Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Colombia's not-so-magical realism

Back in the heady days of the Republic of Ireland's "glorious" run at Italia '90 — fair enough, the team reached the last eight but did so without winning a single game in 90 minutes — it practically amounted to treason to question the side's approach or not to be fully supportive of "the boys in green".
Róger Martínez celebrates his goal for Colombia against Argentina at the Copa América 2019.
Relax, la Selección is winning, everything's fine! (Image from fcf.com.co.)
The one pundit who did go against the national zeitgeist, Eamon Dunphy, was temporarily banished from his role with the state broadcaster RTÉ. He dared to criticise the Irish performance after a drab 0-0 draw with Egypt.

He wasn't really wrong with what he said but the country didn’t want to hear such harsh truths in the flood of bonhomie and giddy excitement that a first-ever World Cup appearance swept in.

Don't rock the boat, baby!
This was pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland. Much poorer and, it could be said, more innocent times. The nation badly needed a pick-me-up and Jack Charlton's heroes delivered that (some people have even attributed it to playing an important part in the economic boom that was to follow). Clear-headed, unbiased analysis wasn't wanted.

Nowadays, however, it's pretty much a national pastime to be critical of the Republic of Ireland soccer team. It could even be said that some of it is over-the-top.

Nonetheless, as a nation matures, its people, in most cases, are better equipped to carry out some introspection, as difficult as it may be.

Looking at Colombia from a self-governing perspective, it's older than the Republic of Ireland. Yet in many aspects, it hasn't quite mastered the art of self-criticism.

This can be seen clearly enough in the soccer (or football if you will) world, for the beloved Selección.

Now I've never really believed in the impartial reporter malarkey, especially when it comes to sports commentary, but you'd like to think that such professionals could at least try to bring a semblance of balance to proceedings. Not here in Colombia.

The lads and lassies commentating and analysing on Colombian games see things solely through yellow-coloured (or blue or red when the side is playing in its alternative strip) glasses. Their heavily-biased approach only adds further fuel to the fire of an already highly-strung watching public. Win, lose or draw, all sense of realism is lost.
"It was the euphoria that led me to stab you. Que pena!"
Take the opening, and fully merited, Copa América win over Argentina. Yes, the Argys have a number of individuals of truly world-class standard. Yet, the reality is, the collective has been much less than the sum of its parts for a couple of years now.

Their form of late against fellow South American teams, for one, has been patchy to say the least. That should be factored into any proper analysis of Colombia's victory. However, on the whole here, it's not.

This isn't to say that it was a "nothing win" for Colombia, not at all. You can make a case for them to go far. Colombia's performance was as solid as what we've seen thus far. But let's just take it game by game for now, keep things in perspective.

Going backwards, at speed
Of course, a country losing the run of itself over football "success" is harmless really, save for the odd violent incident that happens post-match. ("Oops, it was the euphoria that led me to stab you. Que pena!).

In politics and the general running of the country, on the other hand, overlooking facts, ignoring certain obvious signs that things may not be as you're saying they are, that's a recipe for disaster. For more balanced commentators on Colombia, there's a feeling that the country's on the slide (two years ago, in Colombia's comedown?, I touched on some of these challenges).

The right-leaning president, Iván Duque, not quite a year in the post, hasn't done much to steady the ship. On the contrary, for many observers, things are in reverse.

There is a theory that keeping the country on the precipice suits certain powerful interests. One wouldn't want to unlock Colombia's great potential to the masses or those of a different ilk. A "jobs for the boys" kind of approach. Considering this land's history, you'd have to say there might be something to that.

But hey, as long as La Selección keeps on winning, everything's wonderful, isn’t it?
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Wednesday, 12 June 2019

The accidental gomelo

"You're a posh boy now, a gomelo." So go the jibes from my old barrio buddies now that I find myself living in a "swankier" part of Bogotá ('gomelo', for the uninitiated, is the Colombian word for what you might call preppy types).
Entering Santandercito on Carrera 16 just off Calle 183 in the north of Bogotá.
Santandercito: Out of sight but by no means out of mind.
Yes, it's true, my move a few kilometres south from my beloved San Antonio/Santandercito sees me placed in plushier surrounds.

