Articles Tagged with Argentina

SUBE card and BsAs

ISUBE was clearing all the cluster in my wallet tonight, and found this credit-card-size card written ‘SUBE’. It took me a little while to remember what it was. It was the public transportation card in the city of Buenos Aires (or BsAs as affectionately called by the locals) that I bought when we spent 3 weeks there back in February. it’s the equivalent of OPAL card in Sydney (the new invention while we were away!).

Memories flooded back when I saw the card.

The card was a life saver, once we managed to finally get one. Theoretically all major metro stations and big grocery shops in BsAs would sell it. It took us almost a week to finally find one. Theoretically a free card, we paid an equivalent of 3 dollars for it. Why? In a country where rules were not written, and you were not far away from being illiterate as far as spoken language was concerned, we learnt to accept that some questions would remain unanswered forever.

Well, we paid 6 dollars as we bought two, and only a few days before we left the city we found out that multiple people could use the same card even for the same trip. In metro station you simply swipe twice when you got it. On the bus, you had to tell the driver where you were going when you got on, and the driver would key in the correspondent amount.

Well, why were we so eager to getting hold of the card anyway? Because it was an excise of driving us insane not having one. The bus/metro fare were very cheap in BsAs, but how the fare was calculated was still a mystery to me. The worst part was that the fare almost always involved some weird number, such as 3.83 pesos, 4.22 pesos. And you had to have the exact amount of changes with you because the drivers were not supposed to give back any change. So we would collect all the changes we received from each grocery shop (only big supermarket wouldn’t be angry with you if you didn’t have the exact change, so go figure how painful it was to collect some small changes), and preciously put them into our pockets and wallets and backpacks, as if they were the treasure of our lives.

What’s worse, the value of different coins and bills in Argentina were notoriously difficult to decipher (due to very similar colors to my taste), so sometimes when we were trying to compose the right amount of bus fare, a long queue would form behind us. On a hot summer day, I felt quite guilty of making others wait in the sun, although inside the bus often it wasn’t really any better as most buses were not air conditioned.

So we were very happy when we got the card. We hoorayed and jumped as if we won the lottery.

So what happened to the second card we paid for unnecessarily? Well we gave it to a couple we met in Cuzco/Peru who were going to BsAs afterwards. During our trip, we had been on the receiving end of random kindness for so many times, and we tried to do what we could to be on the giving end, even if it’s just as little as a SUBE card. It could just save them a week worth of frustration trying to get one. If I had this SUBE card with us at that particular moment, I would have given it to them too. I had no idea how it ended up staying in my wallet till now – it’s perhaps the only non-essential thing from the trip staying in my wallet. But I’m glad it did, because memories flooded back thanks to it.

I could almost tag this post ‘nostalgic’ – it was just 8 months ago when we just began our real adventure after the good old France. And it felt like ages ago.

But it’s not.

It’s more like a reminder that memories are often composed of all these little things. A card. A chance encounter. The feeling you felt at one random split moment. Some otherwise unconnected place/people/things that somehow became connected.

It’s a reminder that the 461 pages of diary I managed to jot down on my phone – some days there was just a few words while other days there were a few pages – was perhaps one of the best things I’ve done during our trip. It was also one of the hardest things to continue doing.

It’s also a reminder that I will continue to honour my own promise to put the relevant parts of that 461 pages onto this site. So that memories could be retrieved and relived, even after the SUBE card would be long gone.

[D64] National Library of Argentina – Another Architectural Masterpiece

[D64, Feb 19, Buenos Aires/Argentina]

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National library. Oh what a unique building. It reminded me of the slaughter house in Shanghai. Love the chairs, lounges etc – a series of classic design of mid century.

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Weirdly they destroyed an old building – used to be presidential residence so quite significant – to make the way for this industrial looking structure built in the 50′s. Hea

Visited a few floors but couldn’t go inside the library to read some books.

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Had lunch in cafe, again the purpose designed chairs just for the cafe probably.

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Then fine art museum, just on the opposite side of the big avenue. On the lawn, two young dancers rehearsing their dance, with horse head. So powerful even Nina became a fan, watched for quite a while.

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[D66 – 70] Buenos Aires

D66, Feb 21, 2014, BsAs

Got the news from my sister that a niang (our paternal grandmother) passed away yesterday ? now she would unite with a ya. And I couldn’t even be there … It’s too much emotion to write inside this blog so I will just say this much.

