Christmas With An Argentinian Family

Thanks to Andrew Llyod Webber’s ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’, I knew the name of this country when I was young but I had no idea where it was, what language it spoke and in general, what it was like. Little did I know that I’d be travelling there and spending time with the local people decades later.

I got an email from Magdalena, the coordinator of WCCM in Argentina back then. She told me she would come to pick me up from the hostel at 2pm. I was still very tired. I woke up quite late: at around 10:30am, packed my stuff and then had my breakfast. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I got a Whatsapp message from my friend I met in Tibet who encouraged me to go out and do some stuff so I dragged myself to town and got myself a phone card. I gave Magdalena a call so that she could have my number. Then I walked back to the hostel.

I walked towards Avenue Corrientes
Avenue Corrientes. I didn’t take this photo because of the golden arch but because of the architecture.
Obelisco de Buenos Aires
These buildings remind me of some parts in Asia.

Avenue Corrientes looked quite Southeast Asian or Asian in a way. Magdalena later told me the street was once occupied by Chinese but they moved and opened restaurants somewhere else (there was a big China Town in Buenos Aires but I didn’t go there. I was told it was an attraction). Now the street was full of Koreans.

Magdalena came with her daughter, Maria. They treated me lunch and then took me to Avenue Mayo (which means May avenue. The country became independent in May so many places were called Mayo) for a cup of coffee. Magdalena told me Argentina used coffee beans from other countries to brew their own coffee which became a very unique Argentinian coffee.

She also told me about the history of Argentina and the current situation in Argentina. It was really interesting to hear all these stories and her perspectives.

They took me to a ‘combi bus’ to get to their home which was in the suburb of Buenos Aires. On our way, I don’t remember how the conversation went but I told them my birthday was around this time of the year. They immediately came up with different ideas to celebrate my birthday. That was so kind of them.

She continued to tell me different things about her country, Christian meditation (originated from the desert fathers) etc. I told her what the WCCM coordinator from Ecuador told me about distraction. She agreed. She also said, ‘distraction is you! You are a distraction. You didn’t realise it. And you want yourself to be peaceful and calm but when you do meditation, you will find that no, you are not that kind of person. You go deep into yourself. And then you will find Jesus, the cosmic Jesus.’ That was really inspiring. She continued, ‘don’t take it as an obligation. If you can do it, do it. Don’t feel guilty if you can’t find time to do it. But meditation is like going to the bathroom. You feel the need. You need discipline more than techniques,’ that was a very interesting analogy.

I was greeted by the newborns in their house – 4 little kittens. They were only two weeks old. They meowed softly. The cat was a very good mother. When I played with her kittens, she immediately came to ‘rescue’ her children. What a lovely mother. Maria would have to give away the kittens as there were too many of them. She chose one for herself. She wanted to give me one but I had to travel. If I took it, I would have to take it to Chile, Bolivia, the US… I’d love to take one. They were so cute. But I didn’t think it was a good idea for the kitten.

At night, she introduced me to her two sons – Andrew and Mario.

Her children took me to a bar after dinner. When it was 0:00, Andrew showed me the time and they all said happy birthday to me. Mario folded a paper flower for me. That was so sweet of them.

I tried the Garcinia Batido (a kind of a drink) which tasted not so good to me. The live band wasn’t going to start until 3am so I decided to leave.

The next day, they took me to their farm in the countryside. Before that, they took me to the bakery to choose a birthday cake. I couldn’t choose any. Magdalena did it for me. She selected one traditional Christmas bread for me which was a good choice. They asked the bakery to give us two candles and to put my age on the cake. I didn’t like that idea. So I asked for one candle only and no age on the cake please! Age is supposed to be a secret for women. 😛 They were indeed very nice people.

On the way to the farm

We went to the farm to celebrate my birthday. They sang birthday song in Spanish and in English to me. That was so nice. I blew the candle but I forgot to make a wish. 😛

Andrew showed me a big pond of fishes. The water was two meters deep. He told me the fishes were very small when he first got them. They didn’t grow when they were in a small pond so he moved them to this big pond. Not long after that, they grew and now they became big fishes. I think it applies to humans too. So, if you want to stay slim, live in a small house. 😀 What kind of logic is that? LOL! No, don’t trust me.

It was too hot for the fishes so they all stayed at the bottom of the pond. We could only see a few of them swimming. Andrew said usually people used the space for a swimming pool but he didn’t want to. It was a home for the fishes and he liked them. They were his pets. I asked if he would jump into the pool to swim with the fishes. He said that was the fishes’ home. He respected it. He wouldn’t intrude into their home. He was so kind-hearted. Mario showed me another part of their farm. It was originally a dairy with cows but their family couldn’t maintain it anymore. Now they were renting it out. I think it would be a good idea for the tourists to go there but there were too many mosquitos. In fact, there were mosquitos everywhere in the countryside. I wish I had a farm too but without mosquitos. I’m sure one can plant something to get rid of the mosquitos.

