Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ranchero / La Banda Musica

One of the things in Mexico I continue to be amused by is some of their Ranchero / La Banda music which is the equivalent of our country music. It all sounds almost exactly alike.

What really got me tickled was watching the content of some of the videos. Every time, it is a group of guys set up like a rock band featuring matching clothing, big cowboy hats, machismo mustaches, an accordian, a tuba, a nylon-string guitar, and a drummer. It all looks and sounds hoaky, but the video content reminded me a lot of R&B and rap videos. Many of them would feature beautiful women talking to or arguing with (think lovers' quarrel) with the dudes in the band, and I was constantly wondering how much they had to pay her to even get within speaking distance of them. It's just funny watching a homely-looking guy with a big hat and a cheesy mustache speaking to someone who is quite obviously a hired model. Other videos featured scenes as if the band members were crime lords, Scarface, or something. I had many laughs.

Of all, though, the silliest song I came across was by Fidel Rueda called Los Patos. I don't know what all it's about, but I know it's mostly about ducks. I have no idea why. Be sure to get the chorus "cua cua cua cua cua cua cua," which is the Spanish sound that a duck makes.

It depresses me that someone actually spent money to produce both the song and the video. Please take time to watch it. It's breathtaking. And it gets stuck in your head.

Seeing this makes me wonder if I should pick back up my guitar and try to become the savior of modern music. But then again, as long as Radiohead is around, I will have hope for the future.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My First Bull Fight...¡Ole!

Mexicans--particularly older Mexican men--love bull fights. I have always found the idea of them really disturbing, but in honesty, the only bull fight I had ever seen was the one with Bugs Bunny slapping the bull to the music. So since I was in Durango, and there was one about to happen, I decided to go to it as sort of a new cultural experience, and so that I could decide completely how I felt about them.

Here is my experience:
**Warning: This will get bloody**
Arriving at the arena, there were a few people outside protesting the treatment of the bulls. There were people selling souvenirs, such as stuffed bulls and padded seat cushions for the hard cement seats in the stands.

The arena is fairly small, so any seat in the house is a pretty good one. We chose to sit farther back, as rain was in the forecast and we wanted to be under the covering.

A professional band of musicians showed up to provide the music during the event. There is also a separate area with the judges, a trumpet player and a drummer who would queue the different stages of the bull fights.

There are three matadors, each of whom will face two bulls.

They begin by getting some rings put down in the arena with chalk, and with a sort of opening ceremony, introducing the matadors.

When it is time to begin, the bull faces the matador in different phases.
1. A little guy runs out holding a sign with the bull's name and statistics while the drummer does a drum roll and the trumpet player blasts some little theme music.

2. The bull is released, and around six matadors are out in the arena with pink cloths, getting the bull to chase them. They would dodge behind these little wooden partitions around the edges of the arena. When the main matador is ready to begin, he looks at the judge and takes off his hat. He will also usually dedicate his performance to someone in particular, whether a local authority figure present, to the crowd, to a family member, etc.

3. At the sound of a trumpet, two men come out riding horses that are both blindfolded and padded on the sides, carrying spears. Whichever one the bull comes closest to will stab him in the top of his back, just past his neck, between his shoulders. Five of the six bulls would attack the horse as they was getting stabbed. But the heavy padding on the horse prevents the horse from getting extensive injuries, and the blindfolds keep the horse from knowing where to run.

4. The matadors get back out and get the bull to chase them. When the trumpet sounds again, one matador will take two sticks with small blades at the end covered with white and/or colored fabric and go to the middle of the arena. Eventually, he will rush at the bull and attempt to stab the bull in the same place near the top of his back with both sticks. Sometimes the men don't stab very accurately, or at all, and several of the bulls came very close to mauling the men doing this. The process of the sticks is repeated about 3 times. Over the course of the fight, the sticks soak up the bull's blood and cause him to weaken.

5. At the sound of the trumpet, this is when the main matador comes out to face the bull alone. He will have a red cloth instead of a pink one, and he also carries a sword. The majority of the bull fight is during this time where the matador will agitate the bull, who then tries to attack either him or the cloth. There is a lot of shouting, "¡Toro!" and gesturing. The main goal is to take lots of risks, hence providing the crowd with entertainment. During this time, the people would shout, and would request their favorite songs from the band to be played.

6. Finally, when the bull seems worn down, and no longer wanting to fight or be bothered, the matador will take the sword, approach the bull head on, and stab the sword down into the same place the bull has been cut. The bull will keep fighting for a few seconds, but quickly sits down. As soon as the bull sits, someone stabs the back of his neck, putting him quickly out of his misery.

7. Depending on how well he thinks the matador performed, the judge will give points. The points involve body parts that are cut off from the bull. A decent matador will get one ear. An excellent matador will get two ears. A truly outstanding performance will earn two ears and the tail. One matador got two ears, and through them to some little boys in the crowd who were glad to get them.

8. The bull's body is attached to a horse who pulls it out of the arena.

9. The matador walks around the arena greeting the crowd. People who think he did well will throw him their hat, which he promptly throws back. A lot of people bring little canteens full of wine to the bull fights. If you throw the matador your wine pouch, he will take a drink, then throw it back to you.

Here are some scattered thoughts on the matter, having been to a bull fight:

1. It is definitely barbaric. It is the closest thing I'll ever witness to the ancient Roman gladiator competitions, I think. The violent aspect of the entertainment bothered me.

