Valor, toros y mas

14 02 2011

All manner of developments since my last post. First off, my work these days has been mostly on a seminar that we are leading for a group of about 10 engineers from several of the business units at my center. It is really an experience – 8 hours every Friday for almost 3 months. In Spanish. Holy crap. We just had the 4th one this past Friday. The overall point of the seminar is to help the participants develop action plans for reaching their individual business units’ goals- over the long term, these mostly include migrating from being a producer of prototypes and various kinds of technical equipment to being a more value-added partner to help their clients solve bigger technical challenges. But we realized pretty quickly that there were some gaps in understanding business value and the value chain generally, and how our solutions contribute to the client’s business at a high level. So we kind of started there, and that’s a lot of what I’ve developed and presented material on. Not difficult to talk about in English of course, but a pretty different matter to do so in a language you don’t really speak. I have led several parts of the seminars and have actually felt reasonably good about getting across what I’m trying to say – but understanding the comments, questions, etc from the participants is another story. So it is a good challenge..

This idea of market understanding is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. It really reminds me that Americans for better or worse have raised marketing to an art form. In terms of getting people to buy stuff they don’t necessarily want, but are compelled by the message, or the circumstances or something. Here, it seems like a lot of people in business think about the product first, and how or whether their customers want it, later- certainly there’s a lot of this in the states too.  But I think here its one reason you see people in the centro walking around trying to sell a really random assortment of products – ‘Would you like to buy a change purse’ – ‘Would you like to buy a bonsai tree’ (I took the guy up on that one) ‘Would you like to buy a bedside table’, ‘Would you like to buy a yellow rubber chicken’ no kidding- I took him up on that one too. There are a lot of issues of basic economics wrapped up in this – lack of immediate access to any better retail environment etc. Of course some people get together and have little stalls at the mercado, the alameda, etc. Its interesting what people will do to make money. A different but I think related phenomenon is the similar clusters of stores you see. This certainly happens in the states to some degree (ie NYC the garmet district, the flower district, the former electronics district, but it seems to be going away and I think is pretty rare in other cities.) But here I can’t figure out why the districts have formed the way they have. Like there’s a street with nothing but stores selling used electronic parts – chargers, batteries, cables etc. Or the area with a bunch of musical instrument stores, or auto parts. Why couldn’t those stores be more spread out so they weren’t totally competing with each other? Its interesting.

Last night, I went to a party here in town and met some interesting folks. One Mexican dude who actually lived in Atlanta for 7 years, and just moved back here a couple years ago. Kinda fun comparing Atlanta stories – we agreed we’re both pretty happy to be here in Qro.. Also met an American who is teaching English here who is RPCV Cameroon. He had some good stories about living there, taking monthly trips into the capital 2 hours away for money, supplies, etc. Different from my experience to say the least. He said they had 12 people drop out during training! Including a couple of vegans who apparently thought serving in Africa would be some kind of earth-mother granola eating paradise. Which surprisingly it wasn’t. We didn’t have anyone drop out except Nancy of course, who had a family emergency back home. We do have some PCVs here living in pretty rural, basic situations for sure. But as far as I know, we still haven’t had anyone leave. Anyway, more evidence that there are lots and lots of different PC experiences.

The band is still going well. Finally figured out how to get to practice on the bus, it took 2 buses actually. We’re supposed to have a couple shows next weekend- one near Guadalajara and one in DF. And it looks like we may have some more interesting stuff coming up, maybe a couple tours. Also apparently Amnesty Int’l or somebody is trying to put on a big show up in Bernal with 1000+ people. I think we’ll probably play it if it happens.

