Monthly Archives: December 2011

All My Neighbors Say “Hello”

As my regular readers know, I live in the small pueblo of Boquerón, Panama, in Chiriqui Province west of the country’s third largest city, David. I rent a house in a middle-class neighborhood where my neighbors are mono-lingual. They all speak nothing but Spanish. When I first moved in and I’d see them on my walks to the bus stop we’d exchange the normal greeting of “Buenos Dias,” or “Hola.” But recently I’ve noticed that almost all of them have stopped saying that and they say, “Hello,” instead. I can’t quite put my finger on when I first became aware of this change, but I find it rather amusing. I still answer them with the traditional “Buenos, como esta?” though, and if I stop to chat it is always in Spanish, of course.

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Filed under Boqueron Panama, Expatriate Living, Living Abroad, Living in Panama, panama, Retire in Panama, Retirement Abroad

We Get Spam

Just like your email account we get spammed all the time here on our WordPress blogs. Though I’ve never gotten any letters telling me that some rich Nigerian general left millions of dollars that could be mine if I just turn over my bank account numbers to the sender of the message, nor do I get spams asking me if I want to enlarge my breasts and/or penis. What I DO get is weird enough.

Today when I opened this blog I found 19 spam messages in the “Junk” folder. What I find so interesting about the people who send this stuff is that they have so much time on their hands and virtually no imagination. All 19 of these spam messages were concerning the “About” section of the blog where I outline, briefly the intent of the blog and a little about my background. The following are the spam messages I received today. YOU figure it out…

From Pozycjonowanie Top: Hmm is anyone else encountering problems with the images on this blog loading? I’m trying to find out if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog. Any feed-back would be greatly appreciated.

Carmen Tuckerman wrote: Between me and my husband we’ve owned more MP3 players over the years than I can count, including Sansas, iRivers, iPods (classic & touch), the Ibiza Rhapsody, etc. But, the last few years I’ve settled down to one line of players. Why? Because I was happy to discover how well-designed and fun to use the underappreciated (and widely mocked) Zunes are.

Pozycjonowanie (without the “Top” this time but the same email address and URL) sent me this: I am really enjoying the theme/design of your blog. Do you ever run into any browser compatibility issues? A couple of my blog readers have complained about my website not working correctly in Explorer but looks great in Opera. Do you have any recommendations to help fix this problem?

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Millie Bertao wanted me to know, Sorry for the huge review, but I’m really loving the new Zune, and hope this, as well as the excellent reviews some other people have written, will help you decide if it’s the right choice for you.

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All things considered I think I’d like to know how to get larger breasts and a bigger penis.

 

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Christmas Eve In Boquerón, Panama

I LOVE fireworks. Who doesn’t? Well, my old dog, Penny. Just ask her. You like fireworks, girl?

I guess not.

I’ve seen some pretty good fireworks in my time. Of course the ones when you’re a kid are always spectacular since they’re such a new experience. As you grow older they have to get better. In the States, of course, most fireworks are professionally done. Oh, there are firecrackers. Cherry bombs and M-80s were wonderful when we could get them since they were illegal and cost most of a week’s allowance. But what fun!

Fireworks are a big part of celebrations in New Orleans. I remember one New Year’s Eve out at a girlfriend’s house in Metaire the whole neighborhood was setting off fireworks and the smoke was actually so thick it was like a fog between the houses. And when the World Fair was running in New Orleans they closed each night with a fireworks display. Most evenings I’d go sit out on the glider swing in the back yard and watch them light up the sky over the “Moon Walk” down by the French Quarter.

The Bi-Centennial display in Chicago in 1976 was pretty impressive. I was running a 300-passenger sight seeing boat seen here on the cover of a Chicago Yellow Pages.

Of course I had to work that night and we had the boat filled to capacity but it was still fun watching them from the water.

Without a doubt the best fireworks display I EVER saw was in Cannes, France, for their Bi-Centennial Bastille Day celebration. The fireworks were set off from three different locations: a barge moored out in the bay, one on a hillside to the west of the town and one from a hillside behind the town. When the displays went off overhead from the three locations at the same time it gave one a sensation of vertigo. And the whole thing was done synchronized to music. They’re big on that in France. Every year during the month of August there is an international fireworks competition in the village of Juan les Pins, adjacent to Antibes, and those displays are also choreographed to music.

Here in Panama fireworks are a big part of the Christmas Eve celebration. Why? I have no idea. But there are fireworks stands all over the area. The other day I went to the Chiriqui Mall and a huge, inflatable tent had been set up out front selling KaBoom “Fuegos Articifiales.”

