Hasta Luego, Mexico

April 13, 2011 § 2 Comments

This is a compilation of my final thoughts on my trip to Mexico.

The Mexico City airport security rides on Segways! I tried to get a photo but couldn’t. Also, all their TV screens have huge LG and Samsung labels attached [only relevant if you’re interested in Korean things lol]. I thought national tourism videos were cheesy when going to different countries, but the “welcome to America” one was pretty unbearable too.

Our hotel room had two beds, and my father discovered a narrow fold-out bed from the wall. Amazing! My brother was originally supposed to sleep on it, but he complained that it was too hard. I tried it out and thought it was acceptable — honestly, after sleeping on the slab of concrete that passed for a mattress at Hong Kong University, any other mattress is comparatively comfortable.

Me & my bed

★★★

On Tuesday, we [minus my brother, but obviously he had to come along] wanted to go shopping for some souvenirs. We had heard that public buses traveled from the hotel strip to the downtown flea markets, so that morning, we boarded a bus and asked to be taken to the downtown market. I imagined a colorful, vibrant place with people selling authentic Mexican goods from small shops with both tourists and locals mixing together in a wonderful cacophony of commerce. It was an exciting prospect.

The bus took us past dozens and dozens of resorts, each constructed with just enough exotic Mexican flavor and with names like Fiesta Americana and Beach Palace. We seriously drove for half an hour and saw nothing but hotels and big name restaurants like Hard Rock Cafe. Seeing any sign of native life was clearly not an option for the majority of tourists.

A particularly massive resort + golf course.

When we arrived at our appointed stop, I stepped off the bus in a daze of disappointment. All I saw was a small, deserted strip of touristy shops. The bus drove off, and the four of us were left alone. And unlike in Asia, there was no way we could pass as locals. We were the only foreigners in sight.

Shopping has never been so lonely (thats me in there).

I don’t know if it’s because we were there somewhat early in the day, but we were seriously the only shoppers there. And while the shop owners weren’t overly aggressive or desperate, I still couldn’t enjoy myself. Some would follow us around the shop, one guy kept putting his hand on my back [ew], and most would try to get me to haggle with them even though I despise haggling.

“What’s the lowest price you’ll pay? C’mon!” NOTHING! Nevermind! Just leave me alone!

The shops didn’t even have anything great, just t-shirts and shot glasses and touristy junk that I couldn’t bring myself to buy because they were simply useless. Surprisingly, most of the stores sold cute little glass or stone pipes, and I was interested in buying some for my friends just for the novelty of it, but the prices were too high to justify a purchase that would never really be used. At least, I’m pretty sure none of my close friends smoke >_>

Not sure how to use these little guitar pipes.

The whole experience was just horribly unpleasant, and we only bought a few small things before making our way down the street to look for more shops. We came across the equivalent of a dollar store, which sold cheaply made products at a low price. The hilarious thing was that most [if not all] of their products came from China. LOL. Some even had Chinese words printed on the packaging! I didn’t take a picture because the employees kept watching us.

We then made our way across the street to a grocery store. It might seem weird that we’d visit a local supermarket while on vacation [and my brother certainly had thoughts about that], but it was probably the closest thing to authentic Mexican culture we were going to see that day. There were some interesting sights:

How many different ways can you cook chopped hot dogs? How about 12? o_o

Ginormous jugs of juice! Dad is there for size comparison.

★★★

At breakfast on Thursday, mother commented on some guy’s shirt. “Did you see it? It says Bikini is better.”
Dad cut in. “That’s probably because of his wife.”
I had seen neither the guy nor his wife, but I assumed my dad meant his wife was hot. On the contrary:
“She was so stocky that he probably meant for his wife to lose weight so she can wear a bikini,” dad continued. I rolled my eyes at his lame attempt at a joke.

A few minutes later, we were discussing the two Canadian girls I had met the other day.
“I saw them tanning on the beach,” dad said. “Really fat, both of them.”

