The Magical City of Oaxaca

I’m back in the States and all I can say is, what a week it has been in Oaxaca! I can’t believe I was only there for a week! It feels like I was there for a lot longer than that. I thoroughly enjoyed every single day I was there, and made the most out of them. Oaxaca, Mexico is a phenomenal place for culture, cuisine, churches, and celebrations.

It’s about having street parties almost everyday, with traditional colonial dances and clothing are paraded on the streets by professional performers, with everyone else joining in on the fun, and without the feel of a circus or a tourist trap forming right before your eyes. I am impressed about how much it has stayed true to its roots, and being there even for only a week makes you feel you’ve stumbled into an authentic environment.

For all that it has, Oaxaca is surprisingly unpretentious. Sure, there are expensive restaurants and artisanal handicrafts everywhere, but they’re still pretty affordable for such high quality. Oaxaca is like a beautiful man who has positive and attractive characteristics without drawing too much attention to himself. And it is all the more intriguing how approachable it is. Everyone I encountered in Oaxaca, especially the locals, were warm and friendly. Speaking with a bit of Spanish, even if it’s broken, endears you to them.

On a side note: I was reading Aire, the Aeromexico inflight magazine, which featured Izmal, a town in Mexico that was named one of the Mexican Magical Towns. I would love to go see more of these magical towns that Mexico has! There is so much culture in this country, and I want to explore it even more deeply after having seen Oaxaca.

I learned a lot of things in such a short amount of time, and I will write about my musings in other entries 🙂 I’m glad I had the opportunity to discover this place this year, as with all the places I’ve visited, which I’ve enjoyed very much as well. The difference between Oaxaca and those places, though, was the opportunity to immerse myself locally and spend a period of time in one place, especially in such a magical place like Oaxaca. It’s like discovering a secret, and rekindling parts of yourself that had become latent over the years. I can definitely see myself living there for a longer period of time. Perhaps sometime in the future 🙂

As I may have mentioned a few times here and with friends, this trip was an exercise in  bravery and testing the waters on how I would potentially fare with living in a Latin American country, and I must say, this trip to Oaxaca has me seriously considering living for a period of time in a Spanish-speaking country, all the more so that I had in the past. I think it can be done!