Tren de la costa to Tigre. A little cute train going to the delta, only 30 min. Although it took us 1hr almost to get to the train station. We had to wait for next train for 25min as we just missed the previous. There was a quite nice antique market adjoining the train station.

The train went along the coast. Nina excited about La Mer as she saw the water and cried.

Not knowing exactly what to do once I arrived at Tigre, we followed the crowd and took a cruise of one hour. Oh I was so glad I did. Only later I learnt there were so many rivers(Rio) running around this delta area. I saw some most charming houses along the rivers, with diverse architecture and style. What they all had in common was there was no road access and they all relied on boat (or kayak as I saw a few) for supplies and getting around. The ferry we took also took on some sort of delivery job. At the dock leaving Tigre, grocery/water/packs were loaded, then along the way, the ferry stopped numerous times at private jetty to unload the delivery – sometimes someone was waiting and sometimes goods were just thrown off to the jetty and left there. I guess it was pretty safe as no one could easily access the jetty anyway.

Tigre itself was quite crowded though and nothing much made us fancy without walking a lot. So after helado stop, we decide to take the train back but stopped midway at St Isda as LP said very good things about this place. It was a much quieter place to start with, then a nice cathedral. A tree lined square. A tourist info office that didn’t open.  It seems many wealthy locals choose to live around this area. We walked around the cathedral, dealing with a child who just woke up from insufficient nap and threw a tantrum. It would have been nice to visit the various museum and old villas. Oh well.

D67, Feb 22, 2014, BsAs.

Today was a rest day. No visiting nor much walking. Fetch laundry. Went to our cafe around the corner for a late lunch for 2 hrs. We are becoming local. Then went to the playground for 2 hrs. It’s almost like we were living here, although we had still to refer to LP from time to time.

D68, Feb 23, 2014, BsAs

Another leisure day, back to Chinatown for a meal at Taiwanese resto. Long wait. Full. At 2pm, we were yet to order. Fortunately we had enough crepe in the morning.

The lady sitting at next table started a chat with us asking where we live, in Chinese, as she recognized us speaking 2 languages. As it turned out, she grew up in Vietnam, studied in Germany, married a porteno and moved to BsAs. She was quite interested that we spoke 2 languages with Nina, and complained the slow service of the restaurant, which apparently changed the owner recently from a Taiwanese to a non-Taiwanese.

Then the helado stop, part of daily routine now.

Walked to plaza belgramo. Oh a lovely market, craft, creative, mostly sold by the artists themselves. In a nice surrounding, park, trees, next to the big (quite beautiful) church with round dome, and next to one of the best playgrounds we’ve come across in this city.

It’s almost like a local resident’s weekend, rather a visitor. Isn’t it what we were after?

D69, Feb 24, BsAs

I said I wanted to go back to La Boca for some photos, and off we went. The one hour bus became a bit boring, esp in a non-aircon’ed bus in a hot summer day. Nina wasn’t the only one who wanted to get off the bus asap.

Unfortunately the museum was closed, ah it’s a Monday!! Why didn’t I learn my lesson? But the streets were a little less crowded, although definitely still busy. Still tango dancers pose for the photos with tourists – some were actually nice poses. We chose a restaurant to watch their tango shoe, but it was their senior men’s band and live song that won our heart.

On the way back we decided to take bus only to the plaza de mayo and then take metro to get home faster.

Noticed people buying full trolley load of grocery and had someone packing their shopping, and very likely doing the delivery. That’s quite handy.

D70, Feb 25, BsAs.

Went to change some cash with xiao Liao our money changer on my own so they two got some down time with no fuss of bus. The bus became unbearably long: almost 1h30min just to get to his place. Should have taken metro.

The inflation in the country was so real, because Xiao Liao was told by a merchant walking in during our chat their selling price of something increased again … Liao was selling a bottle of detergent for 18peso last week and now his buying price become almost 25.

I walked along Defensa, for the last time, north bound to plaza de mayo. It’s such a quick walk, without Nina. I made sure to say hello to a statue of Mafalda, and asked to be taken a photo with her. She was sitting on the bench, easily to be missed if not knowing she was there.