For the past week kids in the neighborhood have been setting off firecrackers every now and them Some were definitely in the cherry bomb and M-80 category. LOUD. Then, last night things began to heat up. Sitting on my front porch you could hear firecrackers going off all around. Just listen to this. There’s no picture, but you can hear the noise. It must have sounded a little like this at the start of the “shock and awe” part of the invasion of Iraq.

That went on non-stop for well over an hour.

Now, my neighborhood is solidly middle class. There are no McMansions here. Only 25% of the families own a car. These are either retired Panamanians or solid working folks. What happened at midnight I can only speculate on how they were able to afford such a display. I suspect that the different families might have pooled their money to be able to afford what went on for a good 15 to 20 minutes non-stop. This is just a glimpse.

I thought it was quite impressive considering it was entirely funded out of the neighbors own pockets.

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An Alternative to the McMansion

Roaming around on line I came across this wonderful alternative to the McMansion.

The story is here: http://tinyhouseblog.com/stick-built/rustic-way-whimsical-house/#more-19143

Do click on the link. There are a lot more photos of the interior and loading it onto a trailer to take it to the Minnesota State Fair.

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Feliz Hanukwanzmas One And All

Well, it’s that time of year again, and I’m not talking about the Republican Presidential Primary Debates. I’m talking about Hanukwanzmas. That time when people of good will make fun of each other’s traditions. For example Sarah (The Queen of the I-Quitarod) Palin AND Faux Gnus have been criticizing President Obama’s family Christmas card this year.

Palin told Fox News that she found it “odd” that the card emphasizes the dog instead of traditions like “family, faith and freedom.” She also said that Americans are able to appreciate “American foundational values illustrated and displayed on Christmas cards and on a Christmas tree.”

Of course the fact that NO president in the past century has used the word “Christmas” matters not one whit to the true-believer Tali-Christian. Palin sees the season like this:

I hope John McCain realizes that there is a new and special layer of hell set up just for him for unleashing this woman on an unsuspecting American populace. (It’s one level higher than where Five Deferment Dick Cheny is going to spend eternity being water-boarded even after realizing that it IS torture.) Anyway, when is this woman’s fifteen minutes going to be up?

I actually like the Hanukwanzmas season except for one thing. I loathe and despise the piped-in Muzak Hanukwanzmas songs that it is impossible to escape from every time you enter a store or public building like an airport terminal. When I’m in charge of everything things are going to change drastically. Piped-in Hanukwanzmas music will only be allowed to be played from 6 p.m. until midnight Hanukwanzmas Eve. Anyone violating this rule will be eviscerated and their innards will be used to decorate the Hanukwanzmas tree in Rockefeller Center like tinsel garlands.Yesterday, Tuesday, December 20th, I went into the El Rey supermarket in David to pay my light bill and was aurally assaulted by “Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer,” in ENGLISH no less. Can you imagine the uproar that would be heard around the redneck states back in the Great White North if they played Christmas Songs in Spanish? Thankfully I haven’t heard “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” or any of the Alvin and the Chipmunk songs down here.

No, I’m NOT  a Grinch. I think Hanukwanzmas is the greatest thing for kids EVER. In fact, when I’m in charge of everything it will be against the law to tell anyone under 21 the truth about Santa Clause, Papa Noel, Father Christmas. At 21 a person can legally purchase alcohol to soothe the horrible loss of innocence the news will bring. Younger than 21 is just too cruel to contemplate.

When I got on the bus to return home yesterday an old man got on board with a small, pink, two-wheel bicycle for his grand daughter. I HOPE it was his grand daughter because if it was for his grandson there are going to be some real serious identity issues coming to the fore later in life. I looked at the bike with the usual jaundiced Gringo eye and saw what it was. A poorly-made piece of Chinese crap that will be lucky to make it through the first week before the plastic training wheels disintegrate. But that was my initial reaction. And then I realized the truth about what that bike really meant to him and what it will to the loved one he gives it to. In a country where the national minimum wage is a little less than $400 that bike took a huge chunk out of that man’s pocket. One could tell he didn’t have much to begin with just by looking at his clothes. But that little girl is going to feel like a princess when she unwraps it Christmas morning. Her FIRST bike and her “abuelo” gave it to her. He will be the brightest star in her firmament forever. It’s a crying shame that EVERY kid can’t feel like that this Sunday.

While I DO hate the piped-in Muzak version of Hanukwanzmas songs I’m NOT opposed to the following. It was turning dark when this group of kids from a local Methodist church came in to my yard. I know the vids are dark but when the sun sets here this close to the equator there’s no real twilight. It’s light, the sun sets and then it’s DARK! I used the night setting on the camera and a little clip-on light. As the kids come into the yard you will hear someone say, “Parada!” That’s the Spanish word for “Stop.” My hand appears when I waved back at the little girl with the Santa hat on the right.

Here’s wishing everyone a very Merry Hanukwanzmas and a fantastic new year.

