Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Kuuxum Eventos, Querétaro - Estafadores!!

Ten cuidado con Kuuxum Eventos, una empresa radicada en Querétaro, México. El director Norberto Rámirez al parecer se dedica a estafar a los clientes.

Contratamos servicios con Kuuxum Eventos y nos dejaron plantados a los diez días de nuestra boda. Tras pagar a Kuuxum Eventos un deposito de $4000 meses antes del evento, Norberto Rámirez, empezó a jugar a escondidas con nosotros. No contestó a su telefonó y cuando llegamos tarde a una cita con él, nos informó que tuvo que irse porque no tenía tiempo para atendernos. A los diez días de nuestra boda, seguía sin contestar ninguno de sus teléfonos hasta que alguien de la empresa Kuuxum Eventos nos informó que no nos darían el servicio, y que ni nos devolvería nuestro depósito"por concepto de viáticos".

A los diez días de nuestra boda entonces, Kuuxum Eventos nos dejó a buscar un nuevo proveedor. No trates con Kuuxum Eventos. Su director, Norberto Rámirez no es de confianza y, estafa a sus clientes.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Two things I have learnt

I know that writing anything on this blog is as effective as sending a message in a bottle in the Pacific Ocean, but today I am moved to note two things I have learnt in recent years:

  1. There are some things - many things - that you simply cannot teach people. They can only learn themselves. Often slowly, normally painfully. Perhaps a definition of wisdom is: "Stuff that can't be taught, only learnt."
  2. If you have a problem with me, it may be because you have a problem with Brits, or with English-speakers, or with white men, or with men. It may help me to see it that way. But, at the end of the day, maybe you just have a problem with me.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

'No Inmigrante' or 'On Immigration'

Since November last year I have a card with my name, photo and fingerprint on it, bearing the legend "No Inmigrante" below "Estados Unidos Mexicanos". You might call this is my residency visa. It allows me to live and work in Mexico at least until next November. It defines my status as a visiting foreigner, but the reality is I have been an immigrant since August 2009, first working illegally, then working semi-legally, and now, as of January 2011 working fully legally and paying taxes.

I have been a tourist, backpacker, aimless traveller on many occasions and for some considerable portion of my life. But I was aware, moving to Mexico in 2009, that this was the first time I would become an immigrant. It has afforded me an interesting perspective on life and the lives of immigrants and helped me to provide an answer to the big, unanswered question of WHY I am living in Mexico.

While I am daily moving closer to being the kind of international type that is generally despised by Brits (I live over here away from the mother country, paying taxes to a foreign government, speaking to my cat, named Lady Gata, alternately in Spanish and English [English more often when I'm angry with her, Spanish if she's good]), the people who know me well will probably understand that I am an avowed nationalist. By that, I mean that I love to understand the world and it's people through the prism of nations and nationalities. Yes, it's pleasant to view the people of the world as all essentially the same, divided accidentally by birthplace. Yes, there's good and bad everywhere. But the fact remains that much of people's habits, behavior, thought processes, and above all, language, is conditioned by their nationality. These differences are expressed in countless levels of day-to-day activity, from governmental actions, laws to cups of tea, coffee and cuisine.

As an immigrant, I am daily made aware of my nationality. And I don't generally get bored of it. My students, my friends, and complete strangers expect a typical Englishman, and for the most part I am pleased to give them one. I drink tea. I love soccer and cricket. I generally call "soccer" "football", except when I want to be absolutely sure to avoid confusion. I am much more reserved, private and phlegmatic than the average Mexican. Life is made fun by these differences. I have a never-ending supply of small talk, based around national differences in climate, food, culture; and English football. My otherness is a thing I enjoy.

As well as being a foreigner, I am also an ethnic minority in Mexico. That is to say that my physical, racial characteristics are different to the majority of the population of this country. When I get on the bus, it is immediately obvious that I am a foreiger. A Venezuelan friend of mine here doesn't have the same experience. So before a stranger can ascertain my nationality, my ethnicity is obvious. This is not as fun as the nationality part.

