Living La Vida Loca...(Come on!)

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January 27th 2008
Published: January 27th 2008
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The Retiro parkThe Retiro parkThe Retiro park

in the centre of Madrid. It's a big park with a boating lake and monuments where locals spend weekends. There are fortune tellers and crisp sellers and people dressed as cartoon characters doing balloon modelling. Odd.

Lar Gorn to Thailand.....TTFN to England.....Hola to Spain! (I'm so multilingual....)

So then.
South East Asia....
and now Spain.
In a single month of December we'd had our fill of English weather and were back on the road to the land of tapas, bullfighting, flamenco, guitars, tacky package holidays and men in big hats.
Yes. Spain. I'd have titled this blog "Viva Espana" but I initially thought it had probably been done to death...and apparently it also has fascist I went for the Ricky Martin classic - "Living La Vida Loca". He's not even Spanish. And he's crap. Aw well...

We decided on Spain after Thailand for a number of reasons. One, it's nearer home. Thailand is so far away it's almost impossible to get to England for a visit. For a start it costs a fortune and then it takes a day to get there. Bearing in mind we were also on Thai wages of under 500 quid a month each. Second, We wanted to carry on teaching English in Europe and we have some lovely friends who've been teaching here for years who said "Why not come to Madrid??!". That was Kate Dodge and
Monument in Retiro ParkMonument in Retiro ParkMonument in Retiro Park

which apparently houses the remains of one of the Kings of Spain, Alfonzo. Creepy. What you can't see is that the monument was acting as a great location for the local drunks to get pissed up. Reverent indeed.
Greg by the way. Kate Dodge (sorry for the formality, but she has the same name as Kate...) used to be Kate's housemate in Liverpool during her PhD. After that she came to Madrid and became an English teacher where she met Greg - an American bloke. Now they're married and a lovely couple too. Bridging those Anglo-American boundaries between chips and crisps and boots and trunks. We visited them once, the year before we left for Thailand and decided Madrid would be fun place to live. So, being homeless and unemployed in England we decided we could do worse than leaving from Liverpool airport on a freezing cold morning and arrive in Spain with almost 0 home...but in full possession of freedom....and our youth...(right..?)
Oh, and a TEFL certificate apiece.

How to move to a foreign country and get a home and a job in 2 weeks....

Now some would say that moving to a foreign country with accommodation booked for but a long term home and no job was reckless. But it's all relative. When you have no where to live in England and have spent the last year flitting around SE Asia
The palacio realThe palacio realThe palacio real

The royal palace in Madrid. Sadly, the royal family don't live in it anymore.
with but a rucksack and a passport, moving to Madrid doesn't feel like such a challenge right...? Anyway, the good news is - within a fortnight we both had jobs and somewhere to live. The truth is though - it was pretty stressful for a while. Looking for a flat in a country where you don't speak the language whilst also attending job interviews is pretty hard work. But it's doable. See the following entry for a guide....

We arrived in Madrid on a Saturday lunchtime. Immediately, when we tried to get a taxi to meet our short-term landlady we realised things were a little different to Thailand. Despite the fact that Thailand is on the other side of the world and Madrid is 2 hours flight from home, it became obvious that fewer people speak English here than Thailand. The taxi driver at the international airport insisted on bellowing at us in 200mph Spanish. Even after we told him - in Spanish - that we don't speak Spanish. Hmm. The thing is, in Thailand, Thais never assume a white bloke speaks any Thai at all. You stand out like a sore thumb. Pasty white, hairy and around a
Statues in the palace gardensStatues in the palace gardensStatues in the palace gardens

of past Kings and Queens of Spain
foot taller than all the locals. Even when you try and speak Thai they assume you're speaking English with a funny accent. Then we come to Spain. And...well...I guess I might fit in. Don't get me wrong, it's a refreshing change not to be stared at on the streets, but it does mean that people assume I'm Spanish and talk to me and ask me for directions...or to fill in surveys...etc....
I smile and say something like "No hablo Espanol" and slip away while they stare on clearly wondering - "What are you doing here then???", much like people do with foreigners in England.

Anyway........we managed to get to our room in an apartment in the middle of Madrid and met our landlady with the keys. It was set on a busy street and we entered through a big steel door and got the lift to the 4th floor. Sadly, we discovered the apartment ( admittedly only booked for1 week - such was our confidence in hour ability of finding somewhere else in that time...) consisted of 1 long corridor, a tiny kitchen and our poky room. The bathroom did have a bidet though. How European...(savages!)! Worse still it
Velazquez outside the Museo de PradoVelazquez outside the Museo de PradoVelazquez outside the Museo de Prado

for those of you who aren't cultured and up on your art, he was a painter. His work is displayed in the Prado, the famous art museum here in Madrid. (We didn't know who he was either!). It's obviously a very popular place, because every time we have tried to go there has been a really long queue to get in. We did go to the Reina Sofia though, the modern art museum, to see some Dali and Picasso...
only appeared to have a single bed. Hmm. That's okay said our landlady, a bloke was coming straight away to construct our new bed. Then she beat a hasty retreat. A bloke, occasionally saying stuff to us in Spanish (to which I smiled and nodded...dunno what he said), did construct a bed for us. Bunk beds.
No joke. Bunks.
I whooped with joy and immediately bagged the top bunk. Then remembered I wasn't 7 anymore. Mind you, I do still wee the bed so Kate got a bum deal.

