Back in BA and other bits and pieces

Hello, hello! We just got back from a brilliant little three-stop tour in the northern half of Argentina. Now we are back in Buenos Aires for another week or so before it’s time to head off again.

It was great to get a break from the city. The majestic nature and fresh air of the places we visited just stunned me and got me feeling really grounded after the past weeks of city life. It’s a whole different side of the country and I’m glad that we’ll have the chance to see and experience a bit more of Argentina’s natural landscapes before we move on to our next country (Chile!).

On the flip side, it was also a really nice feeling to return to Buenos Aires yesterday. We arrived to a wonderfully sun-shiny afternoon, and that, plus returning to our familiar neighborhood and apartment with all our stuff (we only took small packs on our mini-trip) made for a lovely “welcome home”.

It’s going to be a busy week – on the to-do list are yoga and Spanish classes, getting to see as much of BA as we can fit in while we’re still here, and loads of prep for the next leg of our travels. Plus as much blogging as I can manage. 🙂

I’m heading to yoga soon but before I go here are some random bits and pieces…

Dancing in the streets

Our last night in Buenos Aires before we headed on our trip was just awesome. Among other things, we got to watch people dancing traditional folk dances at a square in the neighborhood in San Telmo.

The video doesn’t pick up the amazing vibe that was present; people were having such a good time, dancing with passion and without any self-consciousness and the music and movement gave me goose bumps to witness. We hung out for nearly an hour watching, getting explanations from a lovely, friendly porteño who would have danced tango with me if I had only had half a clue (he said he was an intermediate dancer – after “only” four years of practice – and that he was good enough to lead someone who knows a bit but alas, I haven’t learned ANY tango – yet… 😉 ). This dance isn’t tango, but one of the traditional dances from the countryside. Check it out!

Shopping and Spanish 

One day after yoga I took myself shopping. I’d been eyeing a scarf in a shop window on the way to the studio for two weeks and I finally worked up the nerve to go buy it. I also ended up picking up a few other things from another awesome boutique in our neighborhood.

Clothes shopping probably doesn’t seem that noteworthy, but it was exciting for me because 1) I managed to communicate in Spanish on my own for the first time! (usually Roman is with me and he does the talking for the both of us since he’s got a couple years worth of study on me) and 2) I love the fashion here in Argentina!

The second shop, where I got all the clothes, was a great, small, affordable boutique that carries pieces from Buenos Aires designers. (in case you are in BA and want to check it out – it’s called Ofhelia, at Sánchez de Bustamante 2007)

Here’s what I picked up.

The scarf that started it all…

Comfy maxi skirts!

Although the porteña seem to be dressing in somber colors for the winter, I definitely seemed to go for warm, summery hues.

I did pick up something less tropical and more practical as well – take a look at my new silly hat. It may make me look like a smurf (so says Roman), but I know I won’t care how I look so long as I’m warm during out next adventure – we’ve decided to take the plunge into full on winter and next week we’ll be heading to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world! I’m super excited about it!! 😀

And here are a few teaser photos from the past week – Iguazu, Salta and surrounding areas, Mendoza and the Andes! And now, I’m off to yoga! 🙂

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Southern hemisphere updates and fashion reports

Written yesterday but posted today since we had no internet till now…

It’s Saturday, which means that we’ve been here in Buenos Aires for a whole week now. It’s warmed up a couple of degrees since we arrived, or I’m getting used to the colder temperatures, but I’m still missing the sun – I think it’s showed its face for a total of about three hours since we’ve gotten here. Here’s hoping our second week in BA will be a bit brighter!

Weather aside, it’s been a slow start here in Argentina. We had done the research and figured out a route through Australia before we left the States. Our time in Oz was so busy that we hadn’t gotten around to investigating more than an apartment, Spanish school options and the ticket to Argentina before we were boarding the plane to BA. This week we’ve been total homebodies, hanging out in the apartment because of all the rain or to catch up on admin and research or to wait around for someone to show up and get the internet going or fix the washing machine.

So it hasn’t been the most fun week, but it’s been productive and I’m excited for some of its prospective yields. Our internet seems to work about 30% of the time now which is an improvement over 0% (apparently this is the norm around here), and the washing machine seems to be on track, although our handy man warned us not to leave it on when we’re not around in case it floods or sets the place on fire. Awesome.

Spanish classes start bright and early this Monday. I’ve found and started going to a yoga studio not too far from the apartment where the teachers are all American and mercifully teach in English. I’m investigating tango classes. Roman has gotten us set up with sim cards with 3G for our phone (about as reliable as the internet in our apartment). And we’ve sussed out a wish list of exciting places we want to visit here in Argentina and have even got some ideas for where to head next. So things are looking up!

