30 Dec 2011

Book Review: Manana Manana

Title: Manana Manana - A Mallorcan Summer
Author: Peter Kerr
Publisher: Summersdale
Rating 7/10

Manana Manana (Manana meaning tomorrow in Spanish) is a perfect book to read to find out what life is Spain is like. Although set in a quiet town in Mallorca with a farm and a Scottish family as its protagonist, it is easy for anyone who has visited Spain to get into the story, especially when Kerr explains the relaxed, chilled 'tranqilo' culture of Spaniards. With flashes of humour and an array of misadventures that include brushes with the local police, the unfortunate outcome of a drinking session and the sense of community shared by their neighbours, there is plenty to laugh about. For most parts, it was an interesting book and reminded me of my own recent trip to Spain. I really enjoyed reading the author's reflections of Spanish life and culture.
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13 Dec 2011

Confessions Part III

Like any hot-blooded young(ish) Malaysian woman on an adventure to Spain would have hoped for, I too anticipated meeting a few gorgeous Spanish men, who may have a liking towards curvaceous  Malaysian Indian women who travelled across the globe to learn their mother tongue. I was pretty happy with the prospect of hanging out with a guapo (good looking) Spanish fella with dark brown eyes and spiky hair with a gorgeous smile at one of the bars in Sevilla - talking about cultural similarities while sipping some sangria. Somehow in my mind I would have been able to bypass any cultural and linguistic barriers and have a stimulating, sexy conversation. 

I obviously had a lot to learn. 

The reason why I did not share anything about the hot guys in Spain is because...the guys (if you can call them that) I met on my trip were not exactly anywhere on the hot scale. In fact if there was a scale to put them on, it would be the mature scale. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I got a whole lot of attention from old men.

While I was busy taking in the sights (in more ways than one), I was approached by numerous men on the street, who candidly confessed that they thought I was beautiful. Now it would have been a dream come true for me, if not for the fact that these men could have been my grandfather. And I don't mean men in their early 50's on a mid-life crisis, these men who talked to me were white-haired gentlemen who walked at a snail's pace. 

"Hola!," said Old Man A while I carefully avoided the Metro in the commercial street in Sevilla. De donde eres? I understood that he wanted to know where I was from. Deep inside I knew that it was also a pick up line, but happy to be practising my Spanish with a local, I crossed the borders and attempted to talk. I told him I only know a little Spanish, he asked me what I thought of Sevilla. Then he asked the dreaded question - would you like to go for a walk? I declined and was about to walk away when he added - Tu es muy guapa (You are pretty). I thanked him and walked, as fast as I could.

Not that that there were no guys who looked my way, but alas it was mostly just that - looking. I suppose the fact that my Spanish was basic and most Sevillians did not speak English also made a difference. The guy working at the Vodafone outlet was pretty hot and I called out my name so sweetly. ;) But other than that, the  I remember Old Man B trailing me in Barcelona and striking up a conversation. He asked me what I thought of Barcelona and when I said it was beautiful he leaned in and said Y tu tambien (And so are you) and proceeded to ask me if I would like to have coffee. If only the question was asked by a younger, non-Santa lookalike, I would have been happy to have that cuppa.

That's my little man-ly adventures in Espana...a little sad but true. Ah well, at least I will always have the memories of Vodafone guy. :)

This photo of footballer Ikas Casillas represents Vodafone guy who looks very similar!

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9 Dec 2011

Sexy Sevilla

Due to popular demand, here are some photos of Sevilla...

On my naughty days I took photos of Sevillians in their everyday routine. Horse ride anyone?

I apologise to Senor for taking a photo of him relaxing during siesta, but I just had to take it!  

I fell in love with Sevilla the second I feasted my eyes on the Cathedral.

Pigeons enjoying the sights and bites in front of the Archivo de Indias, Plaza del  Triunfo.

A typical sight in the streets of Sevilla - this is Calle Antolinez ( Antolinez Street).

The gate to Babylon Idiomas, where I studied Spanish for almost 4 weeks.

Sevilla souvenirs galore.

I spent many afternoons sitting by El Guadalquivir taking in the tranquilo atmosphere.

And walked to the other side on the river...

Where I saw hundreds of locks with names of lovers on the bridge, a symbol of  everlasting love. 

A Sevillian woman making ends me meet by selling fans at Plaza De Espana. 