The thing is, however, when my hand was forced to move, the chance to live within a more reasonable walking distance — 4.5 km versus 10 km — of the office appealed (I'm still in that full-time job, somehow). Save time and, potentially, money.
"Perhaps I'll embrace the gomelo guise."
For, as surprising as this may seem, the rent in my new Cedritos Lisboa location is comparable to what I was paying out on the city limits. What's more, it comes with much more in terms of furnishings and appliances.

Having a well-kitted-out place is a bonus of sorts considering I still, after almost eight years based in Bogotá, have a backpacker mentality when it comes to "settling down" and making a house a home.

The state of the kitchen in the new abode could yet become a contentious issue, as it often tends to be when sharing. I have to revise my theory that all elderly women always keep their homes in pristine condition. The situation is more than manageable for now, though. 

Stranded
The biggest drawback is that it's pretty much right in the middle of "Poshville". That is to say, you have to walk a bit of a distance — not a big deal for me, in fairness — to get back to the barrios populares for the "proper" panaderías, tiendas and all that kind of good stuff.

Some of Bogotá's other upper-class areas, in contrast, find themselves stuck next to the riff-raff. Closer to the centre, La Macarena bordering La Perseveranica, my spiritual home in a way, is one example of this.

On top of being "stranded in salubrity" so to put it, these richer neighbourhoods tend to be a little sterile. There's no real life to them. They're bland at best; the barrios, on the other hand, have a buzz about them.

Go gomelo
Nonetheless, for as long as I have this full-time office job, staying in such a stale sector with its proximity to work is fine. During the week, with the current eat, sleep, work, repeat routine, I don't really have the time like before to enjoy the barrios in any case. It's purely a weekend delight these days. That's OK. Too much of a good thing and all that.

Or who knows, maybe I'll adapt to my new environment and take on this gomelo guise. "What say you, güevón?" "Osea, Lord help us!"
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Friday, 31 May 2019

Let's talk (reluctantly) about sex

I came across ... ... No, let's use a different phrasal verb considering the subject matter here. I stumbled across — much better — a quote from John Bayley, the (long-suffering?!) husband of the late Irish-British novelist Iris Murdoch. Bayley thought that sex was "inescapably ridiculous", in contrast to Murdoch who, it is said, had multiple affairs with both men and women.
A beer is very often more enjoyable than sex ...
Indeed ... (Image from me.me)
Bayley's "inescapably ridiculous" reference to sex resonated with me. I've had a number of sexual partners, the majority being more one-night stands than anything more regular albeit, and I struggle to remember a time when I found intercourse truly enjoyable. Most previous 'engagements' were more like jobs that had to be done rather than immensely pleasurable acts.

More by accident than design
This isn't to say I was purely "selfish" about it, just in a race to reach my climax, to heck with her. Well, perhaps it was less so than by design in all honesty, but I did satisfy my playing partners before I was "done" on a number of occasions — unless they're good fakers/liars, which would never be the case, surely?

Of course, the men's problem, if we view it as such, is that when we reach the "point of no return" so to put it, we have to wait a while to get going again. Women, so it goes, can have multiple orgasms if men (or whoever) can be bothered to take them there.
"Having sex is not the be-all and end-all."
The thing is, referring back to Bayley, I don't tend to long for sex. When I see friends basically fretting about how long it has been since they last did it, I'm rather indifferent. It's not, quite literally, something that keeps me awake at night.

It could be that I just haven't met the right person to properly "get it on with". I could equate it to the time I explained to a friend that my feeling when taking a certain drug was usually unspectacular at best, he suggested I hadn't been getting it at the right potency.