The plan for the rest of the weekend, now that we’ve been so productive, is to start checking out some of the more touristy/famous spots here in BA (weather permitting). We haven’t seen all that much of the city yet, but we have started to know our way around our neighborhood, which is a nice feeling.

Where we live

We’re staying in Palermo, an upper-middle class neighborhood which is meant to be one of the nicest places in the city to live.

There are two parks not far from our flat and plenty of grocery stores, little produce shops and kiosks within walking distance. There are a couple of massive shopping centers close by too; these seem to get the most pedestrian traffic of the area. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a line for coffee so consistently long as the one at the Starbucks at Alto Palermo. We’ve discovered two streets within walking distance that are lined with some really enticing restaurants, wine, cheese & meat shops and boutiques. I’ve been happily cooking in my cute little kitchen this past week, but I’m looking forward to start trying out some of the local eateries – once I have a bit of Spanish vocab under my belt so I have half a clue what I’m ordering. The clothes shops in the area are definitely going to be a problem for me. 🙂 I need to keep reminding myself that we are on a budget!

Fall fashion and more

Obviously we haven’t been here long enough for me to know very much of anything about the porteños (what BA-ers call themselves), but I’ve still enjoyed the people watching in our neighborhood immensely.

I started getting into local fashion while we were in Asia. Clothing over there, especially for women, tends to be rather conservative by Western standards (notable exceptions – Bangkok, the Philippines and some Chinese tourists). In some of the places we traveled, I would have to think twice about bearing an elbow or kneecap as a woman. When we left Asia to come to the States, it was the middle of winter, so I spent the months there covered up too.

I actually experienced a bit of culture shock when we first arrived in Australia at the tail end of their summer. I loved how the easygoing atmosphere in Oz translated into what people wore. Women’s fashion is definitely not uniform there and it seems like most anything goes. Basically, wear what makes you happy. The one element that caught my eye was that there was a lot more skin than I was used to – after all that time in Asia and my winter in the States anyhow. Lots of low-cut dresses, shorts and t-shirts being worn even when it was cold out, and if we saw a teenage girl, chances were she’d be walking around in shorts so short that her bum was sticking out the bottom. No joke. Did my time in Asia turn me prudish, or is this too much? Or should I say too little?

What do you think? Too short?

Fashion, or at least autumn fashion, here in BA seems to be more conservative. I’m looking forward to see what it’s like in the rest of Argentina and BA, but the people in Palermo anyhow have a practical but stylish look about them. And as far as I’ve observed so far, there is definitely a bit of a uniform for the young women around here. Let me paint a picture of a typical porteña this season.

She’s got loads of long hair, which she lets tumble carelessly down her back or which she piles unceremoniously (sometimes asymmetrically) on her head. She wears little to no make up; same goes for jewelry. She favors somber colors – navy, grey, brown, olive, maroon, black, black, black, but almost always accentuates this palette with a splash of bright color – nails, shoes, a colorful top or most often a cheerful patterned scarf. She’s wearing jeans or leggings and either way her pants are definitely form fitting. Leggings are often in funky, geometric patterns. Her coat is dark and practical but not unstylish. On her feet she wears sturdy, flat-soled boots, chuck tailors or demurely colored galoshes (probably as a defense against the plentiful dog poop all over the sidewalks in BA. Not a bad idea!).

It’s a look I like – although I’m not sure my fashion sensibilities have recovered yet from China. Especially with my latest purchase. It’s cold down here, and in an effort to keep warm and to keep the aforementioned street dirt out of our apartment, we’ve been on the hunt for slippers since we arrived. I guess they’re not a popular purchase in Argentina, cause it’s taken us forever to find some. Wimp about the cold that I am, I went ahead and bought the very first – and in my defense only – pair that I could find. Now I have warm, but pretty ridiculous looking feet. So much for being a fashionista…

Possibly the most ridiculous slippers ever?

Chinese fashion update

Thanks to everyone who’s been voting on my Fashion forward/fashion fail post. I’m glad to say that I think I’m well on the way to recovering my fashion perspective, between your input and the fact that we are now in Shanghai.

This place is a whole other world from the rest of what we’ve seen in China, and there is a whole lot of fashion going on here, and not just fashion but all out great style! My bags are too full as it is so I’m really doing my best to resist the urge to go shopping! 🙂

Yesterday we went to the Shanghai Museum, which was just excellent: tons of wonderful, interesting and beautiful artifacts from Chinese history on display in a cool, modern, tasteful setting. Certainly the most sophisticated museum we’ve visited in all of China. I wish we had more time and could view all the exhibits, but I really enjoyed the ones we did fit in, especially the display on minority traditional clothing.

Just a quick explanation – ethnic minority is the turn that is widely used here to describe the groups of people who are not Han Chinese. While the Han are most definitely in the majority, still China has a wealth of other ethnic groups. We’ve been lucky enough to visit some of the areas some of these groups call home. Having a glimpse into these traditional ways of life has been a big highlight for me.