The two brothers

It was summer when I went there so it was very hot and humid which I didn’t expect. Every day in the afternoon, we took a siesta. Well, they took one while I wrote my journal or chatted with Mario or listened to him playing his drums. I recorded it. He found it really useful for him so I copied the file to his computer. I watched him watching it on his computer and I thought he was listening to his music and checking out his own techniques but he was looking at his own face instead.  =_=”

The next day, I got a surprise from Magdalena. She gave me a birthday present – a book about meditation written by a master that she admired a lot. Yeah! Now I had a book to read! Actually, a couple on the Galapagos cruise I had in Ecuador wanted to give me a book but I declined because that one was really thick and heavy. But for this birthday present, I kept it because it was thin enough. I still have it at home.

I made them lunch today. We bought some grocery this morning. It drizzled a bit. I bought vegetables, onions, garlic, soy sauce, flour and sugar for the sauce and that’s it.  The sauce I made was quite good considering that I hadn’t made Chinese food for so long and I didn’t really have the concept of ‘proportion’ in mind (if you ask any chef, especially the Chinese ones, they won’t be able to tell you how much salt / sugar / soy sauce you should put in a dish. They will only say, ‘it depends on your taste buds’). It turned out the sauce was quite sweet. That was good. Mario helped me with the cooking. He helped me cut the vegetables. So nice. (I didn’t like cutting things). I told him the essence of Chinese food – the sauce. With that sauce, anyone could make anything. No MSG was needed (although the soy sauce itself may contain some MSG).

I was glad they liked the food. After lunch, Mario showed me the band that he liked, Damas Gratis. Andrew and Maria were laughing because they didn’t like it. 

It was so hot and humid that Mario went to the pool in the garden. I couldn’t stand the heat and the humidity either so I decided to go to the pool. When I was ready, he left the pool. Oh, well. I had the whole pool to myself. Minutes later, he came back with cold Naranja (orange in Spanish) juice. Ah! Lovely! Drinking cold juice in the pool – what a luxury! He asked me to teach him some Chinese (Mandarin) so I used Spanish to teach him that. That helped me to practise my Spanish too. He kept saying something in Spanish but I didn’t understand a single word. He spoke fast with strong Argentinian accent and he sounded a bit rough. I wanted to record what he said but I could only successfully do it once. Every time I took out my phone, he stopped speaking in Spanish.

Mario showed me mate which was tea in Argentina (gaucho’s drink).
The church in the neighbourhood

It was time for Mass. Mario said I should learn to pray in Spanish. Yes I wanted to. I really did but I couldn’t remember the words in Spanish. In the church, I was introduced to some of Magdalena’s friends. Her friends at the church was curious about this stranger. I think it was quite uncommon for them to see an Asian girl in this small community and visiting this place in the first place. Actually, she later told me they (she and her children) were a bit confused (and probably curious) when they got my first email introducing myself and telling them I was travelling to South America and that I wanted to meet them. She said this girl didn’t know Spanish, she was travelling alone, she was from Asia. What was she doing here in South America? I had never thought of it that way. It was indeed a very interesting perspective.

Andrew was preparing for the BBQ dinner.

After the Mass, we went back to the house where her two boys were making a fire in the garden to prepare for a barbecue dinner. There was a bonfire. Actually, it was so hot that I didn’t want to go close to the fire. They told me the weather report said it would rain but it never happened during the day.

The table was set. Each person had a candle. I had one too. I told Magdalena that this was the hottest Christmas I had ever had. Even in New Zealand, it wasn’t humid at all. After dinner, (we had very late dinner at 11pm) we started chatting. Then the neighbours let off fireworks. It was actually illegal in Argentina but people did it anyway. I think it is the same for many countries. People are people regardless of their nationalities, ethnicities, races. Her family also told me people were very poor in Argentina. Some didn’t have a permanent job. That’s why they would sell say ice cream in summer and scarves in winter.

Magdalena was obviously very open minded. Even though she practised Christian meditation, she didn’t like the church and rituals that much. She shared with me the church was a big liar. They hid too many things. She said Virgin Mary had more than one child and Jesus was married (probably to Mary Magdalene). She read other gospels that were not recognised by the church. She said, ‘be true to yourself and have faith. That’s what Jesus said.’ I didn’t (and don’t) disagree with her. I think what she said was very interesting and sometimes it enlightened me. It was very interesting to talk to her.

