Friday, April 23, 2010

Buying electronics in Peru

Don’t do it.

I’m tempted to end this post with the above sentence fragment but I suppose it needs a bit more explanation than that.

We’ll be going to the States shortly and on our shopping list is a computer, camera and voice recorder (the later to help me with the book I’m not writing). There are two reasons why we won’t buy those items in Peru. The first is cost. For an example, the Canon camera we’re interested in has a price of $220 at Saga Falabella in Chiclayo. In the States many sources are selling the same model for $150. Incidentally this is one of the rare cases where we’ve been able to compare model-for-model. We’ll get into that a bit later.

Comparable feature computers have an average cost of 20% more in Peru. An added problem in buying a computer is that unless you buy it at one of the big chain stores (in Chiclayo that means Tottus, Ripley or Plaza Vea), all of the software including the operating system will be pirate. The first time you attempt to download from Microsoft, or when Microsoft decides to automatically upload updates to your computer, all hell breaks loose, and the person who sold you the machine may as well take up permanent residence in your house to fix the issues as they crop up. Plus you receive all the viruses that were in that pirate software at no additional cost.

When it happened to us I stormed into the shop that sold/built the machine and confronted the owner with the ‘pirate messages’ we had received from Microsoft. After unsuccessfully trying to talk his way out of it he admitted the software was pirate, but defended himself by saying – “You won’t find an original copy of Windows anywhere in Peru.” To my knowledge he’s correct – at least in Chiclayo. The computers sold by the big chain stores do have original software, but you have to read very closely and then ask the sales person about the software. Only then will they tell you that all of the ‘bundled’ software (Office, Adobe, Norton, etc) is the 30-day trial version. When I told the saleswoman that that was a deal breaker for me she called over the ‘tecnico’ (technician) who told me he had the code to make the trial software permanent and would do it if I bought the machine. Now don’t go getting all morally or ethically indignant. That’s the way it is in Peru. Accept it or not…it’s your choice.

Okay, so cost is the first reason. The second is quality. I mentioned that it’s rare to be able to compare same-model electronics being sold in Peru and the States. It is my personal belief the reason for that is because the models sold in Peru are of lesser quality – that Peru is a dumping ground for low-end products. Even a t-shirt bearing the ‘made in China’ label in Peru is not the item being sold in the States. The material is courser, thinner and the sewing is skimpy. The same holds true for bedding. It costs less but is worth less. Every night I would complain about sleeping on sandpaper until we bought two complete sets our first visit to the States. It was like heaven that first night back. In electronics the oven, refrigerator and TV we bought may be of good quality; they’re holding up well so far, but we paid a lot more for the TV than we would have for an equal model in the States. But you have no choice on a physically large item like a TV. Shipping costs and customs taxes would more than wipe out any savings.

Let me end this on a high note. There are items you can buy in Peru that are tremendous values. One of them is jewelry. In the near-by town of Monsefû there are a number of incredibly talented silversmiths who will hand-make jewelry to your specifications of the most intricate design out of 0.95 silver. The necklace and earrings of Peruvian design Maribel had made for my reunion in the States drew comments all evening. I firmly believe in the States this set would sell for over $150. We paid $60. We have talked about having jewelry made and taking it with us to the States to sell. Based on the comments at my reunion I believe there would be a market for genuine hand made Peruvian jewelry of Incan design at a reasonable price. Probably some enterprising expatriate and /or Peruvian already has a thriving jewelry export business.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Chiclayo’s ‘New’ Municipalidad

On September 7, 2006 sometime after midnight a small group of men set fire to Chiclayo’s city hall, apparently over a dispute regarding the recent election for mayor. There was extensive interior damage, forcing many city officials to occupy temporary office space throughout the city. The mayor’s office was located in a back-room of the public library. Though the rebuilding is not quite complete, it was close enough to inaugurate the ‘new’ city hall last night in conjunction with the celebration this week of Chiclayo’s 175th anniversary.

There had to have been thousands of people there last night. The Air Force band was playing up-beat jazz selections across the street in the principal park and had an appreciative crowd fired up - maybe ‘fired’ is not a good choice of words, but it was a festive atmosphere and I found myself shouting “Viva Chiclayo” as loud as anyone.