Christmas in Mexico

Hola! I’m currently in Mexico, where I’ve decided to spend my Christmas this year. This is the first time I’m not spending Christmas dinner (or for us Filipinos, noche buena) with my family. I’ve decided to come here for a few reasons that I will explore in more depth in other posts. Christmas in Mexico is very different from how it’s spent in the States where celebrations are generally more reserved. Here, Christmas is just like how it’s spent in the Philippines: colorful, festive, lots of fireworks, religious, full-blown. People go all out celebrating it with the entire city; there are artistically made mascots, costumes, decorations everywhere, and people are out in the streets expressing their joy during this time of the year. Even if I’m not with my family right now, I know that I’m very blessed to be here. I am grateful for the experience of travel, and as much as I miss my family in the States, but I don’t feel the least homesick. I wish I were there with my family since it’s a tradition for us, but I’m also very happy to see how Christmas is spent elsewhere since this is the only year I’ll probably be able to get away with not being at home. I traveled so much this year, with my sister to Argentina and Chile, then with my parents in Israel, and I saw them again recently when I went to San Francisco – San Jose – Los Angeles – San Diego. Now that I’m here in Mexico, well what can I say? It’s my first time in this country, and while many Americans visit Cancun, Cabo, Puerto Vallarta, etc as their gateway to Mexico, I chose to go to Oaxaca, a charming little town in the southern part of Mexico, close to Guatemala. So far, it has exceeded my expectations. I love this town– they keep their traditions and customs alive, and they live life with passion. It’s paradisical– amazing food, great weather, cheap goodies, lots of festivities (almost daily), warm and cheerful people. I’m glad I was able to muster enough courage– spending Christmas away from family, in a country I’ve never been to, alone– to come here. In Oaxaca, Christmas is not only celebrated as a whole city, it’s celebrated as a whole city. The city becomes alive hours leading up to the calendas, as they call celebrations here in the city. At 8 pm, people participate in a procession where they gather at a meeting place, walk to a church (or several churches), then head back to the original location at the end of the procession. I believe all of the churches celebrate mass, which attract a huge number of people who observe religious traditions. Of course, my Oaxaquenan family did none of these things. We stayed at home and had a three-course meal prepared by the mom. It was so delicious, as everything is here in Oaxaca. Almost the whole family was there– all her children except for one were present at the dining table, as well as her mom, aunt and grandchildren. They dined and talked as they would at the Christmas table, laughing, teasing each other, and just sharing in the overall Christmas spirit. It reminded me so much of how I spent my Christmas growing up: the decorations, the table setting, the feast, the gathering of a large family, the fireworks outside, the nativity scene, the lights. Oh, the lights. there’s a lot of that here in Oaxaca. I realize that the more I learn about other cultures, the more I learn about my own and myself. I’m also reminded how life is not easy for many people in the world, as it is in the States. People are able to get by with little, they don’t splurge too often and they do small things that help like turning off the lights when one leaves the room. Even middle-class families who have more to spare have humble celebrations. With these observations, I think money is downplayed and more of life–spending time with family and friends– is emphasized. I’ve been thinking about Mexico everyday. It’s not a bad place to live, especially here in Oaxaca. It’s actually pretty good: food is some of the best I’ve had in my life, people are friendly, the city is walkable, there are many celebrations and festivities that happen often, and it is relatively safe and quiet (at least when the city is not lit up with lights during festivities!). I could live here. I’ve been telling this to my friends here and they tell me that they could live here, too. My roommate here is Japanese, and we have separate single rooms with our own bathrooms. She doesn’t speak much, and I think it’s partly because she’s on the shy side, partly because she’s calm and quiet in general, and partly because it’s her first time studying and speaking Spanish. She knows some English but not completely fluent in it, and prefers to communicate in Spanish, which I think is easier for her. I asked her if it’s easier to converse in Spanish or English, and she says she’s OK with both, but most of the time I hear her responding in Spanish even when I speak to her in Spanish. We had class yesterday even if it was the 24th of December. I think many people in the States have this day off, but I’m used to having this day off ever since I was growing up as a child in a Catholic country. Christmastime has always been a big deal for us. It’s my favorite season. In class, we learned a lot of adverbs, new vocabulary words, and we learned the tense presente pluscuamperfecto, Things are getting a bit more complicated language wise, but I love learning more. After class, I was finally able to meet my “intercambio,” or exchange student partner. She is a college freshman here in Oaxaca who wants to study Industrial Psychology. She talks in Spanish faster than they do at school, and taught me a lot of slang words in addition to our formal conversation yesterday. Her English is way better than my Spanish, which is rather impressive to think that she only learned English in middle school and don’t use it too often in everyday situations. Even if she’s 10 years younger, I’m learning a lot from her, and she is very willing to teach me with my Spanish since she understands it is something I’d like to perfect. We also had cooking class later in the afternoon today, and we made memelitas with puree’d frijoles, queso fresco and salsa picante. We made so many as a group and we ate them all too. I had three medium-sized pieces and I was very full afterwards. At the end of the class, we said goodbyes to each other, and my friends continued on to their homestays to celebrate Christmas dinner with their Oaxacan families. Ayumi, my Japanese roommate, and I walked to the town center to grab a cup of coffee, see festivities and pass by church. We discovered street vendors filled up the streets with colorful Oaxacan garments and handmade jewelry! Que linda! While enjoying our coffee at Cafe Brujula, we talked about travel– our future travel plans, as well as our opinion on possibly living elsewhere in the world, in particular, Mexico. Ayumi seems to like Mexico a lot, for its artisanal crafts and for its language, as does a lot of Japanese people. I didn’t know that Oaxaca is a popular place for Japanese to visit, but there’s a lot of Japanese students here. One of them, Mai, moved to Mexico for one year to live in Chihuahua and study Spanish. All of us are around the same age, and there’s something liberating about knowing someone who has done what I want to do, and not deem the plan crazy at all. Ayumi and I were talking about what it must be like to have a lifestyle like her, and she said with the handful of Spanish words she knew, “Ella es muy… libre.” She is so free. Ayumi then laments that when she goes back to Japan she has to work many hours, everyday, and that her life there mostly consist of work. Whenever I talk to people who plan to or have lived in other countries for no serious reason like a job or family, but because of passion for the culture and language, I am inspired. With all my advantages, I realize it is not that hard to do. I don’t have a family yet at the moment, and I can travel easily around the world, so if other people can do it, why couldn’t I? And why am I overanalyzing a potential move and looking for more justification to move, when others have just had the idea occur to them and followed their spontaneity without looking back? I realize that for people like Mai, moving to another country to follow a passion for the culture is not a reckless or impulsive move. She learned Spanish and is now fluent in it after only one year, which is now an asset, and she realized during her stay that she does in fact want to stay in Mexico permanently. Her being in Mexico wasn’t a crazy idea– she learned a new language which was an entry into the culture, and she realized the ideal place for her to live for the long term. For me, I also see a potential move as an investment in myself. If anything else, learning the language should be enough of a reason, and is something that will benefit me in my life and in my career. I will gain experience with a new culture, a different set of people, make friends from different parts of the world, and learn the second most used language in the world. Moving internationally isn’t a crazy idea after all. Por que no?