First time I saw Plaza De Espana, I had to pinch myself. It was so beautiful.

The Cathedral on a sunny blue sky day. 

Plaza de Espana in the evening.

The view of Sevilla from the Giralda after climbing 32 floors up - it was totally worth it!

Despite its classy outlook, Sevillians do get musical action from time to time...

The view from modern Plaza Mayor. I like!

Fresh veggies and fruits at a fruteria.

Many bars had meat as part of their deco, like  El Rinconcillo, Calle Gerona.

Green is always in. Check out the lane for bicycles in Sevilla.

When in Sevilla, expect narrow streets!

And yes, I've got more photos... :)  

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1 Dec 2011

Mis aventuras español (My spanish adventures)

When I decided to go to Spain for a month from mid October to November, I thought I had figured it all out. I would go there, spend some time learning Spanish, soak in the culture, devour some tapas and have some fun along the way.

But as always the Universe had more in store for me.

I learnt that learning Spanish was harder than I thought. I was reminded how I could be a social butterfly at the language school and a solo traveler in a hostel. I made both calculated and spontaneous decisions; and felt happier with the latter.

In the span of one month, I walked hell of a lot. I got a crash course on how to read the map. I got lost many times and then found new and interesting places because of that. I learnt that sometimes the ability to communicate counts and other times you just have to listen with your heart to understand what someone is saying in an unfamiliar language.

 I realised how often we tend to take things for granted when we are home or at a familiar place. Simple but important things like when to empujar (push) or tirar (pull) the door suddenly becomes an important question. You won’t believe what a huge achievement it is when you successfully ask a staff at the counter (in a bus station) in Sevilla if you could purchase a bus ticket from Madrid to Barcelona there. (Puedo comprar un billete de autobus de Madrid a Barcelona aqui?)

I was amazed about how friendly some Spaniards could be. In two cities, I took out my trusty map to help me decide my next course of action. In both cities, an elderly man came up to me asking me a question I didn’t understand. Assuming they were asking if I needed help, I told them in my limited Spanish that I wanted to go to go to La Mezquita (in Cordoba) and La Alhambra (Granada) and both times they explained to me how to get there. Did I understand everything they said? I did not. Did I get to my destination? Yes I certainly did.

During my Spanish classes I learnt that it was important to relax, not take things too seriously and just say what you want, regardless if it is wrong or right. That as much as it would be great to talk in perfect paragraphs, there was a sense of triumph when spoke my mind in Spanish, off the cuff. It was also at school when I was pleasantly surprised to find out that a few of my classmates had left their jobs before going to Spain - and formed bonds with my multinational Spanish learning team mates.

Living with a family – a mother and two sons was another interesting experience. The landlady Estrella Garcia was a kind woman who generously introduced me to typical Andalusian food and welcomed me into her three-bedroom home. Despite her not knowing any English, we managed to have numerous conversations about life and its surprises – once again with the help of my basic Spanish and two open hearts. And as for her teenage sons, they were just like normal teenagers everywhere – they loved playing football and video games.

Things were not all that fantastic in the land of Flamenco dancing and bull-fighters. In Madrid and Barcelona, I was reminded that no city is perfect, that there are good and not-so-good people out there.

I caught two people trying their luck to get a free gift out of my backpack in both popular cities. It was, I admit a bit of a shock after coming from the peaceful and safer Sevilla, located in south of Spain. It took me a while, but I learnt to look past the negative incidences and look at the bigger picture – the undeniable beauty and history of Madrid and Barcelona.

Did I mention that the tapas were culinary experience by itself? Whether with café con leche (coffee with milk, cerveza fria (cold beer) or a glass of vino blanco (white wine), every meal was delicious. One thing is for sure – I will never look at tapas the same way again.

Once again I was reminded how things never happen the way you want it – and how important it is to embrace it, rather than be disappointed and fight it. My three days in Barcelona was filled with rain and while I must admit I complained to the Universe about the bad timing, it was only when I let it go and relaxed did I enjoy myself truly.

Needless to say it was an experience of a lifetime and not one that I could easily forget. I am not sure when I will go back to Spain again but sure am thankful for being able to make my dream come true and doing it on my own. I look forward to continuing my love affair with the Spanish language and look forward to more cultural adventures in the future.

(More photos to come soon)
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