At this point, I had had enough of these comments. I used to take for granted that my parents would ask me about my weight every time I came home from school, but recently I’ve realized that only my dad asks me anymore. Additionally, I’ve come to realize that he’s pretty socially conservative [he voted for McCain, for heaven’s sake], but could he also be…sexist? I decided to call him out on it.

“Dad, why do you care so much about people being fat?” I asked. “You talk about it a lot.”
He blinked. “I just want people to get thinner and healthier,” he replied.
“But you only talk about women being fat,” I pressed. “You talked about those female dancers at the show on Tuesday night. And that bikini shirt guy’s wife. And those two girls from Canada. And you always ask me if I’ve gotten skinnier.”
Mother laughed. “Your dad clearly has a problem.”

Dad was taken aback by my confrontation. “I’m sorry,” he apologized, and I smiled back at him. I can’t have my own father being sexist…that would be simply unacceptable!

★★★

Gross.

I’ve never really been sunburned before — the first time it happened was when I was lying on the beach in New Jersey and my butt got slightly burned, which I didn’t discover until I showered. I definitely learned  to cover my bum with sunscreen after that. And despite all the other times I’ve ever spent in the sun, I’ve only ever gotten tan, not red.

Thus, I took for granted the fact that my skin would be immune to the sun’s UV rays. Well, that didn’t work out so well, because the sunshine near the equator is NO JOKE.

My sternum was the first thing that showed while we were still in Cancun. Initially, there were blotches of red that made me look like a horrible tie-dye experiment. Other parts of my body — mostly extremities — tingled when I showered, but I thought that would be the worst of it. I just rubbed ointment and lotion everywhere and figured my body would get over it soon. Alas…

The following week, I thought all hell had broken loose on my upper chest. My skin was caked with white as if I had just walked through flour. It was both shocking and frightening to look at, honestly. It made my skin crawl — the skin that wasn’t already dead, that is.

Soon, however, I became slightly obsessive about picking at my peeling epidermis. It was captivating to rip shreds off my own skin to reveal the new layers underneath. When my chest area cleared up, I thought that was the end of it. Again, I was proven wrong. A few days later, it spread to my arms. Then my legs. Every time I got out of the shower, new cracks in my skin were revealed, which was at once disgusting and morbidly fascinating. I could spend hours examining my skin and picking at it. The Internet says I should leave it alone, but the wounds are no longer raw — they’re just dead, hanging skin, and they need to get off my body.

Chichen Itza Chicken Pizza

April 5, 2011 § 4 Comments

Before coming to Cancun, I looked up the tours offered by the resort, some of which sounded amazing. ATV ride through the jungle? Horseback riding to a cenote? Sign me up PLEASE. But mother [& her wallet] had other ideas, so after some deliberation, we settled on a tour to Chichen Itza instead.

Not pictured: me dying of dehydration.

Neither my father nor brother wanted to go, and at $77/person, this full-day tour wasn’t exactly for the softcore tourist. My dad was actually grumpy about it, demanding why we would want to spend all day on a bus. My brother was more or less the same: “Have fun going to see a stupid pyramid.” It’s so difficult living with uncultured brutes. We gladly ditched them at the hotel.

We set off at 7:10 in the morning on a coach bus full of other tourists. Right away, we could tell that this wasn’t going to be some crappy quality tour, as the tour guides began the day by offering us orange juice, coffee and pastries. We had three conductors, each of whom was very good. I wish I had gotten pictures with them :(

Marco Antonio gave details and instructions on the places we were going to see, which were not simply limited to the Chichen Itza site. Tony, who was part Mayan, told us a brief history of the Yucatán province. “Don’t worry about leaving your belongings on the bus,” he said. “There are no more banditos in the area.” His eyes shifted. “They all left and became politicians.” LOL. Norma was our guide through Chichen Itza; she, too, was incredibly knowledgeable about the history of the place.