For detailed historical reasons that I can't fully convey here (or probably anywhere) the average Mexican has certain distinct prejudices about white people. I say I can't convey the history at work here fully, but that doesn't mean I won't try to convey it partially... Here: Since Cortés arrived in 1521, the history of Mexico has followed a pattern of repeated interference from white foreigners. The Spanish brought western civilisation and Catholicism to Mexico and founded the race of mestizos. So without Spain there is no Mexico. But the Spanish defeated the Aztecs in a cruel and unusual way involving some biological warfare and a lot of flagrant dishonesty. They then oppressed indigenous Mexicans as virtual slaves for centuries while keeping all power in the hands of "pure-blood" Spaniards. Later, the USA invaded Mexico in a war that many American politicians of the time (including a young A. Lincoln) described as blatantly unjust and aggressive. The USA annexed around half of the territory of Mexico (Texas, California, Arizona etc). Since that time the USA has been able to profit from Mexico's oil reserves and cheap labor, mainly to the benefit of wealthy Mexicans only. But conversely, US companies provide hundreds of thousands of jobs to Mexico, enriching the economy. The US has also sportingly absorbed much of Mexico's overflowing population. If you ask 20 lower-middle to upper-middle class Mexicans (as I have), 19 have a brother, sister, cousin or aunt who lives in the states. Fifteen have visited the US. Twelve loved it. Four have been to Disneyland. American TV, movies and music entertain millions of Mexicans.

All of the above creates a tapestry of conciousness about white foreigners (part negative, part positive) that comes into play as soon as I walk down a street, get a bus, hail a taxi or buy a sandwich. This is the part that is less fun. Many people are very welcoming, and go out of their way to be polite to the different person, but more people are cold or standoffish. Either way, being judged before you open your mouth on a routine basis is tiring. It changes you psychologically. Perhaps there is a desire to belong to the whole, to slightly envy the Mexicanness of Mexicans that makes things easier for them. But mostly it makes you a bit less trusting of others and a bit more defensive,

When a stranger is rude to me over here, my instinct is that there is racism at work. Sometimes I will be right. But I have to remind myself that in many cases, this individual will be rude to anyone, regardless of the colour of his skin. I shouldn't feel offended, then, as an ethnic. But it's very hard, if not impossible, not to treat every occasional piece of brusque treatment as a slice of discrimination, when you always have in your mind, walking down the street, getting on a bus, hailing a taxi, that you are unavoidably different from other people.

It's almost needless to say that this perspective applies to situations other than British immigrants in Mexico.

But is this perspective WHY I came to Mexico? Of course not. But maybe just the fact of being an "other" goes some way to answering the question. As a student I lived in Edinburgh for three excellent years. In Edinburgh I was something of an outsider, as an Englishman and a Londoner. Perhaps that was the beginning of my love for seeing myself as an outsider, distanced from the place where I live, and carrying in me the idea of where I come from and communicating that to others in the way I choose.

It could be that, or maybe I just love Mexican food, Mexican weather, and teaching English. Certainly, this is closer to the answer I give to the people who (often) ask me WHY I live in Mexico.

Monday, 18 January 2010

How Mexican football works

I told myself the second time I came to Mexico that I would make an effort to understand Mexican soccer. Understanding Mexican politics, I reasoned, would be the next step but that would take considerably longer. To really understand the politics of a country (especially one as big as Mexico) you need to develop a considerable background knowledge, until eventually newspaper headlines such as: Hernandez tells Dominguez: "No Return to CAD" become comprehensible. Now, five years after I first arrived in Guadalajara, I feel I finally understand the football here. And it really is quite remarkably chaotic and Latin to someone versed in the predictable, perpetual rhythms of European football. I hope any other European football fans out there will be interested:

It's a chilly Wednesday evening in mid December and Cruz Azul (from Mexico City) are facing off against Monterrey in the first leg of the final that will decide the league championship. As Monterrey finished the regular season with the worse record of the two teams, the first leg is played in Monterrey, and the seond leg (a mere four days later, mind you) in the Estadio Azul in the capital. In the first half of that first leg, Cruz Azul race to a 3-1 lead, away from home. Surely a remarkable effort and the cementeros* surely have the trophy all but won. (*Cruz Azul's nickname means the cement makers because the club is owned by Cruz Azul cement.) But Monterrey come back to score three goals in the second half, winning 4-3, before holding on for a draw in the return leg, thus wining the final 5-4 on aggregate. Surely a remarkable final that no-one will stop talking about for years? (Cf Liverpool v Milan, 2005 UEFA Champions League final). But no, not really. This kind of thing just happens in Mexican football, where defending has never been half as interesting as full-blooded, hang-the-consequences attacking football.

