Tuesday, September 29, 2020

What's Happening Now?


Two things now speak for themselves:

1)  COVID continues claiming lives but it's only a million so not to worry too much.  

"If they would rather die, they'd better do it, and decrease the surplus population".  

2) The presidential debate speaks for itself.  Entertaining, to say the least, and we had too much fun watching it.  And here I thought Mexico was in deep shit!

We finally found someone to help out in the quinta.  I had mentioned to a neighbor's gardener that we were looking for someone.  The next day, a kid of about 15 showed up at the door looking for work.  A good kid from Chiapas, his father pulled him out of school four years ago to come north to find more work.  They work in a place that offers parties for kids but they have a petting farm and show kids how to milk cows and shore sheep.  

First off, I told him he needed to bring his dad and give him permission to work here.  The dad came and he has never been to school, can't read or write, and helps out his 15-year-old son that works in the other place.  Very nice people and we made it clear that come January the son needs to be in school, which we will pay for otherwise he can't work here.  We will also enroll all of the children in the government scholarship program, Bienestar so that they can receive $200 USD monthly towards their education.

He seems to like it here and we made it clear that there are cameras here.  It's a gringo thing I guess but I feel more comfortable with them knowing it is fine.  In Mexico, it is common to have adolescents work for you so I guess it's not a big deal.

We are preparing things for our December trip and will take the rv out for a couple of test drives over the next months.  I have a couple of places in mind; our resort in Montemorelos and then a trip to Potrero Chico on the northside of Monterrey.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The End Of The Pandemic In 2023


I'm not a religious person but this seems to fit and drive home my point.  Feel free to disagree.



We are now seven months into the first pandemic of the century.  The U.S. has lost over 200,000 souls, Mexico 75,000 and the world total to date is close to reaching 1,000,000 deaths.  We live in an age of technology where information is at your fingertips.  Yet few people know what a pandemic is, a virus, and the scientifically proven methods to avoid COVID.  Instead, they prefer fake news, jokes about death and dying, laughing in the face of death as though they are immune.  Many people truly believe this is a hoax generated by world leaders for some dastardly gain and others feel they have a special DNA that will keep them free of the virus.  Many raise their voices and posters in protest saying their rights and freedoms are being violated.  It was played down by world leaders in the beginning and that downplay has been drilled into our heads.  We’re out in public, throwing caution to the wind.  We visit beaches, bars, and restaurants and attend mass group parties even though we know the dangers.


Fast forward to the year 2023.  The pandemic is coming to a close.  Herd immunity has done its work along with a slew of vaccines from different countries and pharmaceutical companies trying to gain even greater fame and fortune.  The death toll has now reached over 3,000,000 and many people say they never knew anyone who had gotten sick or died from it and they themselves are living proof.

In the initial months of the virus, world leaders attempted to convince the masses that it would pass, influenza killed way far more people, and that the Chinese created this virus for economic gain.  Some world leaders refused to wear a mask until corruption in their country came to an end while other famous presidents denied it existed and like all other things in the world we had to carry on even urging his followers not to wear masks.

We didn’t love our neighbor as we should have.  Human beings for the most part rebelled against the scientific and medical communities.  World-renowned institutions such as the CDC, ECDC and the CCDC warned us of the precautions.  The world has had a history of ten well-documented pandemics, their impact on human life and society, and also their demise and what helped to bring the world back to “normal”.   No one listened though.  

If we had loved our neighbor as we had learned in our churches, synagogues, and mosques, we would have followed the simple guidelines that may have saved those 3,000,000 souls.  But they were just numbers to us, weren’t they? They weren’t “our” people, family, friends or neighbors.  Religion, faith, and prayer saved no one.  We were all at the mercy of the virus or better said, Mother Nature.  We took our humanity and shelved it out of selfishness, defiance, and in some cases hatred for others.   Our own selfish gain for sheer enjoyment, entertainment, self-fulfillment came before our neighbor.

We could have saved most of those 3,000,000 lives just by example.  Would it really have taken away our rights and liberties to follow the three simple rules of social distancing, masks, and handwashing?  Human lives didn’t mean enough to say, “I’m thinking about you as well as for myself and even though I may not be a believer I am part of my community and what I do will be an example for others such as my children, neighbors and fellow citizens.  We could have all been heroes but we chose ourselves over others.  Yes, love they neighbor as thyself.

None of us will be here in another one hundred years and this pandemic will go down just as the others have; in history, forgotten in time, until the next one.  Then we will become those insignificant lives, those numbers, those stories of the ones that survived two pandemics and numerous wars and other such onslaughts.   