There was a group of people protesting next to plaza de Mayo, but I didn’t understand what for. A quick metro ride (10 min) home, but they were out. Text, phone didn’t work, was anxious. Then Nico called me, I joined them in playground. Lunch at nearby cafe/confiteria. Good value for money of set at $62, the bread was in an edible biscuit basket, cute. Tea was in a nice tea pot. The vuelta (mixed fried potato, cheese, ham) nice.

Ran a few errands (last load of laundry, bought a small duck for Nina from the Chinese shop), pack. Time to leave tomorrow. Already.

[D61 – 65] Buenos Aires

D61, Feb 15, 2014, BsAs

La Boca, the colorful neighborhood, and home of Boca Junior as I just learnt. Caminito is said to be the most photographed street in BsAs. It’s a street painted in rainbow colours, the richest ones : yellow, red, blue, green. It’s also a notorious neighborhood – outside the immediate tourist streets it’s an area of social crime, poverty and daylight robbery as I read. ‘it’s not a place for a casual stroll’ as LP put it. But when you arrived on a Saturday, right into its center, you would think it’s the most festive place on the earth: tango shows, music, street artists, bars, restaurants full of earnest tourists, all with the most colorful murals as background. I would have loved getting into a restaurant with tango shows as they advertised it on guide book but somehow we ended up in an open air bar, with arrogant waiter and miserable food, although the beer was abundant. It wasn’t such a bad idea to sit outside for people watching. It’s such a sunny weekend so the crowd was impressive. All street vendors and artists were out, tango dancers were ready to pose for a fancy photo for a fee. Drum players were marching the street. The tourists, oh the tourists, armed with cameras or phones, a backpack, a jacket, jeans and walking shoes. Sometimes they look quite a scene themselves, funny, naive, ridiculous. When I said ‘they’, I included myself. There were a Chinese looking group with professional filming gear and journalist liking cameras having fun with posing for fancy photos. The guy acted like someone. Maybe he was, but who cared. The bar was the only eating/drinking place I didn’t leave a tip so far – it simply didn’t deserve a tip. Then Nicolas told me he asked me to pay for a higher price already (no bill was given when I asked for la qanta). Oh mine.

Football fans obviously could visit the stadium where Maradona started his career, and Boca Junior’s home ground. Or even better watch a match. But we couldn’t care less and gave it a pass.

There was a missionary couple of Argentinian husband and French wife approached us to have a chat, and at the end gave us a brochure to invite us to ‘reflect on the origin of life’. It turned out to be a topic dear to Nicolas’ heart as he read it with great enthusiasm in the afternoon during our various breaks (one ice cream break, and one vino break).

We left La Boca in a hurry, hoping to come back in a week day with less crowd and hopefully see it in its better self.

We then discovered the puppet museum, to my greatest delight.  Museo Argentino del Titere is a tiny museum with a small strip of puppet show theatre, a reception room and display room full of puppets of their own creation and collected from all over the world. It’s the type of place you felt true love of this art and a desire to share the love. It’s not a typical popular tourist stop, even though it’s just a few small blocks away from the major attraction in San Telmo. We also learnt that at 5:30 there would be a show to delight the kids. I begged Nicolas to watch the show even though I had no idea what the show would be.

At 5:30pm,we returned with Nina who woke up just in time for the show. We found other few families, each child eagerly waiting for the show to start.

I couldn’t understand a word but Nina seemed fascinated. It turned out to be the Patita who became the swan. I figured out only at the end. It’s called Eras Una Vez un Patita.

There were no more than 10 adults there (fewer kids), with $70 per adult and free for kids, it’s a very small revenue for the museum. I guess it somehow explained the rather shabby facade, simple curation of the display, and very basic furniture on the stage and seating in the theatre. But the obvious love of the puppets cried out from every corner. They displayed a sculpture of the founding lady, called Sarah Bianchi, an all smiling lady. This website has a good read about this place.

It’s the experience like this little theatre and no-oscar-winning show that delighted me most. Thank goodness we’ve got the luxury of time. Nina may not remember much – well she most likely won’t remember a thing) – but it may leave a trace on her to appreciate the simple pleasure, a sense of curiosity, the notion of fascination by something that someone else loved, and humbled by all the talents.