So Monterrey are the reigning league champions. Except, of course, that that was only the "opening" ("apertura") championship of the 2009/10 season. Now begins the somehow-more-serious "closing" ("clausura") championship. Partly, it is more serious because the winners gain an automatic place in the Copa Libertadores, Latin America's answer to the Champions League, which begins in earnest this month. Monterrey will be playing in the Libertadores - not because they won last year's championship, but because they won the Interliga tournament last week. The Interliga is an eight-team mini tournament to decide which two teams (in addition to the two strongest teams in the 2009 clausura) will compete in the 2010 Libertadores. All the matches are played in the south-west of the USA. (How many domestic football tournaments can you name that take place outside the country concerned?) Joining Monterrey as qualifiers will be Estudiantes, a club from Guadalajara that is owned by the Autonomous University of Guadalajara. When I lived in Guadalajara in 2005 the club was known as Tecos, and played in different colours. But, as they were distinctly third-place in that city behind Chivas and Atlas, the club has rebranded itself, and I suppose you can say they are doing well, having qualified for the Libertadores. It doesn't matter that they were one of the weakest teams in last year's apertura, because the qualification for the InterLiga is based on the results through the whole of 2009, and teams do have a habit of reversing fortunes dramatically over the two haves of the year. Take Pumas, for example. One of the most popular teams in the country, Pumas are owned by the National Autonomous University of Mexico - the country's largest university with the small matter of some 350,000 students in Mexico City. Pumas won the 2009 clausura, but then put in an abysmal performance in the apertura and didn't come near to qualifying for the playoffs.

Confused yet? Well, it's probably time I explained how the whole playoffs system works. There are 18 teams in the top division, and these are divided into three different groups. All teams in the league play each other once, regardless of groups (a bit like the NFL or Major League Baseball). How are these groups decided, you ask? By region? Or strength? No, it appears to be completely at random and changes once a year. So, for example, the two big Guadalajara teams, Atlas and Chivas are in the same group, but the biggest rivals in Mexico City, America and Cruz Azul are separated. Chivas and Atlas have not been strong lately and are in the same group as probably the two weakest teams in the league: Indios of Ciudad Juarez and Gallos Blancos of Queretaro (sorry, I mean just "Gallos". The club officially dropped the "blancos" last year, so changing from the "white cockerels" to just the "cockerels"). This group was so weak last year that both Gallos and Chivas, despite very poor records, went into the last weeks of the season still with a chance of winning the title overall. This is because the top two teams from each group qualify automatically for the playoffs at the end of the season, plus the two other teams with the best record, regardless of groups. The top eight teams, therefore, play off in two-legged ties until a final champion is decided - Monterrey, in the case of last year's apertura.

So, with eight teams qualifying for the playoffs out of 18 in total, there is a high chance of any team making it through to the later stages. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is a great deal narrower than in any European league. But despite the constant flux of strength and weekness amongst the clubs, some teams are more prestigious than others. By far and away the two biggest clubs in the country are America (Mexico City) and Chivas (Gdl). Whenever these two play, it is the biggest match in Mexico, no matter how inconsequential the game may be to the wider picture of the championship. Nor does it matter that neither had reached the playoffs in the last four tournaments until America made it last year - only to be immediately eliminated at the quarter final stage by Monterrey.

But with even the biggest teams often having appalling seasons, isn't there a distinct risk of one of them being relgated? No. Beacuse the relegation system is entirely separate from the apertura/clausura groups that decide the playoffs. Only one team is promoted once a year, from the Liga de Ascenso (the second division, where -incidentally- the national team's star player is currently plying his trade - figure that one out if you can). The team that is relegated is the team with the lowest average points per game from their previous three years in the top division. Or, in the case of the Gallos of Queretaro, just this one year since they were only just promoted to the top division. So whilst most teams are keeping an eye on the group tables with hopes of making the playoffs, the likes of Gallos and Indios are really only watching the porcentaje (percentage, as it's known). Rather than cliches like: "all we needed were the three points", the really salient analysis is in comments like: "that win puts Gallos up to 0.915 points per game, and with Indios facing a tough visit to Pachuca tomorrow, a defeat there could cut their lead to a mere 0.020 points per game." Why is the relegation system as complicated as this? Simple: it's to ensure that the likes of America, Chivas, Cruz Azul, Pumas -who probably account for two-thirds of all the merchandise and income to the league- are never ever in danger of relegation. And it works.

