The day I ate some alpaca [YQrtw Day 90 Jul 8]

los alpacas

Location: Arequipa, Peru

[The internet at my homestay couldn’t connect last evening so I couldn’t upload this post until today!]

Although today’s main event was my 5-hour long Spanish classes (with breaks in between), I thought you would be more interested in reading about eating alpacas for lunch. I’ll get to school talk soon.

After class, I headed to a restaurant which my teacher recommended. The place didn’t have the Menu of the Day at 2:30pm so I chose something a la carte.

The most interesting items seemed to involve alpaca so I ordered one that was drenched in sweet pepper sauce with some ravioli.

Alpaca steak tastes like gamey beef steak
Alpaca steak tastes like gamey beef steak

The texture of alpaca is a bit like beef–slightly tough. However, the taste is very different from beef.

My dish of alpaca tasted a little like not-so-well prepared mutton. Or as someone on Facebook corrected me, it tasted “gamey” not “smelly”.

Alpaca is definitely not on my list of Best Meats to Eat (TM) and is probably down at the bottom somewhere with crocodile meat.

After my meal, as I walked back to my home stay, I saw two alpacas grazing casually by the roadside. That’s insane!

Cute alapacas grazing
Cute alapacas grazing

Back to school!

I’m taking Spanish classes again in Arequipa. Lessons and accommodation here is definitely cheaper than Buenos Aires. Plus, I get to have one-to-one lessons instead of group lessons.

I was supposed to walk to school (2 freaking miles!) today but the school coordinator and her husband picked me up from my homestay place instead. The morning traffic in Arequipa looked horrible from my view in the car.

I had two different teachers for my lessons. For the first 2 hours, I had Senorita R, the next 2 with Senor J and the last 1 hour with R again.

I think I spoke more broken Spanish in these 5 hours than the whole 1 month and a week that I’ve been in South America. Most of the time, I spoke like this: “I loves to eats Japan food.” “I have a journalist.” or something grammatically, vocabularly incorrect.

Of course it’s all about learning and I’m learning a lot. In fact, I felt like I was learning too much after 2 hours but got into the groove by the 5th hour. I hope that by the end of the week, I’ll be rather good at Spanish. Hopefully.

Preparing for my visa run/ Streets of Buenos Aires [YQrtw Day 69 Jun 15]

papa francesco in argentina

[I wrote this yesterday but forgot to click on Publish. Doh]

Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina

This is the first time during the entire trip that I’m conscious that it is a weekend. Usually everyday jumbles up together since I do not have a routine separating the weekdays from the weekends.

Today, I planned to finish at least 2 days of revision in the morning. Sadly, I had to deal with printing my documents for the US visa application and that took up half of the morning.

I spent another half of the morning reading up on Veelas in the Harry Potter world (I’m now at GoF!) which led to more useless web surfing.

In the morning, I also booked ferry tickets to Colonia del Scaramento, Uruguay, for my very first visa run.

Wait, YQ, you can’t just drop new vocabulary like that into your post and expect us to Google it.That’s just lazy.

Probably not how the Argentina-Uruguay ferry looks like
Probably not how the Argentina-Uruguay ferry looks like

OK OK, I’ll explain. Long term travellers do visa run to extend the length of their visa. The do this visiting another country and coming back to the country of their choice in a short period of time.

Take me for an example, when I arrived in Argentina, the immigration officer gave me a 30-day visa. (I seriously thought it was 90 days. Damn you VisaHQ.)

That 30 day deadline is coming up in 2 week’s time and I will become an illegal alien if I overstay.

However, since I’m applying for a US visa, I suspect that my passport would be kept with the US embassy for at least a week since next Thursday and Friday are public holidays. If I have terrible luck, I might even overstay.

So to extend my visa, I will visit Uruguay. I will get an exit stamp at the Argentine side and a new entry stamp when I come back in the evening.

Thankfully my visa run is just a ferry ride away. I’ve read horror stories such as Juno from Runaway Juno who had to do a 573km visa run.

After concluding my affairs of the morning, I decided to take a walk and visit the second hand book stores my teacher told us about.