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Sometimes, I'm Glad It's Over


Sleeping, I'm a very heavy dreamer.  I usually have three dreams in a row which I refer to as segments.  In almost all my dreams, one segment takes me to the offices I used to work in with Datapoint Corp, a now-defunct computer manufacturer.  I loved that job.  I started in Los Angeles, transferred to San Francisco for a year, back to L.A. and then to San Antonio, Tx.  Good people, some of who are my Facebook friends.  In my dreams, I am always walking around the offices although the offices change from dream to dream becoming larger and more modern.  As a person, I learned to grow up there.  I lived on my own, had a nice car, a house with hardwood fllors and a big yard, traveled two weeks a month, and worked in an office (in Los Angeles) by myself.  In San Antonio, it was a corporate environment and I learned about bureaucracy, favoritism, and discrimination.  That's another story.

In Mexico, apart from our language school, I always worked a second job.  In this case, it was as an academic consultant for EFL (English As A Foreign Language) publishers.  I always made it out to be a glamorous job.  It was in many ways.  I was fortunate to have learned Spanish fluently and that took me to Central/South America and the Caribbean.  As a gringo, I have to admit that I received special treatment.  Nice accommodations, business class flights in most cases, great restaurants, and some but little sightseeing.  The downside?  Long flights, hours in airports waiting, being shuttled from university to university, and some very exclusive private schools where teachers treated me like shit.  It was a self-esteem issue thinking I would belittle them (the Brits do that) and talk down to them.  What I really did was I used them to grow as a teacher trainer.  I took their interests, lack of training, lack of teaching knowledge to build my courses.  In other countries, smaller cities, and public schools, teachers worshipped me.  They felt that finally, they had an ally that would stand up for them and provide the training they truly needed, and I did. 

Juan and I always went the extra mile.  We were always studying new teaching techniques, reviewing new materials, testing them in classrooms and with teachers,  I still do even though I'm not working.  In fact, I'll be attending a three-day webinar this next week on virtual classroom techniques, issues, and solutions.  I loved what I did but it was time to stop.

Publishing had its ups and downs.  I not only had the role of an academic consultant but also as a proofreader, materials developer, and more.  Never an author though.  I was paid by the job and as I became better known, able to negotiate my pay to a certain extent. I'm an American and the Latin American market is dominated by the Brits.  If you weren't a member of the British Council, taught at the Anglo institute, or studied there, you would never be an author.  I only know of a couple of U.S. citizens that actually authored materials but they didn't last long.  Brits were the number one name on the book and maybe, an American or Mexican would take the second slot as a co-author.  Today, it's still Brits first, although more and more Mexicans are co-authors.  There is one major exception of a Mexican whose materials dominate the Mexican and Latin American markets.  

The biggest deception and one that made me change my complete outlook on publishing was a visit from a then friend and coworker.  The coworker came to the house for the weekend, we had really hit it off over the years.  We were out by the pool discussing language teaching, materials, textbooks, and the like.  I had mentioned that materials were important but also training teachers and the education of students was key.  The person turned and looked at me and said, "the only thing that matters is book sales".  That was in 2008.  That's when I knew I would never really play a bigger role in publishing.  I learned to like where I was and that was my calling.

 I was never bitter or jealous of anyone because I knew this going in, it was always very obvious.  I am referring to the six top EFL publishers.  I was happy to be a proofreader.   It was easy online work that I could do just about anywhere.  Even without an internet signal, I could download it and work on it later uploading it again when a signal was available.  I did that the summer we worked at Hacienda Contreras.  We did the chores in the morning while it was cool out and then after lunch and a nap I would work for four hours. 

In the end, I miss the travel side, working with teachers, and knowing that I did make a difference.  Earlier this year before COVID, I sent in an abstract to the national teacher's association which has a national convention every year.  I've given many conferences over the years and I loved the large groups.  However, this year my abstract and online registration of which I received a confirmation via email, was somehow lost.  I was sabotaged because I hadn't attended for the last three years.  The last year I did attend the association went through a major divide and there is a video of me speaking out.  I was blacklisted only to find out recently that many others suffered the same consequences.  One of the main reasons given was that we are older now and they are looking for younger faces.  The convention this year will be virtual and they are scrambling for speakers.  

Like any union, association, etc., there is always dissension, gossip, and backbiting and in publishing, it's a dirty business.  I was even paid for many years to spy on other publishers which is a common practice.  I'm happy though that I was an independent contractor and could pretty much pick and choose what I wanted to do.  

Sometimes I'm glad it's over and time to move with the rest of my life although it is on hold with the virus, much like most other rvers.  

Another piece of the puzzle.  

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Things Are Looking Up Around Here


Parody of our president and his famous raffle of the presidential plane.  More at the end of today's blog post.

