December 20, 2005

City Girl at heart -loving Buenos Aires

After 2 months of hard travel, being in Buenos Aires was heavenly. While I love being in touch with nature, and I can stay in a small town for a day or two, I like my streetlights, wide paved avenues, and the anonymous bustle of people.

We rented an apartment for two weeks – a one bedroom (separate room for sleeping!), a kitchen (I got to cook!), a washing machine, cable TV and an internet connection, and I was in heaven. After worrying about whether we would have enough hot water for showers, and having to leave our room door open to get heat in Ushuaia, this was blissful. No having to find an internet cafe, eat out every meal, find laundromats, or share a communal TV.

Buenos Aires (BA) is a huge, cosmopolitan city of 18 million. It has the bustle and rhythm of NY (along with the fleets of taxis) but is less menacing, somehow. The guide book describes Portenos (residents of BA) as “Italians who speak Spanish and think they’re European”. And, they are very fashion conscious. I watched thousands of women in my two weeks there, and not a single one was badly dressed. Everyone had coordinated shoes, purses, and jewelery.

Having nothing but my backpacker clothes and Tevas, I felt like I really stuck out (add to it that I’m Chinese, and it’s very noticeable). Shopping was spectacular.

Some of you who know me might be scratching their heads at this moment about that last sentiment. But every single clothing and shoe store (and there are many) has virtually all their merchandise in the window, with their prices clearly displayed. This means minimal interaction with sales staff unless I see something I like. (Yes, my introvertedness kicks in.) And, Argentine women are naturally small, so no having to find petite sections for boring clothes.

Having bought some more stylish clothing, we took in a tango show. The Tango is the famous dance of Argentina, and the dancers are sensual and skilled, executing amazing twists and intricate movements in tandem. What was a great surprise was that singing was a large part of the show. In fact, the tango shows were advertised by who was singing, rather than who was dancing. Also, the accordian is of central importance. We in the US seem to laugh off the accordian as not a ‘real’ instrument, but in the hands of a skilled player, it was truly expressive and took on a life of its own.

The food was also great, though a bit monotonous. There are wonderful cafes on virtually every street corner, serving excellent coffee and a bewildering and tempting selection of pastries. With the large Italian immigration in the 18th century, there are an enormous number of pizza and pasta places, topped only by the number of places serving empanadas and beef.

I had been looking forward to Buenos Aires as a place to savor ethnic foods before heading off to Africa. What we found sadly were only a handful of Thai, Indian, middle eastern places. Surprisingly, these meals were relatively expensive, costing about what they would in the US (thus extremely pricey by Argentine standards). Ethnic food is considered ‘exotic’, and not the cheap, plentiful, good standbys that I take for granted in the US.

I found the tiny (one street) Chinatown on the outskirts of town. We had a pretty decent meal there, though no one spoke cantonese. The most recent and most prosperous wave of Chinese immigration seems to have come from Shanghai and Taiwan.

With city life and an apartment came some semblance of our life from home. We were pretty bad tourists in BA, even though we saw a lot. We relished in being able to rent movies, cook at home, and not having to pack every few days. Jonathan got to play poker online, and I got to go to class (Spanish lessons). Although we had saved a lot of annoying errands for BA, it was nice to know that we could find those things easily.

We found out from our realtor that our modern one bedroom apartment in one of the ritziest neighborhoods in town, with parking and doorman, would cost about $75,000. Wow…we were almost ready to move in…

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