Yet, my own experiences and the relationship hardships I've seen other acquaintances deal with would make me believe that the "right person" is a bit of a fantasy. You have to let a lot go, settle for certain things if you want to convince yourself he/she is the right person. The way it is for many things in life, really.

Avoidably ridiculous
Now my rather conservative Irish Catholic background undoubtedly plays a part in this sex indifference (Colombia is traditionally a Catholic country as well, but as I wrote before, that influence has manifested itself quite differently here in many aspects).

The mere mention of the word makes Irish people of a certain generation somewhat uncomfortable. This doesn't mean, however, that they don't enjoy it.

For me, it's certainly not the be-all and end-all as some of my peers seem to believe.

Unlike Bayley, though, I view it as "avoidably ridiculous" these days. For now at least.
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Friday, 17 May 2019

"I is the expert"

An old friend once told me that in the world of horserace gambling, it's best to be in one of two camps: The first is to know a lot about it, where you make an informed, "backed-up-by-facts" decision on your selection. The other is knowing nothing or practically nothing about the subject.

If you're going to make a mistake, Avianca, you might as well make it a big one!
"It's fine, I checked it all on Google translate."
Obviously enough, in a pursuit where there's an amount of chance at play, neither position is a guarantee for success. Nonetheless, in the event of failure, the expert can go back to the drawing board, study harder to be better prepared for next time, assured (as much as one can in this particular game) that his/her superior know-how will help him/her come good.

For the very occasional backer of horses, the one who has no intentions of moving past the novice stage, the just-for-fun flutter that didn't work, it's not a problem. It's a very minor part of such a person's life.

Malign middle ground
It's those in the middle who aren't at expert level, and perhaps never will be, but yet have enough knowledge so as to sound as if they know what they're talking about, to the point that they convince themselves they are right, this is the problem group.

People in this category, unlike the expert, aren't savvy enough to realise where they've gone wrong and in contrast to the novice, they'll continue throwing good money after bad.
"Sometimes they get too ballsy." 
We can easily apply this three-level concept to the world of language learning. In fact, it could be said it's a great fit for it. 

The experts, generally speaking, are the natives or the non-natives who have acquired an almost-native level. Of course, language is much more than just knowing all the mechanics of it, it's a culture.

It's one thing to know a language that you weren't brought up on very well (and many non-natives who get to this level will understand the rules of the language better than most natives), it's quite another to speak it so as you seamlessly fit in with the native-speaking group in question.

Just among speakers of the same language, this can be challenging. For example, look at Chilean Spanish versus Colombian Spanish or Indian English versus Irish English.

On the opposite side, we have the novices, the beginners. In the same way with the horseracing, if the expert tells beginners to go for X, it's highly unlikely they'll question it. They'll bow to the 'pro's' better judgement. Most of the time they'd be right to do so. Most of the time.
"Google translate trumps the native speaker."
Then there are the intermediate-level learners. They won't always take what the expert tells them as gospel. On occasions, they might be right to do so; their doubts prove well-founded. Nobody gets it right all the time.

However, sometimes they get a little too ballsy, they think they know best, to heck with the experts. This, more often than not, leads to silly mistakes.

Now in the classroom sphere, that's OK. Live and learn — the point being one is in the classroom to learn.

In the professional world, it plays out a little differently.

All-encompassing experts 
Take the case of a Colombian company (it may be its national airline), dominated, naturally enough, by Spanish-speaking folk. From a marketing perspective, it would appear that those calling the shots have an OK level of English, as many high-up people in such big companies do. Perhaps like my Spanish, fine but far from perfect.

As an airline that flies around the world, it not only advertises in Spanish but English as well, this being an outsourced job (the vast majority of its advertising is). The final say on what goes public, though, and only right really, comes from management.

This is when "know-it-all" intermediate-level English speakers wielding power are dangerous. They want it their way, in their English (well, with the help of a poor translation from Google translate).