Streets of Buenos Aires

Luckily, Ave Corrientes, where the bookshops are, is very near the hostel. I only had to walk about 3 blocks to get there.

Along the way, I snapped a few photos so you can see how Buenos Aires looks like.

Street of Buenos Aires
Street of Buenos Aires
Not so busy street in Buenos Aires
Not so busy street in Buenos Aires
Vandalism or smiley street art?
Vandalism or smiley street art?
Buenos Aires back alleys
Buenos Aires back alleys
Head's up on Buenos Aires's street
Head’s up on Buenos Aires’s street
I spotted this map of Westeros but I do not think the story universe actually looks this neat.
I spotted this map of Westeros but I do not think the story universe actually looks this neat.

Poked fun by a jerk

I browsed through one of the second hand bookstores. It didn’t look like the usual second hand bookstores crammed with books from top to bottom shelf. Instead, the books were arranged in stacks on tables.

There were a lot of interesting books around. I was tempted to get a Book of Myths for Children which had Greek legends but 22 pesos wasn’t something I wanted to spare.

At last, I found a Sweet Valley Twin book. I’m more attached to the Sweet Valley High series but that book was only 3 pesos so I bought it.

At the cashier, I made a language mistake by saying, “Good.” when the cashier said, “Good day.” The other person at the cash register was unkind and asked his friend repeatedly if he asked “Good day” and laughed.

I was rather upset about that. When I left the shop, I kept imagining that I knew enough Spanish to retort, “Well, at least I’m learning another language. What about you?”

Alas, I do not know that much Spanish.

On Ave Corrientes, Ave 9 de Julio

Enough complaining, let’s get back to sightseeing Buenos Aires.

Newstand. I'm very scandalized that they display X-rated books publicly here. Mostly they have covers of half naked women with large breasts.
Newstand. I’m very scandalized that they display X-rated books publicly here. Mostly they have covers of half naked women with large breasts.
La Americana, an empanada place.
La Americana, an empanada place.
Pizza place
Pizza place
From the poster, Camila looks like a scandalously good show.
From the poster, Camila looks like a scandalously good show.
obelisco de buenos aires
obelisco de buenos aires
See that big poster of an Argentinine flag and the pope? It's from the city, to celebrate Papa Francesco's new job.
See that big poster of an Argentinine flag and the pope? It’s from the city, to celebrate Papa Francesco’s new job.

Dinner was another nice meal of home cooked steak with mushrooms. It’s strange that the mushrooms were more expensive than my two rather large pieces of beef.

How was your weekend?

Visit to the colorful La Boca [YQrtw Day 65 Jun 11]

La Boca Buenos Aires

Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina

This morning, I had my first taste of dulce de leche. I had been avoiding it because it came in a box that didn’t look very sanitary.

But I decided to give it a try after Macarena said a restaurant serves very good dulce de leche pasty.

Dulce de leche is a jam-like substance that is muddy brown but tastes of milky caramel. It’s quite nice as a bread spread but between you and I, kaya is much better.

After breakfast, off to Spanish school I went.

Class went well, we learned how to talk about the weather which is very useful as small talk.

La Boca

Same as yesterday, there was an after-school activity. Today’s event was a trip to La Boca.

La Boca, Buenos Aires

Our guide was still Macarena. This time, we were given a sheet of paper with explanation of different important sites in La Boca. The whole sheet was in Spanish. Gulp.

Macarena was around to help with deciphering the sheet. It’s good that I didn’t visit La Boca on my own because I wouldn’t have known the significance of important buildings.

We started at the pier. The water was muddy and didn’t smell so good. On the pavement, there were chalk-drawn games.

One of the games was this box jumping game. Back in Malaysia, we call it 跳飞机(Translation: Jumping from [or is it on] airplanes).


There was also a gigantic tic tac toe which requires people to stand in the little circles. It reminded me of Hogwart’s gigantic chess pieces.

Our tour involved walking into one small lane, being stopped by touts to go sit in their coffee shops, looking at tango shows for tourists and lots of listening.