I have squirmy feelings about the term “ethnic minority” and even squirmier feelings about the commercialization of these cultures that we’ve seen in many places around China (i.e. the tendency to turn the some of the places they live into tourist attractions), but I’ll leave those thoughts for another post.

Anyway, one thing that I really love about all this is the absolutely fantastic traditional/folk costumes that are still worn in some of the areas. Ethnic minorities have got mad style! Check out just some of the amazing outfits on display at the Shanghai Museum:

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Mongol ceremonial dress

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Dress and headdress details

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Lhoba women’s ensemble. Awesome color, I love the necklaces!

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Miao ceremonial garment. What a dope cape!

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A Yi woman’s garment

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Yi detail. Love the patterns, the buttons, everything!

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De’ang woman’s dress. Fashion forward, I’d say!

Fashion situation – your help needed!

One part of discovering a new country and culture is learning about traditional and local fashion.

I absolutely loved traditional fashion in India (that’s about the only type of fashion you see there, in fact). The stunning, vibrantly colored saris were to die for. I never worked up the nerve to try to get myself into one (NOT an easy process), but I did buy myself some salwar kameez, which were just as colorful and a lot easier to put on!

And then I developed a minor obsession with the longyi/tube sarongs in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, picking up (at least) one new one for myself in each new country…

Modern fashion in Thailand was also great – quirky and fun and cute, if not a bit on the skimpy side at times – and I’ll admit I went a bit nuts shopping in the fantastic street markets of Bangkok.

Vietnam’s ao dai I admired from a distance. It’s no longer worn in the day-to-day but we saw plenty of women working in hotels, restaurants, etc. who donned them as a uniform and looked great in them.

(It’s not something for me though. I’ve determined that to pull of an ao dai you have to be 1) Vietnamese, 2) elegant, 3) tall, or 4) slender. I am a healthy weight but I wouldn’t call myself slender; I am short and white and many wonderful things but elegant sure isn’t one of them. My beautiful friend Jean, who is items 2 through 4, however, would totally rock an ao dai, for example. However, I digress…)

Having turned into quite the sponge for Asian fashion, I am finding myself totally overwhelmed by China. Apparently, anything goes in this country, and boy, does it ever go.

I’ve actually stumbled upon a whole wonderful blog by a person who is doing a study on the emergence of fashion in China – it’s really fascinating and often hilarious and it mirrors and delves into some of the bewilderment I’ve experienced in the face of Chinese “fashion”.

So we’ve seen quite a range of styles here.

Traditional garb that minority groups have been rocking for centuries. Communist-era blues and greys on the older generation. But it’s the modern fashion that throws me for a loop.

I don’t want to blow things out of proportion. Most modern-dressed Chinese we’ve seen look normal to well-dressed. But there are still lots of people who seem to be trying to push the envelope of style and taste. And these people seem to congregate at the country’s major tourist spots – i.e. many of the places we’ve been spending time at. The fashion is so overwhelming that I’ve begun to lose track of which direction is North, aesthetically speaking. My arrow is pointing to something, but I don’t know anymore if it’s tacky or sublime.

This has been exacerbated by the fact that China has been by far the coldest place we’ve been in ages. What little style I was managing to scrape together with my small wardrobe has been thrown out the window in the name of keeping warm.

Basically I will wear as much of what’s in my pack as possible in a desperate effort to stay warm, regardless of how badly it clashes or how ridiculous it looks. Roman teases me that I’ve gone native, and I am concerned that between being dazzled by Chinese fashion and my need to keep out the cold, my fashion compass has gone completely bust.

So, I’m asking for your help. I’ve started capturing just some of the more impressive ensembles on “film”. I hope I can still tell what constitutes good style and what is just too much, but I’d appreciate the input of people who have a bit more perspective than I do at the moment! 😉

So without any further ado… Please help me reset my style gauges to fashionable!

Fashion forward or fashion fail?

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What’s striking about these two ladies, especially the one in the spike heel boots, is that they were in Dazhai, a small farming community that is small part cobble stone streets, big part narrow, hilly dirt paths through farm lands. You can take the girl out of the city…

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Silly

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I actually think this guy who was waiting at the bus stop with us looks really dapper. What you can’t see is that the checks on his vest are made up of “Cs” and “Ks” – a really poor Calvin Klein knock off that could have gone horribly wrong, but he makes it and the whole ensemble work in my opinion. Fashion forward!

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Thanks for your help! 😉

Silk Road Tour day three

Getting back to magical Xinjiang…

Wanna buy a… sheep?