Sooooo. After "checking in" we set out to explore on our 1st day in the city. happily, it wasn't 40 degrees (yet) and no one hampered us offering us tours to buy suits and diamonds (speaking from experience in Asia). We could literally just walk about unhindered and unsweaty. Which was nice.

Our 1st night in Madrid was speant with Kate and Greg....bizarrely, going for an Indian curry! Yum. But not very Spanish. It was cool though and made us feel a little more at home! Afterall, everyone knows that Indian curries come from England....

I had a lamb madras and realised we have them uncommonly hot and
The Ministry of agricultureThe Ministry of agricultureThe Ministry of agriculture

just near where we live. Its pretty impressive....
spicy in England. Dunno what they're like in India yet...

Our 1st week in Madrid was mental. We divided our time between shooting around the city attending job interviews for various language schools and searching the net for accommodation. Rapidly we were facing the prospect of no where to live and no job. But we made it. About the jobs 1st....

Back to the grind...

Spain is very different to Thailand in the world of English teaching. In Thailand it was all school teaching and in Spain it's all private company work - language academies. Lots of teaching adults for business purposes. Anyway, there's still a huge demand for English teachers so the interviews came thick and fast. They were very variable. In some cases the interviewers seemed very concerned that we'd never taught adults and wanted us to do demo others they basically just offered us hours if we managed to turn up for the interview. No one asked to see our certificates!

After a manic week we both settled on 2 different academies. Kate's teaching for a company called Cambridge House and has nice block hours from 4.00-9.30pm each evening. I went with the
Street performer in the Plaza MayorStreet performer in the Plaza MayorStreet performer in the Plaza Mayor

they have alot of them all around Madrid. This one is a puppet of a girl playing the cello. It was quite good.
English Group and work a range of hours between 8am to 9.30pm depending on the day (but with a slightly higher rate of pay...!). We are both teaching a wide age range from kids to teens to adults. Kate does all her teaching in the academy while I do a few lessons in businesses. I actually teach several classes a week in the Madrid office of EA Games (Challenge Everything!) - the computer game designer. It's very exciting. In the canteen there's a console and loads of games to play. I've resisted the urge thus far.

By and large, for both of us, it's very different to teaching small Thai kids in a school. But teaching adults is weird - they often are pretty good and just want to chat with you to practise. Easy money??? Maybe. The hours are weird to get used to though as we tend to teach when people aren't at work so we work nights, lunchtimes and early mornings (or I do anyway - Kate just does nights).

A roof over our head

We trawled the websites for somewhere to live everyday. Paying particular attention to the adverts in English!
Initial plans
Men in big hats!! Men in big hats!! Men in big hats!!

I thought this was a cliche, but no, there are bands of men in big hats playing guitar on the streets of Madrid.
to get a flat for just the 2 of us were shelved after realising it would be more expensive and we'd also have the utility companies to contend with with our vast Spanish of "hello", "How are you?" and "Good bye". We decided a shared place was the way to go. After seeing a few places we met landlord Carlos. A Spanish bloke fluent in English who had spent years in Manchester doing a PhD. So we moved into a place in an area of Madrid called Delicias (pronounced "Delithias"), an apartment on the 7th floor of a town building with 5 bedrooms and a big living area. We're currently sharing with an English bloke called Matt who's studying here and, thankfully, is also fluent in Spanish, a bloke from Argentina (also speaks English), a guy from Nicaragua (also speaks English) and 2 blokes from Italy - although they'll shortly be moving and giving way to a Dane ( bloke not dog).

How cosmopolitan! Ooo.

Other stuff

So that's it for now on the "working and living front". Just a few more interesting points to add....

Famous Spaniards

Name as many famous Spaniards as you
For the love of pork....For the love of pork....For the love of pork....

Lots of lots of pigs legs in the Museo de jamon...
can in the next 10 seconds.

Done it??
How many???
We tried and it was a bit rubbish.
We had....
Penelope Cruz
Antonio Banderas (Kate still disputes that he's Mexican..)
Salvador Dali and Picasso (we only know that because we went to one of the art museums here this weekend).
Oh, and Franco the fascist dictator.