Recently, I began to feel like Amanda Berry.  I'm not sure you remember her, she was kidnapped and held captive for 10 years.  Here famous words once she escaped were (but applied to me), "Help me, I'm Chris, Covid has kept me in my house for six months now, and I'm, I'm here.  I'm free now!".   Well not really free but some good things seem to be happening.

We have the first meet up with a couple who are very interested in purchasing a piece of land we have had for 10 years.  You remember, we bought the 40-foot travel trailer and all that.  It started out to be a good project but the "malos" the bad guys, came and F'ed it all up.

We've had many projects pending around the quinta now for months.  It only took four months to get the pool remodel figured out, started and then finished.  We gave up and just put off a lot of stuff for the summer.  My days have been filled with housekeeping and yard work.  Truly a bummer and to be quite honest, fed up with the pandemic.  That said, it will be around for another year and a half so as much as I hate to say it, I am happy to be alive and sequestered here at home.  

It has rained now for two weeks with only one afternoon of sun.  Today was the second so I jumped outside and cut the grass and ended up totally disgusted with myself for not taken action on things that need to be done.  It's the same ole dog.  It's very hard to find people to do work where we live and workers don't like to come from Monterrey even if we pay for their travel time and gas.

I began looking on Facebook marketplace and tried all types of searches.  A lot of things here in northern Mexico are in English so I typed in "handyman".  That's really what we need.  And sure enough, up popped "The Handyman".  I had my suspicions from the start.  We did some Whatsapp back and forth and then he asked if he could call me.  We chatted for a while and as I had thought, he was raised in the U.S. and deported with his family.  He seems to have some things we like, cleanliness, and promptness.  He has a million pictures of his work before and after so we agreed to a meetup.  He will come in the next few days.  Being "gringoized" he may charge an arm and a leg and I will have to tell him my story.  I'm not rich.

Today was the 16th of September celebration.  There was no celebration.  All of the events were online and no public gatherings took place according to the news.  

Hopefully, I can get back out and do my 10Ks this week.  I went to go shower this morning and found toadstools between my toes.  It must be the rain.  After all, I shower once a week!

Oh, and the big Mexico news.  Presidente Dingus raffled the presidential plane.  Nobody could actually win the plane but there were 10 20,000,000 pesos prizes.  They never did sell all the tickets and after all this, we lost 86,000,000 pesos just on the raffle.  And guess what?  We are still stuck with the airplane, it's in a hangar in mothballs because it represents wealth and happiness.  Good night!

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Mexico's Street Markets - Why I Won't Buy There


Mexico street markets are called mercados, mercados rodantes, tianguis to name a few depending on the region of the country you are in. They are true cultural havens for Mexphiles and adventurers who yearn to know more about Mexico and it's people.  The aromas, colors, sounds, and languages one can experience are truly amazing.  At times it can almost be a head spin.  The excitement of going to the Tuesday market in San Miguel de Allende for example creates a true stir in the whole city.  Good luck finding a place to park as people come from far away to hock their wares and those that come to shop and feel the experience as well.

Large and small vendors some with only a small table or nothing but a blanket spread on the ground.  Exotic fruits such as the pitaya, mamey, vegetables, and legumes of all types not to mention the abundance of pig heads, large swaths of pork skin called chicharron, and the vendor breaking off pieces for people to try.  Food stands dominate the markets with every Mexican womans' favorite recipe for empanadas rellenas, enchiladas, and of course the world-renowned taco, and all of those come in many different shapes and sizes.

Sounds great, doesn't it?  Almost like something out of a travel magazine.  However, I try and almost never buy from a street market.  Bizarre, isn't it?  I live in a small town that boasts one of the largest outside Tuesday markets (Tuesday is generally market day in Mexico) south of Monterrey in my area but I've only been once in 20 years.

Most of my reasoning has to do with poverty.  The majority of the small stands and vendors are poor people.  Then it would make sense to cater to them and purchase their goods versus an established business.  Just the opposite.  Poverty is a strange animal and we treat it by throwing money at it.  It hasn't worked throughout history and the most recent being Lyndon Johnson's infamous attempt to eliminate poverty with his "welfare" program.  60 years later, the five-state region of Appalachia continues to suffer and live, in some cases, in extreme poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, and physical and sexual abuse.

We hear the same list of questions from foreign visitors on a regular basis.  Why are the roads so bad? Why doesn't the government do "X"?  Why are people so poor?  You know the list and many of you have asked us and others the questions.  

The reason is simple.  You may love to come and visit and see all of the above but the dark and hidden secrets are rarely exposed.  50% of the population is not registered, pays no taxes, and worst of all because of that receives no benefits.   There is only so much money coming in, minus the corruption and the waste on programs that it leaves little to work with.  COVID has proven to be a great example of this.  The universal healthcare system is swamped, lacks medications, ventilators, beds and supplies.  It takes money to run a country and Mexico is the 13th largest country by land size and 10th largest by population.   