In elementary school, I was part of the gifted program, called Project Arrow. It was there that I was first exposed to the Mayan civilization, with their dots and dashes and hoop ball game and astronomy. Looking at historical artifacts arranged behind glass in museums is incredibly boring, but learning the history while seeing the structures up close was immensely gratifying to the brain. This is the land where they walked. This is the alter where they sacrificed humans.

 

Imagine hitting a ball through that little hoop with a paddle o_0

I learned things such as the fact that Mayans sacrificed young boys, not girls. The adults who were beheaded and otherwise sacrificed were considered heroes who gave up their lives for the good of the people. Mayans had a fixation with serpents and planetary movements. There was a small stone hump on their alter because it’s easier to tear somebody’s heart out of his chest when his back is arched. White limestone highways are blinding to walk on during the hot day, but they glow in the moonlight. It is commonly accepted that Mayans had Asiatic roots. The ball game that they played wasn’t for sport; it was a religious ritual, and the winner was beheaded as an honor. It’s false that Mayans no longer exist — apparently they are 7 million strong.

One thing that the tour guides emphasized was the fact that tourism fuels the economy here. “Prior to 40 years ago, Mayans were moving away from the Yucatán to more metropolitan areas to find better jobs,” Tony told us. “But when Cancun opened, when Chichen Itza opened, they provided ways to make a living.” It was something I had wondered about as well — how much does Mexico’s economy benefit from/depend on tourism? Mother told me she heard a joke about Americans coming to Mexico for vacations while Mexicans went to America for jobs.

Anyhow, it was apparent from the countless vendors lined up at Chichen Itza that this was how they survived. I thought about this as mother haggled with one of them for some souvenirs I wanted to buy. I had already brought the price down to 30 pesos [less than $3] for three trinkets, but mother insisted on getting three for 20 pesos. I understand that this is also my parents’ hard-earned money, but really, who needs that dollar more, we or the peddler? In most circumstances that I’ve ever experienced in any country, I’d argue the latter.

 

Buying souvenirs!

Chichen Itza was significantly hotter than Cancun — it’s 150 miles inland and as flat as Illinois — so as much as I enjoyed taking photos with my parents’ DSLR, I was ready to throw up and pass out from heat and dehydration by lunchtime. Mother said it was more than 100 degrees out there. After lunch, our tour took us to a cenote, which is basically a huge, naturally occurring underground water reservoir. Steps had been carved into the stone so that we could climb down and see from inside. People were encouraged to change into their swimsuits and take a dip in the refreshing water.

There was a small Mayan dance performance taking place near the water as entertainment. I appreciated the show as much as they appreciated the tips, I’m sure, but it led me to wonder at the authenticity of everything. Is that how ancient Mayans actually dressed and danced, or is that simply what they know tourists want to see? I picked the Chichen Itza tour [as opposed to some exotic-sounding waterpark] because I wanted to experience real Mexico, but as a tourist, I can never truly be sure if I’m getting the authentic thing.

In any case, the tour was satisfying and definitely worth the money. It’s different going on things like this as an adult, guided by people who clearly believe in the worth of what they’re promoting. That’s what sets this experience apart from all the excruciating historical tours I’ve been on with my parents in China.

More photos:

 

Wish I had brought the huge long-distance lens for the camera!

Can't emphasize enough how much I love my parents' new Canon Rebel.

 

Owners of the property apparently bought the land + ruins for $72 back in the day o_o relevant to the photo because they then built the Mayaland Hotel with this chandelier lol

Inside the cenote/underground cave. Absolutely beautiful.

 

Mother + me with the performers :)

VIDEO:

Note: “chicken pizza” is the incorrect pronunciation of Chichen Itza, according to our tour guides. But my mom likes saying it that way :P

Bienvenidos a Cancún

March 28, 2011 § 1 Comment

We took a red-eye flight to Mexico, leaving the house at 10:30PM via Aeromexico. I guess it was due to the size of the airline, but we were relegated to the outer terminal at O’Hare. It was relatively empty. When we got in line for Aeromexico, the nearby usher guy gestured to us and said, “The line for Shanghai is over there.” I raised both eyebrows. I mean, we did look out of place, but really? Damn.