Ricky Martin you say?? No! He's a pretend Spaniard from America. See above.
Shakira?? She's Colombian, man. But a bit of a fox. (her hips don't lie)
Zorro??? Now you're getting silly.
Well that's how a conversation proceeded in the pub the other night. Since that Kate has been informed by her students that all the famous people in Spain are bullfighters and flamenco dancers - of which I can't name 1. Oh well.
Penelope Cruz is very popular though. Hop on the underground in Madrid and you can almost guarantee at least one person near you will be reading a magazine article about her....


They are obsessed with ham here. Obsessed.
Go to any supermarket and there's an entire section of the chilling cabinets devoted to spiced ham and sausage. Literally tonnes of the stuff. Not only that,
The museum of hamThe museum of hamThe museum of ham

or the 'Museo de jamon'. They are all over Madrid. Its basically a deli. But there is a bar in it and you can drink beer, surrounded by giant pig legs and other pork products. Very random but also quite cool.
you can buy cured pigs legs - trotters and all- at every local convenience store, and even a whole piglet in pre-packed cardboard with cooking instructions on the side a la St Michaels. It's bizarre. Frequently this week my students have asked - "do you like ham?" as an opening gambit. I mean, yeah, it's ok. But I eat other stuff too. It makes you wonder where all the pigs are....

Spanish time

Okay our heads are spinning. In Thailand everyone gets up at 5am and goes to bed at 9pm. If you're not up by 7am in Thailand people think you're a lazy bugger and take the mick. Even when you're off work. In Spain, people are nocturnal. They work in the night and party all night long then get up just before the sun goes down. If you go out for drinks you can be sat there with the streets thronging and then suddenly realise that, far from being 10pm (as it feels), it's 4am. No one sleeps. In an English speaking guide magazine we picked up the "Early" clubs close at 3am while the "late" ones close at 7am. Plus, no one eats till 10.
Boozy SaturdayBoozy SaturdayBoozy Saturday

Last Saturday we went out for lunch - a 'menu del dia' where you pay a set price for 3 courses plus wine and bread. The Spanish like to eat and drink, and this lunch typically lasted until 10pm. Here we are with Kate and Greg and their friends Sonia and Elaine, sitting outside. In January! It was sunny and warm. Rock on!
Obviously with our late hours we fall into that category too, but it's playing havoc with our time keeping. On Friday Kate got home at 8.15pm (a relatively early finish). We had every intention of hitting the pub....then we had tea....a drink....and suddenly it was after 11. "Oh" we thought. And decided to go to bed instead. Saved it for the next night.

Tapas and tiny beers
A lovely thing about Spain is that they serve food with each drink. Cheese or olives or sausage or bread comes with each round. Plus, the beers are halfs and come in piddly little poncey glasses. I think this is instrumental in Spain not having a culture of people fighting in the streets and vomiting in gutters every Saturday night, unlike England. That and the limitless closing time. Anyway, you can get pints if you want them as I've discovered (being English I prefer the fighting in the streets and vomitting in the gutter option for my Saturday), but students have already told me about their visits to England and talked in amazement about the size of a beer...The Spanish in ENgland may declare "My, that's a large beer!"...the British in Spain cry "Why have you served my beer in a wine glass? Do I look like a poof??"
Culture eh?

No escaping Thailand...
A few days after we moved into the temporary, bunk bed flat, a girl appeared in one of the rooms who'd only recently arrived in Madrid. Guess where from...? Thailand. How weird is that??? I've never met a Thai person outside of Thailand and here we are in Madrid, Spain and one of the 1st people we meet is Thai. She's called Pear and has been studying English in Nottingham and now has 7 months in Spain studying Spanish. We were both equally amazed - especially as I stood there in my Beer Chang top. We took her number and we're hoping she'll be available to give us hints and tips on our rubbish Thai cooking!

If you want to know more about teaching English abroad, check out our other blog: What Kate and Kris Did

Additional photos below
Photos: 18, Displayed: 18


Kris and some lassKris and some lass
Kris and some lass

in the botanic gardens.
Weird cauliflower display in the botanic gardensWeird cauliflower display in the botanic gardens
Weird cauliflower display in the botanic gardens

It was one of the most impressive things. Which is hardly surprising, as it is January and most of the exciting plants were dead.
Church Church

I think....
Typical Madrid buildingTypical Madrid building
Typical Madrid building

They have shops, bars, restaurants and the like on the ground floor, and then offices or flats on the upper floors. Everyone lives in flats here, people don't have houses.
A Friday night inA Friday night in
A Friday night in

our bedside table during a Friday night in our flat. 35 cent cans of beer and a 47 cent box of wine. Its almost Thai prices! The wine tastes like ribena too.

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