The wind came. And within one second, the weather changed from hot and humid to cool and dry. I started to feel the rain drops. It was amazing how the weather could change so quickly. Just in one second. The mosquitos were gone too all of a sudden. It suddenly became very pleasant. We moved inside.

As the rain got heavier, Maria went outside of the house to enjoy it and made herself wet in the rain. I stretched out my hands and felt the rain. It was so cool and felt so nice. I liked the smell of the trees and the rain. How many times have I said I liked the nature? Countless.

We stayed outside the house for a while and chatted and then went back inside. I took a shower and then went to sleep. I hope there wouldn’t be any mosquitos to bite me. They had enough of my blood now. My feet were full of mosquito bites.

After the rain yesterday, the weather became more tolerable. It was still hot but at least not humid. It was suffocating me yesterday. I wanted to cook al dente spaghetti if they didn’t mind. Oh, I love to cook my own food. I have eaten enough of the food in South America and would love to eat my own food. They didn’t disagree. That was good.

A corner in their garden

I was sitting in their garden enjoying the sun and the nice weather. That was what summer was supposed to be like in Buenos Aires, at least, that’s what I expected. Blue sky without any clouds and lovely breezes. I was getting a sun tan on my legs. I wanted my feet to get the tan especially. I wanted the tan to conceal the mosquito (or bed bugs) bites.

I enjoyed talking to Magdalena. She was such a great person to talk with. Endless topics! She told me about herself, her family, how she raised her 3 kids. We talked and talked and then had some snacks. She told me Jesus went to India and learnt from Buddha. I wasn’t surprised because I found so many similarities between the two religions. And now I learnt about the desert fathers and mothers – their meditation and their chanting – I wasn’t surprised to know that Jesus went to India. There were a few years of Jesus’s life that are unknown to us because the Bible didn’t talk about it. But it was recorded in Nepal that a man called Jesu came and then he went back home and was crucified. It was quite astonishing and amazing. Jesus must have travelled far. But how did he do it? Why India? Because he knew about Buddha? It was just amazing. But let’s check the time when Jesus was alive and when Buddha was alive. Was there an overlap? I haven’t checked it. Just as I was chatting with Magdalena, Andrew came to the garden to look for orange juice. He poured one for me. I was happy for Magdalena. All her children were very kind and considerate.

Magdalena helped me design my travel itinerary. I named a few places and she helped me plan and advised how and when I should go there. That was very kind of her.

Their white dog (they kept a few dogs) came to the garden and looked at me. Poor dog. She was maltreated by her previous owner and now she was afraid of strangers. It was curious about me but it was afraid of coming close to me.

The white dog

Magdalena and Maria invited me to walk their dog Tingy with them in the evening. When we were walking, Tingy found another female dog. Then we lost him. But we continued to walk anyway.

An evening walk

At one point, I saw two dead rats hanging on the power lines so I asked Magdalena about it. She said usually if something was hung like this, it meant someone was selling drugs.

Maria taught me a few Spanish words like trees, grass (pesto) and horses as we walked. I learnt ‘horses’ when I was in Baños in Ecuador as I walked up Bellavista with two American girls. But I forgot. I told Maria she was mi amiga nueva. 🙂 She was happy.

Tingy. A photo taken before he went missing.

When we went back to the car, the dog was still missing. When we went back home, the dog was not there too. Mario and Magdalena went to look for the dog and I lay on my bed. I was very tired. I think I was bitten by some mosquitos again and they consumed too much of my blood. After a while, they came back and Magdalena said the dog was still missing. That was bad news. I wondered if he could come back home by himself.

I didn’t know what time it was, Magdalena suddenly came in and told me some good news – her sister would like to host me in Tucuman but I had to leave tomorrow. Well, I was planning to leave tomorrow anyway as I didn’t want to bother them for too long although they all made me feel like a member of their family.

As she was telling me the plan, Tingy appeared. They told me the dog just suddenly came home. LOL. I was sure he had a good time with the other female dog. LOL!

I ate at 11pm. These days I had dinner at weird time, like 11pm or 12midnight but that was their practice. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Mario taught me some bad words in Spanish. LOL! He enjoyed doing that a lot. It was so funny. It was fun to talk to him. I knew I wouldn’t see him again in January as he wouldn’t go to the beach with his other siblings. He needed to work. When his mother came to the kitchen, he covered the piece of paper where he wrote all the swearing words. I laughed. He said she knew it. She was 60. He taught me the f word in Spanish and I said I understood because we had that in Chinese too. He was so excited. He wanted to learn it. So I taught him the Mandarin one because he wanted to learn Mandarin. LOL!