Also, a couple weeks ago I went to the bull fights. I went with a few friends and it was quite an experience. At the time, I actually kind of enjoyed it, but have thought about it a lot since and am no longer so bullish on it (sorry.) It is kind of exciting – first, they put up a sign that gives a bit of info about the bull: its name, weight, etc. These things were mostly in the 420-470kg vicinity, about 1000 lbs. So they are big. Then one comes out and tears around the ring. There’s a few guys on foot with little capes who try to attract and rile up the bull, and then they duck behind little barriers when the bull gets close. After a few minutes of this, the bullfighter on horseback comes out to much applause, and he acknowledges the crowd, waves his hat etc. At this event, there were 3 bullfighters and they took turns in the ring. Each one had a different but equally ridiculous outfit on. A couple of them looked like they were refugees from the court of Louis XVI. They all followed the same pattern – they would have a sword which seemed to have a detachable handle. They would then ride their horse close to the bull, stick their sword in its back, and break the handle off. Usually the sword would stay in its back, sometimes it would fall out. They would repeat this about a half dozen times, all while trying to rile up (and hence tire out) the bull, by getting their horse almost within range of the bull’s horns. Of course, these horses can move a heckuva lot faster than any bull, so I don’t think the horses are really in much danger, much less the bullfighters. I can imagine there are accidents where the horses get hurt, but hey, when you’re killing 15 bulls in a day for fun, what’s a couple injured horses? Anyway, after getting a few swords in their back, the bulls are really bleeding and getting tired. The bullfighters then start doing things that seem more and more daring to get the crowd excited. Like circling really close to the bull, stabbing it over their shoulder, putting their elbows on the bull’s nose – no kidding. Finally, they get to their last sword. It seems that one of the tricks is to know when the bull is about to fall over. One guy timed it quite amazingly – stuck in his last sword and jumped off his horse, faced the bull and kind of dared it to attack. But instead it fell over. The bullfighter of course went crazy like it was the most skillful performance ever- it did look a little like he did the jedi mind trick on this bull. But of course the bull was exhausted and bleeding like crazy from half a dozen swords stuck in its back. I guess I sound a bit cynical about the whole thing. At first I kind of liked it, but the more I watched the more lame I found it. First of all, its kind of boring – each of the 3 bullfighters do almost exactly the same thing, over and over again- rile up a bull, stab it, tire it out, kill it. It would have been somewhat better if there was a timer or something that would have made it a competition between the bullfighters or something- like who can kill their bull the fastest, to give them a motivation to take some risks. Or maybe put a couple bulls in the ring at the same time. That might be interesting. But as is, its certainly nothing like a sport – really its a barbaric circus. Unlike fishing or hunting, there is no doubt about the outcome- at the end there will be a dead bull and a showboating bullfighter. It gets old.

The crowd was kind of interesting – definitely a lot of rich folks getting all dolled up. Lots of cigar smoking, gold chains and chest hair. And cowboy hats. I have no data to back this up but I imagined there could have been a lot of narcos in the crowd- it seemed like the kind of spectacle they might go for.

All in all, I thought it was pretty terrible. Boring and brutal- a lot of the worst of humanity in one convenient event. I think it was actually the first element of Mexican culture that has really turned me off. I can’t blame it completely on Mexico as of course its originally Spanish. And some of my Mexican friends have told me how much they dislike it. But its advertised like crazy here and the place was packed (and I don’t think with Spaniards), so Mexicans have definitely seemed to make it their own. I don’t expect I’ll be back.

Finally, here’s a post I wrote a couple weeks ago but never posted, mostly about the holidays- unfortunately without internet at home, I don’t get as many opportunities to post as I would like. But I think this may be good too- it forces me out of the house when I might be inclined to sit home and surf;)

I realize the last time I wrote I was about to head out for Xmas holiday, which was a lot of fun. Went to Guadalajara for a few days, which is Mexico’s second biggest city after DF. Definitely a busy place- the day before Xmas the centro was packed. Stayed with a friend of Rob’s named Memo- a former PCV who decided to stay in GDL and buy a place after he finished his service. He’s got a massive place not far from the centro- probably 7 bedrooms, plus a couple extra, one with ping-pong- I was happy. Anyway, on Xmas eve we bummed around the centro and saw the sights, then had a great Xmas night dinner- the Dyes live right around the corner, and Brian S is not far away either. So it was a big PCV dinner, including the Dyes’ kids who had come down from the states. Played the requisite party games and had a great time. On the way back to Qro, I stopped in Leon and spent the day with Rox and Fa, a couple girls I had met with Ryan and Jake at the Cervantino fest a couple months ago. They were great hostesses for the day and showed me around Leon. Its a town that’s known for its leather products, but unfortunately most all the stores were closed the couple days after Xmas that I was there.