Inside city hall the odors of fresh paint and varnish were close to but not quite overpowering. The main event of the evening was to be a performance by the Piura Minicipal Symphony Orchestra in the second floor auditorium. Now…I’ve got to explain something here. Generally speaking events in Peru and especially outside of Lima are much less formal than in the States. I was dressed in jeans, t-shirt and a baseball cap and Maribel about the same, which is normal attire for most activities in Chiclayo.

These two young ladies were the first indication that we were underdressed, which was confirmed as we ascended the stairs and approached the auditorium and met the mayor in a suit. He never wears a suit. In two years I have never seen him attend any function in a suit. Tonight he’s in a suit. So is every other man, apparently to match the appropriate attire worn by the women. Several people motioned for us to enter the auditorium. Maribel was willing but there was no way I was going in there, even after I had managed to surreptitiously remove my cap and stuff it in my pants. Some things you just don’t do.

Señor Fashion

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Woman with baby

It sounds like the title of a painting but this morning it was just a thought that briefly passed through my mind during today’s English class for artisans at the municipal auditorium in Monsefù. The baby cried a couple of times, but me and everyone else ignored it while the mother did her best to deal with the baby and pay attention to the lesson. In the States that situation would have irritated me. Here it’s the opposite. It kindles a feeling of admiration and respect in me for her. She probably got up at 5:30 this morning to bake bread and cook breakfast for her husband and however other many kids she has. She also probably washed and pressed the kid’s school uniforms before going to the market to buy ingredients for today’s lunch and dinner, then cleaned the house prior to walking a mile or more carrying the baby to the 10:30 class. When class ends at noon she’ll go home to cook lunch for the family.

After the dishes are washed and put away she may work a few hours on whatever handicraft product she makes. Then the kids will come home and the cooking process starts again. After dinner she’ll work with the kids on their homework until it’s time for them to go to bed. She may put in another hour on her handicraft work or practice English but will be in bed by 9:00pm or so. There isn’t much to do in Monsefù at night and 5:30am comes early. The little money she makes selling her work to tourists is needed to make ends meet. She’s hoping that learning English will help her make a few more sales during tourist season. I hope she’s right.

After class while ‘woman with baby’ was walking home Maribel and I decided to eat lunch in Monsefù before heading back to Chiclayo. We asked a woman if there were any good restaurants in town. She said no. When asked if there were any restaurants at all, she said the chicken joint was closed but the tavern/restaurant “Mi Fernando” was probably open, which is where we ended up. The menu listed fried fish (pescado frito for those of you zooming on the photo), but when the woman told us they didn’t have fish (in these small out-of-the-way restaurants it seems like 50% of the time whatever you ask for isn’t available) we decided on Cabrito; a culinary delight comprised of rice, frijoles and goat. Now, I must have missed the announcement on television and in the newspapers, but I’m sure Peru’s oldest goat died yesterday and was being served today in this restaurant. Even Maribel gave up trying to chew it. When it came time to pay the bill the woman said 20 soles…definitely the gringo price. In Chiclayo it would be 12 to 16 soles tops. When Maribel pointed out the goat was so tough we couldn’t eat it, the woman stared into space for a moment as if she were deciding the fate of the planet, then said 20 soles. The combi ride home was uneventful.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Chiclayo’s 175th Anniversary

The celebration of Chiclayo’s 175th anniversary kicked off with a press conference and anniversary proclamation last Saturday April 3rd and will finish on Saturday April 17th with several activities, concluding with music in the park in the evening.

Today’s event was the typical artisan exposition in the Elias Aquirre Park preceded by visiting dignitary speeches, with Peru’s Minister of Tourism Martin Perez Monteverde giving the opening speech. He said he was born in Piura to the north, and though he now lives and works in Lima he still feels like a northerner. I’ve noticed that Chiclayo seems to be getting a lot of attention lately from Lima. Probably being one of the fastest growing cities in all of South America has something to do with that.

Surprising for me was the visitors from Chile. Relations between Chile and Peru can still occasionally get frosty, and yet here were artisans and tourism representatives from Chile displaying their wares alongside the Peruvians. It’s my understanding that people from Ecuador have been invited to take part in several of next week’s activities.