I barely slept that night. For some reason, I forced myself to stay awake during our four-hour stopover in Mexico City, and after we arrived in the humid mid-morning of Cancun, I pretty much wanted to die. We’re staying at Royal Solaris, which is the first all-inclusive hotel we’ve stayed at. All necessities are included — drinks (alcohol), pools, food, entertainment, etc.

As my parents sat down with one of the staff to go over hotel information, my brother and I wandered over to the bar to order some soda.

“Where are you guys from?” asked the bartender, a young-ish Mexican guy.
My brother and I answered simultaneously. “Chicago.” “USA.” “Chicago,” I corrected myself.
He asked again. “Where are you from?”
“Chicago,” I repeated.
He looked at us. “You’re really from there?”
We nodded. Did he not believe us..?
“You were born there? Not Japan, somewhere?”
Inwardly, I scoffed in disbelief. The ethnicity question can be an awkward one to ask, but the “Where are you from no where are you really from” tactic is just rude. I didn’t expect to encounter it here, but I guess I shouldn’t expect too much racial sensitivity in this tourist haven.

Going on vacation can bring out either the worst or best in people. Spending five days at a resort in Cancun should undoubtedly make any family happy, and my parents and I would be at maximum cheerfulness if it weren’t for my selfish prick of a brother. Now that he’s arguably stronger than me and our aging father, he takes every opportunity to poison the mood.

“Shut up,” he says to anyone in any given situation. He acts ostensibly chagrined to be anywhere near us or do anything with us, always sulking in a corner somewhere. He threatens to smash the camera if we try to take a picture of or with him. He’s no longer afraid to swear audibly in our presence. I’d really like to punch him in the face, but I don’t think that would teach him to be a better son.

I used to attribute this behavior to mere teenage moodiness, but there is no foreseeable improvement. I don’t particularly care what he says to me, but the tremendous disrespect he delivers to my parents is appalling. They choose to ignore it half the time.

Now that I’m 21, I’ve started to drink somewhat openly with my parents. I ordered some banana-pineapple mixed drink at the pool bar today. My mom’s eyes widened when she realized it was alcoholic, but she got over her initial surprise pretty quickly. I ordered a margarita at dinner [it turned out to be disgusting], and later traded it for a Miami Vice [it was delicious]. My brother tried some of my margarita and got a mouthful of salt LOL.

I’m not sure if it’s the journalist side of me or if it’s simply a personal habit, but when I look at some people, especially those in the business of service, I can’t help wondering who they are outside of this job. How did they get here? Do they like the job? Is it enough to provide for their families?

I thought about this as I watched the waiters work the buffet area during dinner last night. I thought about it at the beach today as I watched the handful of Mexican men selling sunglasses and other trinkets to sunbathing tourists. I also thought about it while watching the Mexican dance show provided by the resort’s theater.

In high school, I occasionally read the blog of a guy who worked as entertainment staff at Disney World — he and the other workers seemed to hate it. Indeed, donning a Goofy costume is not considered a very good job in America. But is performing in hotel shows in Cancun considered good work in Mexico? Do these people hate their jobs too, despite the bright smiles they show the audience? How much money does a sunglasses-seller make every day? What are the ambitions of the waiters who serve us drinks? All this thinking makes it difficult to enjoy the social privilege I have as a tourist here.

Anyway, these are my thoughts from the first two days here. I haven’t done much except eat, drink and tan. I wish I had photos to share but I haven’t used my camera at all, and I haven’t had time to get the pictures I’ve taken on my parents’ Nikon. I’m currently sitting with them while listening to the two-person band in the lobby/bar area, which is the only place with wi-fi. A 24-year-old Vietnamese girl from Toronto that I met this afternoon told me that the nightlife here is better than Vegas, but I don’t think this is the right opportunity to go clubbing, as much fun as it sounds. A girl at the table next to me just said that the cover for the VIP club is $49, which is pretty heinous anyway.

That’s all for now! I’ll have more to share in a few days :)

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