Thursday, June 12, 2008

Odds and Ends

Yesterday, they shot some scenes for a telenovela (soap opera) in Plaza de Armas. Click here for some shots and description. Later they moved to the andador (pedestrian street) on 16 de septiembre, our old street; and shot some more. They may be here still. Kind of weird having someone film places you walk to every day.

We had been told there was a birthday party for Julien in our old apartment complex the other day, but it had been cancelled (we forgot to check our e-mail before going) so we visited Luc and Sylvia instead. They had recently returned from a trip to Guatemala where they hiked around Lake Peten and visited some really interesting towns and archaeological sites in the jungle and along the lake. Luc showed me an archaeological site that had been worked on by National Geographic last year. They left the site a mess, with units and tunnels into temples still open.

Pot hunters know where to find the good stuff, but leaving everything open and making it so easy for them is totally unprofessional. No wonder it is hard for US archaeologists to get permits in Mexico. I cannot blame the Mexicans or anyone else who wants to prevent such damaging behavior. Check here for some photos.

The rainy season has really gotten started. Mexico City and Guadalajara have had floods, and we have had a few days of rain. This means the ants are starting to come out. So I have had to spray the wood beams in the living room ceiling with an insecticide. We may have to get an exterminator to seal off the ceilings and gas them, which seems to be the only really effective way to get rid of ants, but it costs a fortune.

I visited Bob and Maria's patios yesterday, just before the rain started. They really have some nice plants, and they are all so healthy. It's almost as if they have not had the same broiling sun we get in our patios, though things should improve now that the rainy season has begun. We put in an Italian cypress (the tall thin ones) in the main patio, replacing the gardenia which is about dead. I hope the cypress grows above the roof, a vertical statement in an otherwise horizontal patio. The dark green against the ochre yellow walls really looks pretty cool.

May is visa renewal month for us so we went to immigration at the beginning of the month, and we are still dealing with the fallout a month and a half later. You may think you have run into bureaucracy, but they have taken it to a new level in Mexico. Here is a synopsis:

May 2, 2008
Took all necessary papers (originals and copies), passports, visas, bank balance, and a letter in Spanish soliciting visa renewal to Gobernación (the Department where Migración is located). Arrived in late morning, took a number, waited about an hour and a half to see someone. Other people kept jumping ahead of the line.

Were given forms and told to pay the fee and return after May 5 (Cinco de Mayo). That afternoon I went to our bank and paid the fees.

Gobernación would not accept our bank statements even though we have a joint account, because C’s name was not on the statements. So I finally got a letter from the bank saying that it is the bank’s policy to put only one name on account statements and checks. I was lucky that I have a premium account so I could speak to my “own” representative. As it was, it took nearly an hour.

May 6, 2008
Took all the papers, plus the receipts of payment to Gobernación at 8:30AM, half an hour before it opened. Waited about an hour. We turned in the letter from the bank on our joint account.

Were told that the fee receipts were wrong, and they could not be changed in Gobernación’s computers. The mistake was that the bank form required a Razon Social, and the Gobernación form showed Razon Social as “retiree”. The bank then made out a receipt for “Thomas Riley Wheaton, retiree”. Gobernacion would not accept the retiree part. So we had to pay again, hoping we would get reimbursed for the first mistaken payment later. BTW, they do not accept money at Gobernación since they do not trust their employees, thus the business about paying at the bank.

We went to a different bank and paid again, making sure they did not use retiree. We returned to Gobernación half an hour later and successfully turned in our paper work. We got an appointment for May 14 to visit them again to make sure all the paper work was correct and/or to pick up our visas.

May 14, 2008
We arrived at 8:30 and were the first ones there. At 9:00 we were informed that they had not had a chance to look over the paper work, and to come back the following week, or to call first.

May 21, 2008
I called and was informed that they still had not had time to look over our paper work and to call back on Friday.