Then spent a pretty chill NYE in Qro with Mel and Manny- the roof of Sumeria (which is seeing some major improvements lately) is a great place for fireworks and tequila…

Other interesting news over the holidays was that I played a couple shows with the new band AC/LN. Had a ton of fun- the first was close to Qro in a little pueblito called La Canada. It was at a sort of community center called El Aquacate (the Avocado) and when all was said and done, there probably were 100 kids of so. Really a lot of fun- before our set I also sat in with the preceding band- a kind of ska/blues thing. Also a good bunch of musicos. A couple weeks later we had another show, back up in the farm town of La Griega- I don’t know how its happened but I’ve now played 2 barns in that town. Probably a couple hundred or so kids and a fun set.

Also a few weeks ago, Sarah, Rob and I cruised down to DF and had a very worthwhile trip. Met with some folks at the US Commerce Dept and got some good ideas about networking within the Mexican govt and companies, and helping the Ciateq crew do the same. Also went out for happy hour with a bunch of folks from the embassy- a nice bunch, who were very friendly to us hippy PCVs! I’m sure I’ll see some of them again when next I’m down in DF. And I learned a bit more about the whole state dept scene- not sure, but could be an interesting next project…

And work has been interesting and busy. Rob managed to get his Performance Improvement Project approved, which started last Friday. Its basically a course for about 12 of Ciateq’s top engineers – officially we’re helping them identify high value technology to commercialize, but at the end of the day its really a course on how to to identify and pursue market opportunities. Last Fri was about 5 hours, and I led about a 90 minute activity on identifying personal and professional successes – in Spanish. Despite a few speedbumps, everything got done and I think it was actually pretty successful. From here on, the course will be 8 hours every Friday for the next 9 weeks- will be interesting to see how it unfolds but so far I think its a good project, and I think I have a few things to say on the subject.

And last weekend a bunch of us went out for Zulema’s bday – she had a big crew over to Wings Army, and then to a Nortena club called La Yunta- a lot more dancing than I really expected but it was some good times. Thanks to Z I think I learned a few things- will have to keep practicing. And there were a few PCVs in town last weekend so it was fun to catch up.

So that’s the latest – hasta la proxima vez..


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5 responses

14 02 2011
Lisa

I love hearing about you playing music in Mexico. So cool. And the pics are great. Keep up the good work over there. Do you have a Spanish tutor? Are you studying at night? It’s the only way, my friend …. 🙂

23 02 2011
thezollersystem

Thanks for the note Lisa! And no, I need to get one. Fortunately PC just approved a bit of $ for it- they aren’t cheap!

14 02 2011
Mom

Thoroughly enjoyed your post and pix. The detail about your observations re: work and your teaching and the bull-fighting is so thoughtful. I had told Cathy J. about the bullfight and she mentioned the “picaderos” (?) whose goal with their swords, she said, is to cut some tendons and/or muscles in the neck so the bull’s head drops, and makes what appears to be charging about the only action the bull can take. I think I agree with your ultimate assessment of this activity.

What amazing adventures you’re having!

14 02 2011
Cathy J

LOVED the pix of Guadalajara..did you go to mariachi plaza? Re: bull fight – Read “Or I’ll Dress You in Mourning”..the story of El Cordobes whose posters were all over Mexico when I lived there. ..review: “The authors of Is Paris Burning?(Collins & Lapierre) trace the rise of matador El Cordobes from anonymous, impoverished boyhood to fame and multimillionairedom… In the small Andalusian town of Palma del Rio ruled by the autocratic landowner Don Felix Moreno, a ragged boy saw a stereotyped film of bullfighting that changed his life. He fought Moreno’s bulls by moonlight until, to avenge public humiliation for orange stealing, he killed his seed bull and was exiled; there followed the years of struggle as one more malctilla trying to make it. Finally Rafael, Sanchez, Manolete’s manager, pawned the family jewels to bring him into the arena – at Palma. “I’ll either buy you a house or dress you in mourning,” he told his sister Angetita. The saga of El Cordobes’ emergence is framed by his great Madrid debut in the rain against half-blind Impulsivo.”

23 02 2011
thezollersystem

Thanks for your note Cathy, haven’t been to mariachi plaza in GDL, will have to go on my next trip. And check out that book too. Hope you’re well!

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