And then we have Susanne. She arrived in Chiclayo as I recall two months ago from her home country Germany via Ecuador. When we met her she was wearing on her back a pack slightly smaller than a refrigerator; had been in the same clothes for 25 hours and said she would ‘kill for a shower.’ We took her to our apartment where she showered, ate and took a brief nap. Then we promptly lost track of her until bumping into her today at the celebration. She has a job with a tour company and spends her off hours trying to improve her Spanish and partying – not necessarily in that order. She told me she’s been here longer than she’d expected and feels it’s time to move on, though she has no idea to where. She also thinks Peruvian men are too short.

Susanne was seated with Maribel and me during the opening ceremony. During a break the master of ceremonies came to me for a brief discussion. After leaving me he approached Susanne and asked “What is the name of your father?” Which pretty much dashed any hopes I might have been holding on to for playing a romantic leading man role. Susanne misunderstood him and, thinking he had asked what country she was from, replied “Alemania” (Germany). For the remainder of the festivities the master of ceremonies would occasionally refer to the “Americano, Señor Alemania” much to the delight of those present who know me. I didn’t bother to correct him.

This is Ivan Infante Chacon, the mayor of Pica, Chile. He gave a speech that, although I didn’t understand it, was apparently inspiring based on audience reaction. Either that or the Peruvians were doing their part to try to improve relations. The mayor is a likeable guy and didn’t seem to mind having his picture taken. After the photo he invited me to visit Pica, adding “bring Señora Alemania with you.” I didn’t bother to correct him.

Señor Alemania

Monday, April 5, 2010

Back to the beginning

The number of people reading this blog has dropped significantly in the past four weeks. While I can’t be certain of why that is, I think it may be because I haven’t written lately the type of articles, essays, commentaries or whatever you want to call them that is of interest to other bloggers and internet news services who typically reprint my stuff, which means referrals from those sites are down. It’s also possible that those readers interested solely in learning about Peru don’t much care why I don’t wear short pants, or that I think rap is some as yet undiscovered insidious disease that will hopefully one day see medical science identify and devise a cure for. The only reason I mention the drop in readership is because it has caused me to do some reflecting.

I installed Google Analytics because Maribel and I were curious to see who was reading our blog and from where. It’s kind of fun to look at the stats and see that readers from 6 new countries and 17 different cities have checked in this week. Fun but not important. I’m not interested in driving up the numbers nor am I concerned with growing this site. If through this blog I’m providing something…be it information or entertainment to others, that makes me feel good. But the primary purpose of this blog was and still is to record my individual thoughts and experiences for myself – sort of a personal diary left open on a table for passer-by’s to glance at if they’d care to.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are many purely Peru stories I’d love to write. “Maria’s Garden” is one of them. Maria is real and so is her garden. If I do the job with this story I can almost guarantee you will learn a lot about the courage, hardship and strength of character of a typical Peruvian. And you will love Maria.

There are several reasons why Maria’s Garden and other stories haven’t been written. For one thing it’s been too damn hot during the day to go out in the desert to research and take photos. I don’t remember it being this hot last summer, but this year it’s been miserable. Secondly, despite my last entry claiming the health benefits I’ve gained since moving to Peru, I’ve been pretty much house bound for the last two weeks - first with Brian’s Disease and then Montezuma’s revenge, which I thought I’d built up immunity against! Another reason is the English classes Maribel and I have with the artisans in Monsefù on Tuesdays and the Chiclayo police on Wednesdays. It takes more time than I originally thought to think of and write out lesson plans, make copies and deal with miscellaneous issues let alone teaching the class.

There is one other reason why I may have neglected doing the groundwork for blog entries. Lately I’ve started having thoughts that maybe stories like Maria and her garden deserve more than a blog entry – that one page with photos doesn’t get it. I’m not going to say I’ve started writing a book. What I will say is that I’ve starting compiling notes – about 6 hours worth yesterday alone (what else can you do when the baño may beckon at any moment?). I have a general idea what the subject matter, tone and direction might be, but at this point writing a book is nothing more than a thought. I honestly don’t know if I have a quality book in me. I think I’d like to find out.