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Filed under Boqueron Panama, Living Abroad, Music, panama, Retire in Panama, Retirement, Retirement Abroad, Uncategorized

Christmas Present to Myself

A couple of days ago my computer started acting weird again. First I got a message that my hard drive was maxed out. Couldn’t load anything more onto it which seemed strange since all my big items like videos, photos, that sort of thing are on a separate hard drive. I went to the control panel and deleted a bunch of stuff that I never or rarely used and gained just under 6 gigs of free space. Then a couple of days later when I’d put the cursor over something it would strobe like crazy and when I’d go to turn the computer off the little sign thingy would come up and disappear before I could click “turn off” so I’d end up hitting the on/off button until I could crash the thing and get it to shut off.

Yesterday I went down to the local PriceSmart (sort of a Costco big box store). They had a Sony Vaio there with a 500 gig hard drive and a lot more RAM than the old computer had and it had an English keyboard which meant the operating system would be in English. Panama, of course, is a Spanish-speaking country and the keyboards and operating system are Spanish-oriented. It’s easy to spot a Spanish keyboard. Just to the right of the “L” key on our English QWERTY keyboards, where the colon and semi-colon key is found, the Spanish keyboard has an “ñ” and the colon key is somewhere else though I never bother to look for it. The upper row of keys is our beloved QWERTY but there are some other subtle differences. I found those out when I used Spanish keyboards at some of the cyber cafes when I was first visiting Panama. Using them is a bit different from what we’re used to. For example, when you try and log into your email account as in “JustMe@yahoo.com” there is a convoluted, three-key sequence that requires you to hold your tongue in a certain way or the @ sign won’t appear. Then you have to find some kid sitting nearby working on their Facebook page to show you how to do it.

Well, this wonderful unit was available for $829 plus 7% sales tax. Would have set me back $887.03. Hmmm. Let me think about this for a little bit. But one rule of thumb for buying anything here in Panama is if you see it, buy it immediately because it probably won’t be around the next time you visit the store. Never the less, I decided to wait.

Back at home I was still having problems with the old computer. It is, after all, about six years old. The CD drive will still READ a disc but it’s been nearly two years since it would burn one. However I was thinking about that $887.03. The .03 was what was bothering me. So, in desperation I bit the bullet, made sure all the important stuff was on the external hard drive and I killed the old machine and took it back to the factory settings. It wasn’t the first time I did that on that machine. I had to do it six or seven months ago, too.

About thirty minutes after reading the message that said “Are you really sure you want to do this you ignorant butt-wipe, YOU?” the computer was back to the factory settings except for one thing…there was still, for some reason, only a little less than 6 gigs of free space on the hard drive. Of course, going back to the original settings wiped out all the bookmarks I had on the web sites I visit. That wasn’t an outrageously horrible problem since I’d been meaning to go through and delete probably 85 to 90 percent of them, anyway. You know how it is, you visit a site, enjoy it, bookmark it and never go back there after a week of so has gone by.

Then as I started the laborious process of visiting all the web sites I go to on a daily basis to bookmark them all over again I though, “this is stupid. Why not go get that Vaio at PriceSmart and put these into a NEW computer? Besides, it’s Christmas time. Why not give yourself a present?”

I needed to go to the bank, anyway, so I got up early this morning and went into David and to the HSBC branch at the Plaza Terronal. There are FOUR different stores there that sell computers so I thought I’d go check them out and see if they had any English-centric models before slogging back to PriceSmart which is actually on the bus route back to Boquerón. After visiting the bank for my monthly withdrawal I dropped into a place called Panafoto. They sell just about everything that has a cord attached to it from toasters to washing machines, stoves and refrigerators and, of course, computers. I stopped to look at the Vaios to see what they were priced at in comparison to the one I’d seen yesterday. They were all a little under the PriceSmart model but they were all Spanish-keyboard models. A sales person asked me if I needed any help and I said I was wondering if they had any laptops with English keyboards. (Keyboard in Spanish is “el teclado” which is easy enough to remember if you link it to the word “tickle” and doesn’t a piano player “tickle the ivories?”

“Yes,” he said, an HP.” Actually he said, “Si, una HP (achie pay) because he only spoke Spanish. He took me to the HP display and there was a Pavilion g6-1b70us notebook. Like the Vaio it has a 500 gig hard drive (five times the capacity of my old unit) and 8 gig of memory. A 15.6″ screen and all for only $639.95, which, after sales tax, is $202.28 less than the Vaio. That’s  one month’s rent and a month’s worth of electricity. One tends to think along those lines when living on a fixed income.