So that does it for my explanantion of Mexican football. Confused? Everyone here is. And what's more, things are likely to change rapidly with little prior warning. For exapmple, Gallos fans here in Queretaro are still angry at events a few years ago, when the rules for including young players in every squad were changed retroactively mid season, making several of the club's victories illegal and condemning them to relegation - all to save one of the bigger clubs from going down. But that is Mexican football, and that -in a microcosm- is Latin culture. The authorities are corrupt and protecting the interests of the elite and everyone knows it. The organisation is chaotic and confusing and evereyone accepts it. And above all, things are want to change and people adapt to it. Very different to Europe, where things are done the way they are because that is how they have been done for years and years, and if you want to change things there are formal processes involving committees, elections, votes, accountability, debate, bureaucracy. And, of course, it being Europe, the systems over there are the best and the most logical, and everyone else in the world really should follow their lead if they don't want to be as brash as the Americans. And they're right. But the thing is, over here in America, things are more relaxed and -maybe just maybe- that little bit more fun.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Small World

Back in August, the weekend before I left to come to Mexico I was in Edinburgh. I had a fun time there which was only partly ruined by the weather (wet and miserable on the Friday and colder than December in Queretaro on the Saturday) and Janeane Garofolo's abysmal stand-up in the one show we all paid to see. Being back in Edinburgh made me reflective - as it always does - of how my life has changed (a bit) since I was a student, so I was in a pensive mood as I boarded the Megabus to return on the Sunday night. Not only was I thinking about Edinburgh and my friends there, but I was extremely apprehensive as I considered that a week later I would be teaching English classes in Mexico.

Waiting in the queue for the bus I got chatting to a South African guy. We ended up sitting next to each other on the bus and he told me a bit of his story. He was flying to S Africa the next day, returning home after a year spent abroad in Canada and Scotland. I looked on this as a piece of cosmic coincidence that I should meet a guy returning home after a year just as I was about to leave home for a year. We chatted for some hours on the bus and two comments he made to me have stuck in my mind as very meaningful. (Also, at least one comment he made has stuck in my mind as complete garbage - no, the Incas weren't aliens).

Above all, the one thing I took away from that conversation was this observation: [reproduced here - in the novelstic convention - as if I could remember every word he said]

"The thing is, yah, it's not like the olden days when people went away from home and didn't see or speak to any of the family or old friends for years. Nowadays it's so easy to communicate with people, yah."

He had a point. It immediately made me think back to some stories I had heard in the museum on Ellis Island in New York. (Very loyal readers of James's America may recall that i spent a good three hours there when I visited Lisa in NYC back in September 2008). A hundred years ago men used to leave the old country, leaving behind parents, siblings, wives, children to go and spend perhaps 3 years working in the states until they could pay for their families to come over. Some of them even had to live in Pittsburgh. If they were lucky they could communicate every couple of months or so by mail. They didn't have phones, email, sms, msn, facebook, facebook chat, or even facebook lite. For a solid 2-5 years if not forever. How could I be afraid to hop accross the global village for a paltry 12 months or so?

Whatever his name was, that S African gave me a boost of confidence before coming here, and his observation has completely borne out for me. I haven't felt homesick at all since moving here and I remain aware that a) it's so easy to stay in constant contact with home that I am effectively not far away at all and b) a year isnt that long.

This has mulled around in my mind a bit lately as it is the festive season. As an expat living in a (relatively) new city, I looked on Christmas this year as a bit of a nuisance. Nice to have the time off work but I would inevitably end up feeling slightly lonely away from my family on the one day of the year (in the post family-holiday era) that we would definitely all spend together.

True to form, my dreams began to take place in London with a bit more regularity by mid-December, and on one occasion (must have been after a very vivid dream) I actually woke up thinking: "Where am I? Oh yeah, God, I'm at home in Mexico. Why the hell did I decide to come here again?" It was a very fleeting moment but one that has stayed with me and amused me since.

In the end, I had a really fun Christmas. I spent Christmas Eve (Noche Buena - the night Mexicans celebrate) with my colleague Lety and her extended family just outside the city of Queretaro. I had a great time and was full of cheer (not to mention rum, wine, cider, tequila) by the time I went to bed that night at 5am. On Christmas Day I lazed around, eating off my hangover and chatted to my family in London standing on the terraced roof of my house in the 22 degree sun.

So, reflecting on the smallness of the world, I have just remembered that, what with the time-difference, the fifth day of Australia v Pakistan began an hour ago in Melbourne and I had better log on to watch it now before Pakistan lose any more wickets, and before I head out for a game of pool in a couple of hours. By the time I come back, England should be romping to victory in Durban against --- South Africa. I wonder if old whatshisname from the Megabus will be watching?

Hasta la proxima!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

A day in the life

After the rather unique event described in the last post, I’m serving up this: a description, cut and paste from a recent email, of an archetypal day of my life here in Querétaro. In fact, a day so archetypal that it hasn’t actually happened – it is just an archetype.

