase Oaks Church)
  • one seminary student sideswiped the passenger side parking his car
  • one student was such a horrible driver that he managed to hit my car in the church parking lot while backing up and cracked my headlamp. There were only three cars in the lot at the time of the accident
  • one student whose initials are DS sideswiped the driver side of the car two days after he got his license.
  • Finally there is the Missions & Outreach Pastor who backed into my car as he was getting out of his own driveway. Way to go John!
  • The car was blue when I got it. Now it is pale with shades of light blue and grey due to the Texas heat.

May the legend continue and hopefully reach 300,000 miles!


Medical Insurance

12 08 2009

I’ve been out of the loop with this whole health care reform that Obama is pushing. Last night I saw that the Staple Center has been turned into a make shift free clinic offering everything from mammograms to dental check-ups. The news reporter interviewed families that were bypassing the annual dental visits so that they can redirect it towards grocery. Is it really that bad out there?

I’m beginning to shop for health insurance. It’s kind of easy for me. No health risks, non-smoker, single. So far I’ve gotten some good rates for short term health insurance. Wondered what everyone else’s experience has been and if you have suggestions or links that include insurance for stateside and travel abroad.


11 08 2009

In the past two months, I have been on three continents, four countries and logged in over 25,000 flight miles. And I have not stopped to breathe really until this past weekend. I got off the plane in San Francisco (put a jacket on) and then hopped in the car to go to Yosemite. I absolutely love this place and I know why the naturalist John Muir fought hard to turn this into a national park. It was the perfect weekend being able to spend with my buddy Brandon, his wife and her extended family. Brandon and I have known each other since we were in elementary school and it was such a blessing to not have the cell phone on (even though I had coverage on top of Half Dome). We sat around the campfire, I wore a jacket at night, had to bundle up in my sleeping bag and somewhat roughed it. It definitely isn’t camping in Texas.

We left Saturday morning at 5:30 AM to conquer Half Dome. From the trailhead near Lower Pines, it is a 16 mile round trip. I don’t know which is worse or more physical – going up or coming down. We were all troopers, shared food, water and put up with each other’s complaining (not too much) to get to the top. What a beautiful sight to behold once we got to our destination. No one got hurt except for the minor blisters and we enjoyed each other’s company. Props goes to Uncle Desmond who climbed this twice in the span of three weeks. He’s 62!!!

Enjoy the pics. Sorry too lazy to photoshop to make it pretty.


El Capitan


Vernal Falls


Near the base of the cables. Yes, those are people behind me climbing at 80 degree angles!


You fall, you die. Bring gloves if you climb Half Dome.


Enjoying the view below which is Curry Village. Brandon snuck in for the shot!


The Whole Group

Pay It Forward

7 08 2009

It’s my last night in Texas… at least for a while. I’ll be heading home for a bit to catch up with friends and family in sunny California. While my travel adventures have somewhat subsided, I have taken the week in Texas to say farewell to some beautiful friends. I can’t believe that I have become a Texan and have lived here for eight years. Today was bittersweet in many ways since I was boxing up all my memories.

In the last couple of days, I have either given away or sold most of my belongings. Many of my old students have helped clean out my house of coffee tables, bar stools, end tables, a dvd player, clothes, televisions, couches, etc. I’ve also been fortunate to have some good friends take care of storing some personal effects.

Pay it forward – it’s a simple idea but one that is not practiced much. I learned the gift of hospitality from one of the many families I have met and built relationships in Texas. This family offered to take me in while I was a poor seminary student with no place to stay during the summer months. I remember the son (who was in the youth group) go home and ask his parents “Ray has no place to stay, can he come live with us for the summer?” The family barely knew me and just took me in – no questions asked. It’s like the son came home with a stray dog. This family has blessed me in so many ways – I wound up staying there for two summers and saved money on rent. They never asked for money, never asked me how long I would be staying, gave me all the privacy I needed, and included me in all their functions. I was part of their family.

So here’s where I return the favor. The son is finishing up college. Smarter than I will ever be and living modestly. Since I have no clue where I’ll be going next year, I told him to take whatever he needed for his apartment. Enjoy it, no need for payment, and when he’s through, pass it along to someone else in need.

It’s just things. What are you holding on to that’s so important that you couldn’t bless someone else with?