I really had to sleep. I was very tired. He took the dog away as the dog was sleeping in the living room, i.e. my bedroom. He said to the dog ‘did you “gaan” (the f-word in Mandarin) something?’ oh no! 

I woke up at 9am to pack. After I finished, I opened the sliding door that divided the living room where I slept and the rest of the house and saw Maria and Mario. Mario greeted me with Ni Hao Ma. LOL! He was learning. He always laughed at my Spanish pronunciation but he corrected it which was good for me.

He told me about the plan for today. Maria was working on her computer. She asked Mario how to use certain functions in a Word document. Mario helped her. And then she asked again. This time Mario said, ‘if you ask me in English, I will help you.’ And I said to Maria, ‘if you asked me in Spanish, I will help you.’ LOL! Mario helped her anyway.

I asked Mario what Argentinians thought about Chinese. He said hardworking and dirty because Chinese supermarkets were usually dirty. LOL! That was quite true. And he added, anything that’s difficult, the Argentinians called it Chinese. In fact, not only the Argentinians, in Italy, they say the same thing. That sounds so universal. But it’s true, Chinese is hard to learn. German is too. So, we have another option when we encounter something difficult. We can call that German. 😛

He helped me to cook lunch again. He took me to the grocery to buy some spaghetti and tomato sauce. On the way, he taught me how to say shit in Spanish. LOL! (I’ve just googled that word and yes, I remember it now. Google translate this time does a good job. LOL!) It was so fun to talk with this 24-year-old. The weather was very nice and the walk to the supermarket was very nice too. It wasn’t as humid as before.

Mario liked to speak Spanish to me especially when we were cooking. But I never understood him. This time, I asked him to make the avocado dish he wanted to make on Christmas Eve. I only made spaghetti with tomato sauce. While we were cooking, we talked again. It was such a fun conversation. I imitated him, ‘para, para’ ‘a ver, a ver’. Haha.  I said, ‘so, it’s your first time to have a Chinese standing right in front of you talking to you. Your mother told me.’ He was a bit embarrassed but said yes. I told him, ‘when I was young I probably would be very excited too. Wow, an Argentinian talking to me in real person. But I don’t feel that way anymore.’ After all, we are all humans. Races, nationalities, ethnicities shouldn’t be the barriers between us and we shouldn’t see these as differences at all. Personalities make a person, not races nor nationalities nor ethnicities.

Anyway, he was a lovely boy. Very gentle, very kind and very sweet but sometimes forgetful. Like this afternoon, he was supposed to make the avocado dish so that we could serve it with my spaghetti but when I finished cooking, he was still cooking the onions! I laughed at him and he said I gave him instructions in Spanish that he didn’t understand. (what?!) He would also intentionally pretend that he didn’t understand my English. When I struggled to speak in Spanish, he would put his ear to me and said ‘que?’  That was so annoying. 😀

Magdalena and Andrew came back. I had a feeling that they didn’t like my cooking this time but they politely said it was good. I was a bit disappointed too as the spaghetti wasn’t al dente.

Anyway, Magdalena took out a computer after lunch and then started to go through my travel plan to her sister’s home. Her boys went to get the laundry. She asked me if I wanted to buy the ticket to Tucuman in this town. Of course I wanted to. It’d be better to have a local beside me so that I wouldn’t be ripped off. Before I left, I gave them a postcard thanking them. I wrote a few words in Chinese. When Andrew read it, he said ‘oh that’s Chinese.’ He was so cute. Andrew helped me take the bags to the travel agency. He was still bugging me about Bon Jovi. I don’t remember why he did that. I wasn’t a fan of Bon Jovi.

Tingy didn’t want me to leave I guess. He rested his head on my leg a few times starting from yesterday. He was so cute. I guess he knew it was my last time to see him.

When I was having a private conversation with her, Magdalena told me she wanted her children to quickly get another half so that she didn’t need to worry about them anymore. Is it a universal thing for mothers? 😀 I wonder if they are all married now. I know Mario had a girlfriend because he texted me and asked me something a few years ago but I am not sure about his marital status now.

After I got the ticket to Tucuman, they took me to a cafe where we waited for the combi to Buenos Aires. I needed to stay there for a night before taking the bus to Tucuman.

I hated to say goodbye.

I was happy that I spent Christmas with them. It was a memorable experience. I still laugh when I read this journal and write this blog.

I took the subway after I arrived at Buenos Aires. It was the first time for me to take it in Argentina. I stayed in the same hostel that I stayed at on my first night and got some information from other backpackers as to where to go in the south and around the country.

I really hate to say goodbye but we all have to move on…

23 – 27 December 2012

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