D62, Feb 16, 2014, BsAs

It’s Sunday and we headed to Palermo Viejo to hopefully find a more lively neighborhood. It was, at least in the centre of it. Park for families – Nina of course played in the sandy playground and mounted on the carousel, twice. There were two smaller markets but one was unimpressive and the other marginally better. Perhaps I have seen enough markets by now to not to feel easily overwhelmed, although always excited.

Had a lunch in a most lovely restaurant, with an banal name though Sheldon. Its set up was eclectic and mix and match, turning the open space between two houses into a covered courtyard, filled with vintage chairs and lounges. One house was a disc house, selling mainly Spanish discs in jazz and tango.

The food, not cheap, turned out to be surprisingly good, not sth I expected in the middle of the tourist attractions. Nina had fun running around and exploring the big place.

We then walked over to the Palermo Hollywood, across the train line, through many furniture and home deco shops, and even more restaurants and bars. The enthusiasm of porteños over food was openly claimed.

D62, Feb 17, 2014, BsAs

Planned for the trip to El Calafate and Uruguay, talked to an agent. Domestic flights for residents and foreigners have different prices, very different in fact.

Microcentro finally. Walked into an indescribable cafe/resto, having an indescribable lunch – arroz primevera was nothing like what I expected, it’s done ham, raw capsicum, carrots, beans on top of some hard rice.

Walking on ave Florida at 3pm was amazingly crowded. Were these well dressed people on their lunch break?

The national academy of tango had the most classic and amazing old style lift that’s still working. The tiny, iron cast box that made loud noise when in use, with dim light in the stairs around it. Oh I was in love already even before I visited. The museum had a very nostalgic feeling to it, with all the old posters and photos of the legends in tango history. There was a theatre with velvet seated chairs. Next door there was a tango class going on. It’s a place of amazing power to bring peole back in time.

Cafe Tortoni was so popular that you had to wait outside to wait for your turn in. The review online was mixed, LP bluntly put that the service was rude. Once inside you saw an beautiful old-time cafe that dated back 150yrs ago. It’s the equivalent of Cafe de Flore in Paris, where the writers, intellects of the time spent countless time there. The waiters were in black suit and wore ties, like in good old time.  The service was slow but no worse than some of the similar ones in Paris, and the price was surprisingly reasonable.

Then I saw the room for tango show … And the ticket selling for tonight at 8:30. I made  deal with Nicolas to watch the show tonight so that Nina Could watch it too (otherwise we needed to have babysitter as all shows in theatre or bigger places start from 10pm or later.

We then had 1h30 to kill. We walked to see the Teatre Colon, claimed to be one of the finest on this planet. The visit was already closed but the building itself was indeed quite impressive. I saw ads for Lang Lang show in June.

The plaza in front of teatre was a quite big and pleasantly empty one. With a big screen showing the photos of BsAs by a photographer (cannot remember the name).

At 8:30pm, the show back in cafe Tortoni started on time. It was a packed downstairs room, most people seemed to have dinner there. Nina sat there watching with great attention for an hour. She seems to really like dance and music.

I was very disappointed by the dance though. I couldn’t feel the passion, tension and rhythm of the dancers. They didn’t seem to enjoy themselves. Although the singer was quite good.

As disappointed as I was, I was happy that Nina could watch it with us.

BsAs certainly is a city living late into night. That’s what I was thinking on the way back home on the taxi.

D63, Feb 18, 2014, BsAs

The day started as functional: pick up laundry, go buy ferry ticket to Montevideo (via seacat, which charges only in USD or credit card, alas, they officially do not want their own currency).

Then we walked into Galaria Pacifico, the equivalent of QVB and Harrods. A magnificent colonial building, with fresco ceiling. Even better, the cultural center of Borges that I was looking for was just inside the last floor of the building. With its various exhibition (photographs, painting, multimedia, mostly free), tango class, and shows /concerts in the evening, this magnificent center was well worth a few hours. Even better, there were few people so Nina could run and play safely.

Then we decided to have a peek inside the church just on the opposite side. Oh an oasis inner courtyard garden! It used to be a Covent, now a chic resto (Como en casa) in the quiet location with tall trees and flowers. Love time like this.

Walked to St martin square/Santa Fe to take bus back.