One surprising thing was that one of the coffee place touts managed to figure out where I was from. It started out with the usual calls of “Ni hao. Annyeong hasseyo” which I ignore.

Suddenly, the guy said, “Malaysia.” I stopped in my tracks, turned to him to give him a thumbs up and a “Muy bien!”

He proceeded to explain why he said Malaysia. “No ‘ni hao’. No ‘annyeong’. No ‘konnichiwa’. Is Malaysia.”

OK. That’s a good deduction, I suppose.

Bit of history of La Boca

La Boca

I’m terrible at recounting history so if you want a proper version, Wikitravel La Boca will be great help.

La Boca used to be the living area of immigrants who found work at the shipyard. They built their houses using left over materials from the boats. The colorful walls were the result of using leftover paint from ship.

Writers and painted moved to La Boca, probably because it was rustic, and the place became a bohemian place.

From what I saw now, La Boca is mainly touristic. It’s a nice place to take photos that say, “Hey, I’ve been to Buenos Aires!”

La Boca Caminito

La Boca's colorful buildings

La Boca's colorful buildings

La Boca's colorful buildings

La Boca's colorful buildings

After La Boca, we took a bus back to the main city area.

At night, I went to a tango show. I’ll tell you more in a separate post.

Would you paint the walls of your house like how they do in La Boca?

1st day of Spanish lesson [YQrtw Day 64 Jun 10]

Fideos Semolados

Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina

One of my goals for South America is to get my Spanish up to conversational level so I signed up for a week of class here in Buenos Aires.

I believe I searched for my school using Foursquare. I really do not like walking in the cold so I figured that my school should be very near where I stay.

Luckily, there was a school on Foursquare. I checked out the place, paid a deposit and became of of their students.

The school is literally opposite my hostel. I only have to go over a crossing to get there. Wonderful.

YQ goes to school

First day of class

My class was small, with only 3 students. Our teacher is Felisitas, who’s younger than I am. Actually, I’m the oldest in class and the youngest is a 19 year old. (NINETEEN!)

Our class started with lessons in the middle of nowhere. We were asked to read a passage on our photocopied textbook (or really just sheets).

I realized that I’ve forgotten almost everything. I don’t remember how to conjugate verbs “to be”, “to have”, to anything, actually. I even have to count on my fingers to get to number 9 which means I probably have to use my toes when counting to 19.

Still it was quite fun, although I do not look forward to memorizing all those new words I learned. Blergh.

After school, one of my classmates brought us to the pizzeria below my hostel for empanadas.

Empanadas are curry puff-like pastries, only it’s much much better. I’m not a big fan of curry puffs because I find them boring. But empanadas are totally different.

The size is about 2 times larger than a regular curry puff. This means more filling. My chicken-filled empanada was bursting with chicken. I fell faint remembering how good it was. I’ll get you a good photo one day.

Tour of the avenue

Our school organizes after-school activities. Today, it was a tour of Avenida de Mayo with Ms Macarena (I am not kidding).

It was less of a tour and more like one hour of intense intermediate Spanish listening lesson.

Ms Macarena spoke at full speed Argentinian (lots of “sh” replacing the usual “y” sounds). I could catch about 20 percent of what Ms M said and was too confused to ask about parts I didn’t understand.

After the tour, I headed to Carrefour for groceries. I am finally cooking, after two months of travelling!

I was planning to make tomato soup but at the supermarket, the tomatos were expensive and half of them look like they were rotting.

Broccoli was much cheaper so that ended up on my menu. I also tossed in a packet of small pasta called Fideos Semolados Ave Maria.

Fideos Semolados
Fideos Semolados

In the first floor kitchen, I manage to make my very first dish: Broccoli soup with pasta.

Based on the other half of broccoli, I’ll be having the same thing tomorrow but maybe I’ll throw in an egg or two.

YQ made brocolli soup
YQ made brocolli soup

Do you cook when you travel? What’s your secret recipe?

I’m joining Bilingual Summer

speak spanish, directions in Spanish
speak spanish, directions in Spanish
Directions in Spanish

Photo by Tom Magliery, source.

Starting June 5, I’ll be in South America for 2 months.