Fair enough, changing an adjective here or a turn of phrase there isn't a big deal. Yet, when it's grammatically incorrect or confusingly written, and not in a smart way (think of Apple's "think different"), then it's just wrong.

But hey, they know best. "Thems are the experts."

The thing is, being an expert in one field doesn't make you an expert in all. Too much time spent on that high horse can damage the brain.
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Facebook: Wrong Way Corrigan - The Blog & IQuiz "The Bogotá Pub Quiz".

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

A matter of motivation

It's pretty much accepted that money is not the chief motivator when it comes to our working lives. It plays a part to a point, but for the majority of us, there has to be more to our job than the pay packet at the end of the week or month or whenever.

Whether you're one of those who truly enjoys what you do or you see your employment as solely a means to an end, the real motivation to keep going generally comes from somewhere other than the 'dirty cash'.
There are different things that motivate us to work. Money isn't one of the most important of these ...
This is missing enjoyment ... (From http://www.securens.in)

It could be that you feel what you do gives you meaning, that quest to find fulfilment, or other life factors — doing it for your children, the ability to travel, a stepping stone to something greater, etc. — give you the push to keep at it.

Pays the bills
From a personal perspective, if it was just about the loot, I'd kick The Colombia Cast podcast to touch, not to mention this blog, and be much less bothered about IQuiz. The podcast is, for now anyway and like this blog always has been, purely a labour of love while IQuiz is more or less in the same boat.
"Keep the head down and drink the free coffees."
The new (can I still call it new after four months?) and time-consuming full-time job more than pays the bills. This is not to say it's really well-paid, it's just my overheads are not that high. Another plus point for the "barrio popular". That and the fact I've now less free time to actually enjoy my salary.

This is where the money plays a role. It's not that it motivates per se, it's more a case that in the absence of other sources of steady income, it fills a hole.

Yet, as mentioned before, the mentality of offering your services to third parties, parties that you don't have any direct dealings with and don't always agree with their message, is something I find hard to fathom.

I've been used to work, be it independent or with others, where I've been, or at least felt, intrinsically involved in the output. In this current gig, that's much less the case. That feeling of not really being involved doesn't tend to leave one disposed to give their all.

Underworked, overpaid?
Now it would be a whole lot worse — a resigning matter really — if my position was very taxing. It's not. This isn’t to say it’s a case of being underworked and overpaid. The downtimes allow me to concentrate on my personal projects.
"It's our show, so play that goddamn tune, piper!"
What's more, when the hardest part of your working day amounts to not much more than making sure you arrive on time, it's not a bad state of affairs. Well, that and biting my lip sometimes when advertising copy I write is changed by non-native English speakers to something I feel is inferior. "The client is always right, even when they're wrong." "Then why bother asking for my input in the first place?" "Just play the goddamn tune, piper!"

A moment's breath usually sees me right. It's not my brand or company I'm doing it for after all. Let it go.

So, you might ask, if that's the height of my grievances, why make an issue out of it? Keep the head down, drink your free coffees, take your monthly pay and repeat.

Satisfaction, that's what's at play. Having that feeling that our talents are being used in the most appropriate way. Doing what we should be doing, or at least what we think we should be doing. It's what we all strive for, isn't it?

People might say, and have said, "Sure you'll never be happy." That's the thing. This pursuit of happiness is what keeps us all going.

It's not that we're fundamentally unhappy, not at all. It's that there's always another level to reach. That's where the motivation lies.
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Thursday, 21 February 2019

Me, myself and I

There is an expression we use in Ireland to describe those who put themselves before everybody else. We call them 'mé féiners', putting an English ending to two Irish-language words, 'mé féin', meaning 'myself'.

Basically, you could say these are a type of fundamentalist individualist. 'The greater good for the greater number' only comes into play if it means a significant gain for them. Otherwise, it's not a runner.
Bogotá's car-free day, 'Día sin carro', has been somewhat successful over the years.

