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Always interested in offers/projects/new ideas. Eclectic experience in fields like: numerical computing; Python web; Java enterprise; functional languages; GPGPU; SQL databases; etc. Based in Santiago, Chile; telecommute worldwide. CV; email.

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© 2006-2013 Andrew Cooke (site) / post authors (content).

A Chilean Day

From: andrew cooke <andrew@...>

Date: Fri, 27 Aug 2010 18:23:24 -0400

[This article is awesome, BTW -
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/magazine/29language-t.html ]

Recently I have been spending more time than usual thinking about how
"Chilean" I have become.  Today was a particularly Chilean day, and I enjoyed

First, I needed to go to the centre of town, to visit the Foreign Office, to
get a document (my PhD certificate) officially certified (so that I can apply
for a driving licence, which requires evidence that you have attended primary

So I visited the Foreign Office, queued, waited, was called to talk to a lady,
apologised for not having a clue what I was doing, and explained what I
needed.  She carefully listed the steps involved, gave me a piece of paper
with the address of the Ministry of Justice (I am using the closest English
translations here), and sent me on my way.  I found a Notary (something that
doesn't really exist in the UK - they are a kind of witness for simpler legal
paperwork) and got a copy of my document made.  While I was there a younger
man, in a suit, kind-of jumped intervened (politely) with the woman serving me
- it turns out that he had just qualified as Lawyer and needed a copy of his
(very fancy) signed certificate.  So I and the notary's assistant
congratulated him and, when he went to pay, we discussed how it was expensive
to become a lawyer, but how now he could also earn more money.  Then, after a
short while, the assistant took copies of our documents into the notary's
office, who signed them, and we left.

Next, to the Ministry of Justice, which was almost deserted, but which had
Mapuche (and English!) signs.  There, I apologised again for not understanding
what was happening, and someone else signed the copy.  After that, I returned
to the Foreign Ministry, queued again, and a man quickly revised the
signatures and stamped my piece of paper.

In all this, no-one checked my identity, or translated the text.  And the only
place I had to pay was at the notary, which cost a pound.  But I now have a
"legalised" copy of my certificate, which is the correct piece of paper to
apply for a driving licence.

I got back on the metro and headed for home, but got off a few stops early
because I needed to buy some paint.  A few days ago I had visited a paint
shop, which I found almost by chance, near the driving school where I have been
taking lessons (I can drive, but need the practice before taking my test and,
as far as I can work out, practicing in a private care is illegal - there is
no "learners licence" here, for example).

The first time I visited this shop the friendly attendant had carefully mixed
some paint to match a fragment that had been chipped from our wall by the
workman ("maestro" in Spanish, which is much nicer) who was repairing our
earthquake damage.  It has taken him three or four attempts, adding
progressively more dye to a pot of blank paint, until he had the perfect
match.  But I at the time I had only bought a litre; now I needed more.

The second time I visited the shop, someone else was attending, and he was no
help at all (I had a different problem, which I finally solved by chatting to
the owner and a customer at the hardware store near our house).

Luckily, on my third visit, it was the helpful guy (I was planning to leave if
not).  So I greeted him and explained I needed another pot of paint.  Since
he hadn't recorded the mix, he started again, adding colours to white.  At one
point he had a problem with a dirty dye container, so had to start again with
a new pot.

While he was mixing the paint a policeman stopped in the middle of the
crossroads outside, surrounded by barking stray dogs.  At first I thought he
was angry with the dogs, but it turned out that a march of striking students
were coming down the road and he needed to stop the traffic.  The students
"marched" past, with various banners, chanting the same chants I have heard
before, without ever thinking what they mean (perhaps only the same rhythm and
the words change?).  A girl pushed a leaflet into my hand.  They were striking
against the forced "curing" of homosexuals.

I went back into the paint shop.  I wanted to ask the attendant if it was
really still common to force "treatment" on homosexuals, but I suspected he
would think it a good thing.  And so I said nothing while he complained about
the students (I think) and continued to mix paint.

Some "tough" looking guys came in and shouted at the attendant for attention.
he ignored them.  They tried again, in a more polite tone.  He ignored them a
bit more, drying a sample of my paint with a hair-dryer, and then asked them
what they wanted.  It turned out that they needed a specific kind of paint
roller that he didn't have, so he sent them to a second shop, round the

Then he came to the window, showed me the sample, which was almost the same
colour as my fragment, but not quite.  So he went back and added a little more

When the paint was ready I bought some extra plaster I needed, to help cover
the price of the failed can, went back to the metro, and went home.

When I arrived home the maestro was on the scaffold outside.  he was surprised
at the extra paint, and had "stretched" what he had to pain the wall.  but
with the extra he could also paint an adjacent surface, which would look
better (and, indeed, the final result is excellent - the wall looks almost
like new, and the "patch" looks more like it has been washed clean than

Back inside, I started work.

When the maestro came in I went out to the hallway and we discussed the
plastering there - he had tried to texture it to match the existing work.  We
agreed it wasn't perfect, but that it would do, and that he'd start painting
after lunch.

Since he'd finished with the scaffolding I called Paulina to ask her to call
the company to take it away.  She soon replied to say that they couldn't be
coming til Monday.  That was a problem, as the scaffold is where her car is
normally parked, so I discussed it with the maestro, who commented that it was
just what he'd expected (he had argued with the person who delivered the
scaffolding and we'd eventually got more planks from the company).  But he
could disassemble it now, so Paulina could still bring the car home.

Back to work, with the maestro having a late lunch writing a quote to do the
same work he had done for me for the rest of the building.  Much time later he
appears, asking if I can print out what he's written on my computer.  I agree
and type it in.  I add a few extra phrases from a quote I had received for
some earlier work (from this man's grandson - that work was how I got to know
him).  After installing a Spanish dictionary I got most of the text OK (I am
not sure whose spelling was worse), printed it out, and gave him an envelope
so he could deliver it to my neighbour.

After writing all that, I'm not sure if my point is clear or not.  Doing
things here involves "people" much more than in the UK.  And I am getting
better at doing that - to the point where it's as much a pleasure as a pain.
Although we address each other as "usted" the maestro is my friend, and I know
he will do a decent job.  Similarly, I "connected" with everyone I dealt with

A slower, but more humane, world.


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