Naturally, when I got back home, I checked out what I could buy the same unit for in the States. Buy.com could get it to me for $578.99 which is $60.96 less but I have no idea how much shipping it would have cost so it probably would have cost more than what I paid for it here in Panama. At B&H Superstore it would cost $449.95 after a $50 mail-in rebate (and we know how well THOSE work out). That’s $234.80 less, but when you factor in the round trip from David to Panama City, two nights in a hotel plus air fair to and from Miami, I don’t think I’d save a thing.

For any reader who might be inclined to say, “yeah, but the Sony is a better computer than an HP, yada, yada, yada,” let me just say this is the FOURTH HP that I’ve bought; a desktop and two other notebooks. I drove all three of them into the ground after several years of hard use. I’ve had no complaints about the HP computers and I see no big reason to change.

Which brings me to a story I’ve told here, before, but it’s a good story so I’ll tell it again.

Back at the turn of the year 1974/75 I was working, and freezing my tender young ‘nads off, as a head-hunter in Chicago for a firm that specialized in recruiting and placing computer professionals. Heads of IT departments, systems analysts, that sort of thing. That was back when a computer was a behemoth that took up whole FLOORS of office buildings and were serviced by acolytes in lab coats working in conditions where you could store sides of beef. They were kept so cold because of the heat the machines generated.

One day I did a cold call to a guy who worked at Hewlett-Packard.

After getting his name, scholastic and work background covered I asked him, “So, what are you working on now?”

“Oh,” he said, “it’s real exciting. We’re working on a project for making mini-computers.”

“Mini computers? What the hell are those.”

“There going to be small computers that people will have right on their desks,” he enthused with the fervor of a true believer.

“Yeah, sure thing,” I said to myself. “A computer people will have on their desks.”

“Well, good luck with that,” I said as I cut the interview short without uttering the word “asshole” out loud. “Let me know how that works out for ya.”

As I said, this is my FOURTH mini computer.

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Filed under Expatriate Living, Living Abroad, Retire in Panama, Retirement, Retirement Abroad

Weird Water In Panama

Water is weird here in Panama. Right now it’s coming out of the sky but not out of the faucet.

There are often times when there is no tap water. Don Ray, who writes the Chiriqui Chatter blog lives in the City of David (Panama’s third largest metropolis which is strange if you think of a place with only four stop lights as a metropolis) often writes that he has no water from his taps. Sometimes it’s for days at a time.

After the recent devastating river flooding that took out one of the bridges on the Interamerican highway there was no water here in Boquerón for several days though, fortunately I was still in Potrerillos Arriba then and never had a moment without water. Often after a heavy downpour water service is cut off because the turbidity in the rivers where IDAAN, the water company, draws its supply from, clogs the filters.

In Panama City, referred to simply as Panamá, where almost half of the entire country’s population reside they’re building a subway system and a couple of weeks ago it was necessary to shut off the city’s entire water supply for a whole weekend to reroute the water around the tunnel. Can you imagine what the outcry would be like in the States if everyone’s water was shut off for a couple of days in a city of a million and a half residents? Heads would roll.

But here people just shrug their shoulders and get on with their lives. If they were French they’d shrug their shoulders, make a “poof” sound through their lips and say “c’est la vie, hein?” (If you think English is a strange language because of its non-phonetic spelling, try French. Hein is pronounced “eh?” Go figure.) I don’t think there’s a Spanish phrase that expresses the same feeling as that one does.

Since water outages are a common, though thankfully not a daily, occurrence there is a good market for large plastic water tanks here. And I mean LARGE. In some cases several hundred gallon tanks. Most of them are black or bright blue and just sitting here I can think of at least four stores in an around David that stock the things along with pumps to feed the water into houses. We don’t have one of those here at this house though there has been talk of getting one. Instead I have three five-gallon pails that I keep filled with water for those times when there is no tap water. Most of the time I just keep them under the roof line and collect rain water in them. I don’t drink it, but use it for other things like flushing the toilet or washing dishes and clothes. I’ll be doing a post about laundry sometime soon.

For drinking water I have a five-gallon cooler thingy that I keep topped off with filtered water that I collect from the faucet when there is tap water, and I have a two-gallon jug of filtered water in the fridge.

When I was over visiting in Bocas del Toro I noticed that many of the houses not only had a big water tank but they had fitted out their roofs with large-diameter PVC pipes where rain gutters would normally be so they could collect and store rain water. Made a lot of sense to me.

Here in my neighborhood where the water supply through the tap is often just a trickle, for some unknown reason, most daytime hours there is one constant water supply. The river. Almost every day I’ll see people coming down the street with towels over their shoulders and a bag in one hand with soap, shampoo and razors and they go down to the river and bathe in the cool water. Quite often I see women bringing down their dirty clothes to do their laundry in the river. Nobody thinks anything of it. Nobody moans and groans about it as far as I know. It’s just how life is here. People cope and get along with living.

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