[written about a week and a half ago]

Let me tell you a typical day, seeing as you asked about my students etc. Say on a Monday night I go to bed watching David Letterman interviewing somebody on TV at around 10.45pm (so early, I know) then I wake up on Tuesday morning at 5.45am, get dressed etc and walk out to meet my colleagues on the road beside my house. It is COLD right now (for Mexico) so i will wear a hoodie and maybe a scarf too. After a 45 min drive chatting about cricket with Mark, or ESL with evrybody and/or singing Mariah Carey, general Christmas Music or Elvis with Morgan and Lety I give an hour long class (which usually starts fifteen minutes late) to 3 or 4 middle aged professionals. Intermediate level. Then I ride back to town and make it home for breakfast by about 8.50am. And my free time begins. Maybe I go online for a bit then watch Felicity (my new fav show) from 10 till 11. Then maybe I go to the laundry or supermarket or have a cup of coffee and read or do whatever for a few hours. By 2pm I am checking what classes I have that afternoon and prob preparing a little. At 4pm I will teach, say, Juan Carlos and Francisco (aged 14 and 16, elementary standard) a basic class on grammar structure, littered with references to baseball, soccer or attractive actresses. At 5pm I teach Emanuel, 10, Fatima, 7, Mariana, 11, Karina, 10 and Adrian, 7. I am a nanny for an hour basically. We play games in English and I boss the kids as much as I can, telling them where to sit etc. The next two hours I will have varying conversation/grammar classes with a range of students aged maybe 25-55, generally either mid-twenties or middle aged. Generally higher standard. We might just do some grammar but, for example, I have designated this week as "German History Week" so I have my German flag up next to my map of europe and we will look at articles and have discussions/roleplays related to the Berlin Wall. At 8pm I will have my last hour of classes for the day, maybe with Adriana, 16 and Cesar, 15, (elementary standard) a brother and sister who are good fun and do what they are told (apart from actually conversing consistently in English). I go home after that, eat and sleep. It's a weird schedule but I quiet like it and I enjoy the vagaries of being a teacher. (I am not jaded yet)

Notice that my free time begins at about 9am. That is the equivalent to the feeling of 5.30 or 6pm in an office job when your working day ends and you can start to do what you want. It is weird but I like it.

A heart-stopping (and heart-warming) moment

I would say that the second most filmic moment of my life in the last few months took place in George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston last month. It was on Sunday 25 October, to be precise, at about 3pm and is worth recording here.

I was on my way back from Eleanor and Gabe’s wedding (and the Smith’s family holiday) in North Carolina, and had just made it to the departure lounge of Terminal B, a good two hours before my final flight of the day (to Querétaro) was due to depart.

I hear the following announcement:

“This is a message for JAMES SMITH. Please call extension 3000. This is a message for passenger Mr JAMES SMITH. Please call extension 3000. JAMES SMITH please call extension 3000.”

Here I am faithfully repeating the announcement as best I can recall it. At the time I was far too bewildered to actually catch what extension number I had to dial.

The announcement lasted about 8 seconds, and in those eight seconds I went through roughly the following range of emotions:

Amusement: “Ha! Someone has the same name as me.”
Surprise: “Wait, it must be me they’re making the announcement for.”
Embarrassment: “Have I lost my passport or wallet or something.Shit.”
Calm: “No, hang on, I’ve got both.”
Anxiety: “They probably want to search me or something. I thought that guy had put some mark on my boarding pass, but then they didn’t stop me at security.”
Outright fear: “What’s happened to my family?! Shit, shit shit. They were flying today as well.”
Calm again: “Wait, no. They would never inform people of plane crashes like this. How would they even know where the hell I was?”
Curiosity: “What the fuck can it be?”

It was one of the more emotional eight-second periods of my life.

(You may notice as well that my internal monologue probably curses a bit more than I do out loud.)

Bemused and baffled I wandered over to the US Airways desk where a typically friendly assistant (love the South) told me that I should probably call the paging service on one of the airport information phones.

After finally locating a phone that worked, and figuring out what number I had to dial, the following exchange (transcribed here in full) took place:

-Hi, my name’s James Smith. I think there’s a message for me.
-James Smith?
-Do you know Rachael?
-Give her a call.

Earlier in the day (and the previous night) I had been trying, unsuccessfully, to contact my dear friend Rachael in Michigan. After my last voicemail she had surmised roughly what time I would reach Houston and – after a call to a friend of hers in California, I think it was, to get the number for George Bush Intercontinental – had called the airport and given the impression that it was essential that JAMES SMITH contact her. An announcement had then been made right across the three or four terminals of George Bush, to the best of my understanding.

We did eventually have a conversation some minutes later.

In the movies, she would have told me she was outside the departure lounge, or was boarding the same flight as me but had got stuck in traffic. She wasn’t. But still, a beautiful, heart-warming, filmic moment.