D64, Feb 19, 2014, BsAs

National library. Oh what a unique building. Reminds me of the slaughter house in shanghai. Love the chairs, lounges etc – a series of classic design of mid century. Weirdly they destroyed an old building – used to be presidential residence so quite significant – and fot this industrial looking structure built. Visited a few floors but couldn’t go inside the library to read some books. Had lunch in cafe, again the purpose designed chairs just for the cafe probably.

Then fine art museum, just on the opposite side of the big avenue. On the lawn, two young dancers rehearsing their dance, with horse head. So powerful even Nina became a fan, watched for quite a while.

Fine art … Typical. A sculpture of Rodin, some paintings from Gauguin, van Gogh, Sisley, and Argentinian painters like Lopez, Puerrydon ??. A special expo of photographs of Madres, the mothers of ‘the disappeared’ more than 30 yrs ago. A hard piece of history in the country, worth reading. As we left, a huge crowd of elderly ladies walked in. They might be THE mothers who continued to march every Thursday on Plaza de Mayo, fighting for justice and recognition.

Nina has not had day nap for 5 days. Should I be worried.

Nicolas and I spent a lot of time searching good accommodation in Uruguay.., don’t want to have to do this all the time. Too frustrating.

D65, Feb 10, 2014, BsAs

My Spanish sucks. The progress , or rather the non-progress of it,  sucks more. Our daily routine of visiting and doing all things as a family together somehow didn’t allow us to meet other people. While it’s fine not to meet new people all the time, it’s not helping with my Spanish.

Belgrano today. Surprisingly developed and proper as I imagined it to be much more crowded and less organized. One of the nicest neighborhood playground, with full-chair swing, against a belle church. The metro station had escalator and lift!

Chinatown – there is always a Chinatown in every sizable city on this planet, even though I have seen surprisingly few Chinese here. Even in Chinatown I didn’t hear much mandarin nor Cantonese. There were plenty non-Asian looking population. Then around the corner, there was very chic resto and bars, of all kinds of cuisines. Not a typical Chinatown neighborhood.

Had the first meal in a Chinese resro … A fine modern one, although no staff nor other customers were Chinese. Not even chopsticks unless you asked. Very good value for money set menu lunch, $55 for a few dumplings, a chau mian, desert and a drink (Nico had his chop).

A probably best helado we’ve had here (we had a lot) in a small corner heladeria. Yum.

Bought some fresh pasta in a pasteria …

We really started to know our neighborhood.

We have been playing the ‘find the number card’ game with Nina. There was a deck of cards in the drawer in the apartment, and Nina started to recognize 2, 8, and sometimes 3. I would ask her to find 8 among a few cards, and gave it to Nicolas. She loved the game and would happily run back and forth to deliver the cards. Now when we walked on the street or took a bus, we would spontaneously point out these numbers and the letter O, and sometimes A. Has been fun game.

[D60] El Ateneo – A Bookstore Of Grand Splendeur

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D60, Feb 14

We had a very late and very difficult start with Nina today. She woke up only at 11:15am, and winged for 2 hours before we could dress her and got ready to go out. We decided on visiting something nearby, easy and quick, just a few bus stops away.

El Ateneo,  located on Ave Santa Fe,  was claimed to be the 2nd most beautiful bookshop in the world. Although I personally was rather sceptical of such rating – isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder? – it did trigger some sort of  curiosity in me.

D60 06Well, it certainly deserved its reputation. Through a rather humble entry, suddenly I saw a theatre, filled with books. Yes the building was originally designed and opened as a theatre, named Teatro Gran Splendid in May 1919. Only in about a decade ago it was converted into a bookstore. It’s 4 floors high, with thick crimson theatre-style certain , ceiling frescos, roman columns, all in red and gold colour throughout. It reminded me of the Garnier opera house in Paris.

Now it’s a book store, filled with books in every corner of three of the floors. The private theatre boxes in the corners were now reading area, making it a very comfortable and quiet corner to browse through what you may want to buy. The stage area was converted into a cafe, making it a cafe of old time atmosphere. We of course spent most of our time in the junior section, browsing through the kids’ books, in Spanish.

Argentina is said to be one of the highest book-per-capita countries. It’s a lovely and comforting notion that people still read books.

P.S: to follow our RTW experience: Trilingual Family blog, or join Trilingual Family facebook group