The selfish gene
Of course, in many ways, we are all a bit like this, we are quite selfish beings. Many often talk a good 'community game', but on a normal day-to-day basis, it tends to be the self and, maybe, close family that occupy our minds rather than that 'bigger picture'.
“Many wealthy people aren’t prepared to see their living standards drop.”
Take all those wealthy leaders and job creators, be they on the left or on the right, who live in a world far removed from the people they claim to help and represent. They are usually very reluctant to reduce their costly living standards, something that might help society as a whole.

Accidental goodness
On many occasions, that self-centred interest, more by accident than design, is favourable to more than just those closest to us. We, most of us I like to think anyway, work hard to have a better living, add more meaning to our existence, and others who we don't know, who we've never met, benefit from this.

This work ethic contributes to the greater good — this applies less so to some areas of employment than others. (Again, what are those politicians about?)

However, on other occasions, and more frequently it could be argued, this self-centredness doesn't add anything at all to the collective good.

Here in Bogotá, a city with considerable traffic congestion, you have those who insist on taking their private cars to work even when they don't really need to. What's more, the wealthier types have a number of vehicles at their disposal in order to circumvent some well-intentioned measures aimed at reducing traffic volume.
“No matter what we do, we’re doomed anyway.”
For sure, similar to many other places, public transport is far from ideal in the city. Yet, if more people started using it coupled with a resulting greater revenue generated to be pumped back into it, it would be better, more efficient and, keeping with the zeitgeist, greener. That's the theory anyway. The practice in these parts is usually a long way off the mark.

Lap it up
There is the whole "Who cares?" mentality in all of this as well. Referring back to my Saving ourselves post from a while back, the argument can be made that no matter what we do, we're doomed anyway.

Our way of life is going to drastically change soon, whether that's in our lifetime or not, so let's just enjoy the ride and lap things up as best we can. "Why inconvenience myself for future generations when the chance of the very existence of these future generations is in grave doubt?"

Fair enough. But there are 'greater good' measures we could take now that would result in an almost immediate benefit. How we commute on a daily basis is just one of those.

If we'd fewer vehicles with only one or two people sitting in them clogging up our highways and byways, practically everyone would benefit from that, even, nay especially, those currently in said vehicles.

Some people are just a bit too "mé féiner" to realise this.
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Wednesday, 6 February 2019

The Colombia caste

"You can take the man out of the barrio but ..." OK, the second part of that, "... you can't take the barrio out of the man", doesn't really apply to me.

The 'barrios populares', Bogotá's working-class neighbourhoods are still 'where it's at' for me, in a living and socialising sense. So, for better or for worse, I haven't removed myself from them. 

Brendan 'Wrong Way' Corrigan in La Perseverancia, Bogotá, Colombia
At home in barrio tienda ...
Moving on up?
The most significant change in the last few months, outside of the new trial podcast, has been the addition of a full-time, relatively well-paid job, the first time I've had a proper 8-6 gig in Colombia (Dolly Parton would have to change the lyrics of her 9-5 hit to suit these parts).
"Most aren't from very rich backgrounds."
With that new employment have come, unsurprisingly enough, new colleagues.

Now I think it's safe to assume that none of these, or at least very few of them, are from uber-rich Colombian backgrounds. No, the majority would appear to be associated with that growing — so the government here like to tell us it's growing anyway, being as it is a sign of a country on the up and all that — middle class.

So, in this regard, I'm paddling the same canoe as my new workmates. Earning more than the majority but still a good bit off the strata five and six living.

The thing is, when it comes to socialising, while I'm happier to do that in these aforementioned barrios populares, a lot of my colleagues prefer the swankier and — as far as I'm concerned anyway — unjustifiably expensive parts of town.

Penny-pinching?
Yes, I've been banging on this drum for some time now. The situation isn't going to change in the near future, if ever.