Did you know that market vendors pay to set up their stalls?  Yep, a man comes around each market day and collects money for the market association that pays for the use of the space along with a list of other fees.  Then, another man comes along, or a group of men, and asks for an extortion payment.  You'll rarely see them because they mix right in with the shoppers.  It's an endless cycle of graft and corruption and there is no recourse.  How can there be if you are participating in an illegal activity?  If you are not registered and running a business without paying any taxes or fees you can't expect the government to back you up.  It leaves the door open for criminal activity.

To add credibility to my blog post, this is a headline dated 09/09/20 from the Mexico City Daily News (a paper that translates Mexican newspaper articles into English) here is the headline:

It gets worse.  Mother Teresa in SMA sent out a message for help for "her kids" in the campo the other day.  Now that kids are not in the classroom and working from home via the internet, those kids in the campo don't have internet much less electricity.  Well by gosh let's just get together and buy a pole, a transformer and some cable and it's done.  Does that work in the U.S., Canada, or any other country you may have visited?  It takes a contract from the electric company.  If you live a mile from the main road you have to pay for the post, transformer and installation, thousands of pesos.  But how can you get a contract when you are a squatter and have no way of proving your income and ability to pay?

The system is F'ed up and president after president has attempted to fix it but it has never been resolved.  There is hope though.  We do have programs to legalize all of the ills above.  There is a program called Sumate (get added):

"This program brings personalized advice and guidance on tax matters to your home or establishment, confidentially and free of charge. Objective: Promote, through civic and ethical values, the tax culture; incorporate into the formality those who have not registered in the Federal Register of Taxpayers"

The other is Fondo Pymes:

The support fund for micro, small and medium enterprises (Fondo Pyme) is an instrument that seeks to support companies, in particular, those of smaller size and entrepreneurs with the purpose of promoting national economic development through the granting of temporary support for programs and projects that promote the creation, development, viability, productivity, competitiveness and sustainability of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.

Sounds pretty heavy and complicated but they will work with a guy who needs to replace his paleta tricycle or a new trailer for a taco business.  I know from experience.  I used to work out at the gym with a woman named Elena.  She was divorced and lived in the next town over.  She did people's laundry from her house including ironing and some mending.  She would always talk to me about creating a business.  I told her she already had a business but no one could recognize it because it wasn't legal.  The first step I took her to my accountant who assessed what she did and how to legalize it.  Done in one week and a cost of 300 pesos.  Next step, we went to the state version of Pymes.  They loaned her enough money based on her collateral, to buy a commercial washer and dryer.  Years later she has a successful commercial laundry business and does work for catering companies and hotels.  She's not rich but is much better off economically.  She also has a pension to look forward to now, a first-time buyer fixed interest rate home loan as well as IMSS, universal medical care.

The system is in place.  It's the desire, hard work, and education that is required.  Will all of them be as successful as Elena?  Probably not but they sure would be better off than they are today and we could reduce crime and corruption.  After all, isn't that what President Dingus wants?  Eliminate corruption?  You won't do it by giving people money only to have the criminal element and scrupulous government employees and teachers take it away from them.

I will close with a question.  Let's say you have a small business and break your back to make it work, pay the bills, and feed your family.  Then one day, a person shows up, puts up a booth with an umbrella, and starts selling the same product you do but they don't pay rent, taxes, employee salaries, and benefits, and they purchase their goods on the black market. How would that work for you and your country's economy?  Now, do you understand?

Friday, September 4, 2020

Average Monthly Living Expenses In Mexico


I've been working on a list of expenses that we incur on a monthly basis.  It's not all-inclusive but has the majority expenses such as groceries and utility bills.  People often ask how expensive things are and I have mentioned several times our electric bill and usage by KwH.  

In addition, I made a shortlist of produce we purchase at the grocery store on a regular basis.  Using HEB Mexico and HEB U.S., I compared the prices of some 11 items and listed them in dollars to avoid any confusion in currency conversion.

* indicates price per piece, not lb.

Everyone lives differently; needs, vices, and comfort level.  We live well but at the same time, we don't find the need to spend a lot of money.   We eat well and attempt to do meal planning in between our two to three-week grocery shop.  We don't eat much red meat but like to have a nice ribeye once a month.  Chicken, shrimp, and tuna are usually eaten along with pasta dishes and of course greens at every meal.  When it comes to fruit, it is mostly berries and a small quantity of bananas and apples.  Fruit has too much sugar be it natural or not.

When we are at home we try not to shop at local markets.  That a personal choice and has nothing to do with the quality or cleanliness of the produce.  I am just not a fan of the informal market.  That's another political story.