We’d awoken in the cold, dark of pre-dawn back in Tashkurgan in order to make it back to Kashgar in time for the Sunday livestock market. Driver put the pedal to the metal and we raced along, retracing our route along the spectacular Karakorum Highway as the night melted gently into day. The hours slipped by easily and before we knew it, we were driving into Kashgar.

We didn’t want to miss the action at the market, which starts wrapping up mid-afternoon, so we headed straight there. See my earlier post for plenty of photos. Suffice to say it was incredible! We’ve visited tons of food and goods markets while traveling in Asia, plenty with handfuls of live animals for sale, but this was our first opportunity to see an honest-to-God livestock market.

The market takes place in a huge open space that was packed to the gills by the time we arrived with thousands of animals and maybe as many farmers, traders and shoppers. It was apparently wedding season in Xinjiang, and no Uighur wedding celebration is complete without plenty of roast sheep and goat to feed the hundreds of guests, so it was prime time shopping season!

It was fascinating to wander cautiously through the narrow lanes separating the groups of livestock, observing the heated negotiations between buyers and sellers while attempting not to step in (too much) fresh goat/sheep/cow poo. 😉 I’m not sure if we just got lucky but there were hardly any other tourists there and it really felt like entering a completely different world and I just loved it. (Click here for the photos)

Incredible Kashgar!

After the market, Yusef kept us moving. I’ll do a separate post about the tourist/historic sites we visited. I enjoyed them but for me the real highlight of the day was Kashgar’s old town. Lonely Planet writes this about the city:

“Modernity has swept in like a sandstorm. The highways and railroads that connect it to the rest of China have brought waves of Han migrant workers… and much of the old city is being bulldozed in the name of ‘progress’. Yet, in the face of these changes, the spirit of Kashgar lives on. The great-grandsons of craftsmen and artisans still hammer and chisel away in side alleys; everything sellable is hawked and haggled over boisterously; and not a few donkey carts still trundle their way through the crowds…”

Indeed, there was a stark contrast between the modern part of town, where we saw as many, if not more than, Han faces as Uighur, the streets were broad and the buildings boxy, modern, anonymous, and the warren of narrow roads that made up the original and entirely enchanting old town.

Too cramped for cars to easily navigate, the streets are none-the-less busy. Skooters, bikes, donkey carts, push karts and pedestrians make their way through patches of fragrant smoke from the plentiful kebab stands that line every road. The buildings are low, only a few stories at most, crumbling and in the traditional Uighur architecture. Men with wrinkle-etched faces in traditional caps and women in incredibly colorful layers of clothes and headscarves, small open-air shops of nuts and fruit and meat and breads, beautiful arched doorways leading to squashed, intriguing back alleys – there was just too much to look at and all of it was fascinating! 🙂

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Fanning kebabs on the narrow grill

We luckily had an extra day in Kashgar after our tour was complete so we had a bit more time to enjoy the city on our own. The photos below are from both days.

Bits and pieces

Just a few things I want to remember about Kashgar:

We saw tons of wedding parties on the move while we were in the city. This involves a truck with a group of traditional musicians sitting in back, playing awesome music on drums and other instruments as it cruises through the city, announcing the wedding party to any interested onlookers. (More on Uighur music) The truck was usually followed by another vehicle with a guy and a camcorder sticking out the window, filming the procession. After this comes any number of cars all decorated with colorful ribbons and cloth – the wedding party. I loved seeing these processions! 🙂

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A car decked out in wedding gear (this was actually in Tashkurgan)

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If this sounds like your cup of tea, this guy can perform and film YOUR wedding for you! Just call 152….

I also got a kick out of how agrarian the city is despite it’s being, well, a city. Donkeys are everywhere, even in our hotel which was outside the old town we woke up to the crow of roosters and I even saw one woman feeding her goat by walking it along the grassy median dividing the sidewalk and one of the main streets.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I really loved they way the local women dressed in Xinjiang. I’m not sure if there’s an official name for their style but I’m calling it gypsy chic. 🙂 These are women who are not afraid to wear a bit of color! Check out the shoes, the rhinestone, the sequence, the attitude!

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Yusef took us to an incredible tea house (incidentally also a film-location for Kite Runner). We made ourselves comfortable on the balcony and he ordered what I believe is the only thing on the non-existent menu. Incredibly delicious saffron tea and some of the traditional bread. I was the only woman in the whole building; Roman and I were the only non-locals. Everyone else on the balcony with us were Uighur men in their caps, sipping tea, watching the progress of life on the streets below and putting the world right in their drawn out discussions. Loved it!

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Delicate, sweet saffron tea – good to the last drop

Photo impressions from Kashgar

Dried peppers for sale

Garlic!

Street-side barber. Love the tan line! 🙂

No idea what this guys is selling, in fact I’m not sure I want to know…

Outdoor bakery. The traditional breads are cooked in an oven that is not too different from a tandoor.