One of my goals for South America is to learn Spanish. That’s why I’m joining the Bilingual Summer suggested by Christine Gilbert.

The Bilingual Summer steps are:

1. Pick a language
> Mine is Spanish.

2. Set an intention to learn it
> I want to have conversational Spanish skills before I leave South America

3. Create an immersive environment this summer full of movies, music, books and other media in that language. Reach out to native speakers on sites like for language exchanges. Find local resources. Be creative.
> I will be in South America. I guess it’s immersive enough unless I lock myself in my room.

4. Do a little bit, at least, every day
> Gulp.

5. Keep yourself motivated, by participating in our summer long language love-fest.
> A dessert after every milestone.

My problem with languages

I have a problem with speaking foreign languages.

I took Japanese and French while I was in school. Even though I can understand what people are saying and I have enough vocabulary, I am unwilling to speak to native speakers because I am afraid that I might butcher their language.

Of course, those are just excuses. I’ll be in South America and everyone would know that I am foreign. Perhaps they will be more forgiving when I pronounce things wrongly.

Will you join Bilingual Summer too?

Hola! Let’s learn Spanish.

Spanish in 30 Days

I’m travelling to South America some time next year and I want to be able to speak Spanish to help me go through life easier.

I went to a Spanish language school a few months back and quite enjoyed it. My four semesters of French made it easier to pick up the language compared to my other classmates who were were thrown into the deep end of the Spanish pool.

Even though the language school has higher level classes, I don’t think I am want to spend about S$300 to improve my Spanish.

Self studying Spanish

What will I do then? I plan to self study.

I’m a fan of self-proclaimed language hacker, Benny Lewis, who evangelizes speaking from day 1.

While I probably won’t be as hardcore as he is buy speaking from day 1, I plan to learn from his methods and do a lot of self studying.

Spanish in 30 Days
I don’t think I will be able to speak Spanish in 30 days.

I’ve borrowed some language books and CDs from the library which I can practise reading and listening from.

For more listening and vocabulary practice, I can check out Spanish versions of pop songs (although I’m not that sure of some of their accents).

I also discovered that my current-favorite TV show/band (Flight of the Conchords) has Spanish dubs. I’ve put up a playlist of Los conchords in Spanish. If I can get my hands on the lyrics, I’ll be able to learn new vocabulary.

If you are interested in laughing out loud to songs, I recommend:
– Fashion is Danger [English | Spanish]
– You Don’t Have to be a Prostitute [English | Spanish]
– Business Time [English | Spanish]

Even though it’s still too early, I have a Spanish version of Bridget Jones’s Diary which I bought second hand while in San Francisco. I have the English version, maybe I can do a side-by-side readings? My goal is to understand at least 50% of the content by the time I leave for South America.

Bridget Jones's Diary, en espanoil
Bridget Jones’s Diary, en espanoil

To end this post, I bring you the only Spanish song I know all the lyrics to.

Indie Travel Challenge
This blog post was inspired by BootsnAll’s Indie Travel Challenge weekly travel blog project.

Week 43 of the Indie Travel Challenge is a challenge to start learning a new language:
Q: Do you speak two languages or more? What are those?
A: Fluent English, Mandarin Chinese and Malay. Conversational Japanese, French.

Check out my other #indie2012 posts.

Do you have any recommendations for beginners in Spanish?

Follow me on Twitter or share a thumbs up on Facebook.


I will be going to Fukuoka and the people there use the Hakata dialect.

I want to learn Hakata-ben. Imagine how funny it will be when I use it elsewhere in Japan.

It’s like when I was in China on student exchange and a girl there spoke English with (what I think is) a Texan accent. It was amazing, hearing a Chinese girl speak like a cowboy. How’dy!

The Hakata-ben was featured in CHANGE as whatshisname (played by Kimura) was from Fukuoka. But it was illogical that he spoke standard Japanese when his mom speaks in Hakata-ben with him. The script writers should have bothered to change his lines.

The other time I’ve heard Hakata-ben was in a movie. The mom talked a lot in Hakata-ben while her daughter replied in mmm… Very good lines, script writer, or were you on strike too?