Nonetheless, to restate the point, some people see my reluctance, nay refusal, to socialise in said swankier parts of Bogotá as being tight, 'tacaño' as they say here.
"It's like paying over 20 euros for a pint in Europe."
I have no problem paying more for something that I feel is worth it. However, when it comes to socialising or more specifically nights out, what is anathema to me is paying multiples, perhaps over five times more compared to what I'd pay in my barrio, for practically the same thing, "la misma miér...coles" as they'd say here. In all honesty, it makes me uncomfortable. And a little bit angry.

Barrio is best
Now just to put that in 'First World' terms, when you compare the price in a barrio bar/tienda to Bogotá's 'plush' places, it's like paying over 20 euros for a pint of beer in the latter. How many of you would be willing to do that?

This isn't a case of 'knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing' in relation to the fancier establishments, especially so when it's pretty much the same bloody product, often delivered with a poorer service. Fair enough, the price of this 'service', i.e., the extra staff, has to be taken into account.

What's more, there are generally higher utility charges and the like (this is where government action is needed to provide a reasonable middle ground).

That being said, handing over what I deem to be excessive amounts of cash is not my idea of a good time.

This is why I'll be largely sticking to socialising in 'my' barrios for the time being.
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Wednesday, 2 January 2019

All for one, none for all

There is a general belief that 'true' journalism — the old, honest, non-fake news kind that is — and marketing don't go together. Or, by definition at least, the former should always be very suspicious of the latter.

A science versus religion kind of battle. 
Yes, for business reasons they are often side by side, but there are clear boundaries.
Journalism versus marketing ...
There's money in that marketing ... (Image from web.)
Sowing the seeds of dislike

Indeed, in my first ever full-time radio job back in Ireland, those boundaries were made very clear. The ground floor was home to the advertising and marketing staff, the first floor housed the journalists and presenters.

Of course, as a commercial radio station, advertising and marketing are vital components of the operation. We journalists/presenters wouldn't have been in a position to get our wages without them.
"A desire not to deal in horse manure."
At the same time, without our, um, top-quality on-air work, no company would want to advertise with the radio station. Thus, journalistic integrity had to be preserved. There, as happens across all commercial media groups, the battle lines were drawn (not that, in my own experiences anyway, open conflict regularly followed).

With that background, coupled with a strong desire not to deal in horse manure (what I see as such anyway), I've tended to look somewhat unfavourably at much of the whole marketing world.

For sure, with the likes of IQuiz I've had to dabble in it, but that's just innocent (and honest!) self-promotion. 
However, putting my energies into helping promote large companies, ones that I have no real connection with, especially so when it's via a third party, that's another story.

Work, sleep, eat, repeat

Nonetheless, when opportunity knocks during tight times, you've got to act. Do what's asked of you, nod and agree with your superiors (within reason), get your pay and repeat, for as long as you need to or can. Keep the head down.

This is where I kind of find myself right now.
 It's a mercenary gig in a sense.
"Experience tells us that this 'care' comes with caveats."
Now, this isn't to say that all the publicity being churned out for the respective clients is complete hyperbole. No, from my perspective, the most disconcerting part is putting together all this positive speak for a company that you have no direct role in.

You know, like if you get the standard phrase of 'We care about our customers' when, through personal experience, you know that said 'care' appears to come with a number of caveats.

If I could deal directly with the client/company, relay my negative experiences as the paying customer they 'care' so much about, explain to them there's plenty of room for improvement and get a commitment from them that they'll 'try harder', it might make me feel more relaxed.

'Me speak English good'
Experience lets me know that it's unlikely much would change, though. What's more, when they think their non-native English works better than mine, it shows you what we're up against.

It must be pointed out here that it's not a case of me having sleepless nights or the like over this. Things aren't that sinister.

Marketing, be it in-house or by a third party and no matter how slick it may be, can only do so much for a company.

If the product or service doesn't match the message, in whatever language it's written, patrons won't be long fooled.
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Facebook: Wrong Way Corrigan - The BlogIQuiz "The Bogotá Pub Quiz" & The Colombia Cast.