May 23, 2008 (Friday)
Called and was informed that our visas were ready. Arrived at Gobernación at 9:45, and waited until about 11. The visas were indeed ready and after signing everything in sight, I got them. Then I asked about reimbursement for the first mistaken payment. It took about 5 minutes for the lady to give me a letter and the necessary paperwork. I was blown away at how quickly she handled it. She said we should then go to Hacienda on Calle Allende to get our money.

Around 1PM, C and I went to Hacienda, and were informed that we had to buy a form from a paper store, fill it out, make an appointment by phone with Hacienda.

I bought the form (which was mostly unintelligible acronyms), and called for an appointment, which was not until June 9!!!!

June 9, 2008
We went to Hacienda with the forms completed and all the paper work from Migración. More or less on time, we met with the person about our refund. He was confused at why we had two refunds, and why they were both in my name. Since I had paid, the receipts were in my name even though one of the visas was for Christiane. He was also confused at why we both had the same last name if C was my wife and not my sister. We finally got that all sorted out, and then he needed ID to make sure we were who we said we were. I gave him my Mexican driver’s license, but C did not have any Mexican ID (since I am the one being reimbursed it did not seem necessary for her to need ID). So we had to walk back home, make copies of our passports and visas. I even made copies of a utility bill to prove we lived at our house (sometimes required even if the bill is not in your name, go figure), and a copy of my driver’s license just in case. We returned to Hacienda and turned in the paperwork after an hour’s wait since we did not have an appointment. The guy took everything and told us to expect a check or voucher within 90 days!!! When pushed, he said that it could be longer than 90 days or maybe less. If we ever get a reimbursement check I will it announce here.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

US News, the Mexican Report

People seem to think that because we are in Mexico we do not know what is going on in the states. During the recent, prolonged primary season, people would say that it must be nice to be in Mexico and not have to deal with the idiocies of the campaign, or since we are in Mexico we did not really understand what was going on.

Contrary to what you might have expected 20-30 years ago, I have never been so well informed about a campaign. We get CNN (based in Hong Kong and mostly about Asia), TV5 (French, with better world coverage than CNN and better Latin America coverage than BBC, which we no longer get), CBS evening news, and various Mexican channels. But except for primary nights, TV is not very enlightening, even in the US.

Mostly, we get our news via the Internet, and more importantly we have the time to read the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time Magazine, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution for “local” news, Le Monde, Le Figaro and nearly every other paper in the world we want to. I have RSS leads to stories I follow, such as politics and the situation in Zimbabwe and Mexico. We read local and major Mexican newspapers nearly every day (no home delivery), and there is a Mexican English language paper supported by the NYT. We also have connections to all the NPR stations around the US, which I usually do not listen too since I used to listen to NPR in the car, and it is hard to get used to listening to it when I am doing other things. But we do have All Things Considered and Morning Edition if we want, plus I have RSS leads to their major stories.

I was lucky to read the newspaper and watch some CNN when we worked in the states. Now I have all day if I want to read up on something, and I probably spend too much time doing so.

I would say that I am better informed here than I ever was in the US, even about people’s individual stands and issues, as I read the letters to the editor of many papers and the occasional blog (although most of the blogs are worthless). I also discuss politics through e-mail with a bunch of folks from around the country who are not retired, but who seem to have an awful lot of time on their hands (you know who you are!). And lastly, there is a well-educated and well-informed group of retired Americans and Canadians in Querétaro who really do have the time to read and talk about the issues at one of various cafes around the city.

This is the 21st century, not the 1960s in Africa or the 1970s in Mexico. Folks overseas are not out of touch any more.

What really disappoints me is that Americans are so out of touch with the rest of the world, even if they also have the Internet. The NYT had an editorial on why the US should help Mexico in the drug war, and the response of presumably educated and well-informed NYT readers showed an incredible lack of understanding of the issue, of the US’s interest in the issue, or of the situation in Mexico. This seems to be especially true of people from states along the border who, because of being next to the border, think they know Mexico, but have a twisted idea of what Mexico is all about based on Nuevo Laredo, Tijuana, etc., and maybe Lou Dobbs. Sort of like making conclusions about the US based on Detroit or Brownsville and Lou Dobbs.