2. While the bulls do suffer, I was glad that the worst of their suffering is only very brief. The initial cuts make it bleed, but do not do terrible harm to the bull. Only when it is stabbed with the sword does it seem to be in much pain, and they end its life as quickly as possible.

3. While I felt bad for the bulls dying for my entertainment, it made me wonder exactly how all the bulls and chickens die so that I can eat burgers and nuggets. Also, what about all the people who hunt? Some deer are shot, and run for great distances bleeding and this any worse than that? By my existence, it seems that I am causing some level of suffering for animals, but then again, suffering for entertainment seems different than suffering for my sustenance.

4. At the risk of some of you considering me a barbarian, I actually really enjoyed it. It does have a lot of entertainment value. The matadors are at a lot of risk, and are very skilled at what they do. Several of them almost got really hurt.

5. All of us gringos mispronounce the way we say, "ole." We tend to emphasize the "le" part, like Oil of Olay. But they all put the emphasis on "OOOle." Though it isn't the same word, they use the same emphases on the word ole that we use on the word Wally.

So, for better or for worse, that was my bull fight experience.

Engrish in Mexico

I have always gotten tickled at spelling errors in other countries where people try to put things in English. There are entire websites dedicated to people sharing pictures of such things, and I had a couple of my own I wanted to put here. This should also be a good caveat to anyone who thinks using a computer translator to take English and translate it into anything else is always safe and accurate.

My first example is from a bag of chips. They wanted to specify that this was a family size bag with enough for everyone, but as you can see, they missed it. "Size Big Which Everyone Enough"

My second example comes from the Monterrey airport where Alamo rent-a-car has a sign which states, "To Rent A Car In Alamo Is As Easy As Pick Up This Phone."

My friend Leslie and her husband Michael are now living in South Korea. They frequently share interesting adventures they are having, and similar findings.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

When Things Go Better Than Expected

I just got back from Church Camp. I've been at Old Hickory a little over a year. Last year, within a very few weeks from my arrival, I had to organize VBS and Church Camp. Everything went much better than people were expecting (including myself), but there was a lot I could improve on, and tried to improve on for this year.

I was really blessed to have two youth interns working with me this summer; both of whom have very strong work ethics. I tried to plan as much as I could in advance so during the week of camp I would have more time to spend just being with the kids and enjoying the time, rather than having to do last minute plans for things I had forgotten, being exhausted all the time.

One of the things that moves me most deeply as a Christian is when I get to see God take something that I've tried to contribute, and then make it in to something much better than I could have ever hoped for.

That was how camp was this year. My oldest campers took their power to influence the younger campers very seriously. They were well behaved, they were friendly, and they were encouragers. I felt like I had come up with a strong theme, some solid Bible class ideas, and a decent schedule, but nothing could have prepared me for how strongly the people at camp were affected by this last week.

Not that numbers are everything, but we had 13 baptisms this year. We had the first two on Monday night, and based on my experiences with some of the campers, I knew at least two more were really close. One of my seniors decided to be baptized on Thursday after the devotional (see the picture), and he started a chain reaction. We ended up making four separate trips that night down to the swimming hole. It was so special. We had a grandfather get to baptize his granddaughter's boyfriend (who has grown so much in the last year, and was a very genuine convert). We had a father get to baptize his son. We had older siblings baptizing younger siblings. By the time it was all said and done, there were 11 new Christians on Thursday night alone.

I was concerned about some of the younger ones just getting caught up in the moment, but as I spoke to each of them individually and spoke with many of their parents, I genuinely felt that all of them had been preparing for this for quite a while, and that God blessed us all to be in the right place at the right time with the right people. Just because responses are often emotional doesn't mean that they aren't also genuine. I felt very humbled and privileged that something which began as a few thoughts on paper with a somewhat flawed schedule ended up being an event that has permanently affected the lives of so many people.

We spent so long going back and forth from the swimming hole that we had to completely skip the Thursday night skits, which is a long standing tradition, but no one really cared except a couple of the youngest ones who didn't really understand the gravity of the moment. I wasn't able to do much other than to sit there with my mouth hanging open, amazed that God had blessed us so much in spite of ourselves.

From beginning to end, it was one of the best weeks of my life. And to be completely candid, it's the closest I've felt to God in nearly a decade.

It's Nacho Cat: Lizard

So I'm upstairs typing up some translation cheat sheets for our Mexico Mission group, when I hear a ruckus down stairs. At first I assume Nacho is just playing with a toy, but it sounds a bit different. I decided to go and have a look. She had that same crazy look on her face like when I get out the laser pointer, so I knew something was up. Then I saw what she was playing with...a lizard that had snuck in to our house. This is one of the many good reasons to own a cat. They are always on the prowl.

For the record, though she did injure the lizard, I caught it and put it outside so that it could have a chance to heal. It had a pretty bad gash on its tail, but those are supposed to regenerate anyway. I'm really glad this happened now and not last week when Carolina was home without me.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Andy Roddick = Traffic

A couple of years ago at a tennis tournament in Memphis, Carolina happened to have her camera out at the right time, making a video clip at the right time, and she captured Andy Roddick pitching a temper tantrum and breaking his racket.

I put the video up on Youtube, and as of right now, it has about 85,000 hits. I'm rather proud that my blog's traffic has surpassed 20,000 hits (I'm humbled that so many people have taken an interest in what I have to say about anything). But by far, the most publicized thing that I'm personally connected to has been this Andy Roddick video.

If you look at the statistics, it's been used and linked to by some European sports website. Pretty cool!

Here's the link to my video. I guess Carolina probably deserves most of the credit, as she is the one that captured this.