The Sweep of Nostalgia

The view from my hotel room at the Sheraton hotel in Viña del Mar

Joan Didion once advised you remain on nodding terms with your past. I returned to Chile last week to do just that.

All told, I’ve spent about 9.5 months in the long skinny country, mostly in Santiago, though I’ve been as far south as Patagonia and as far north as the Atacama desert — and most places in between. I was last there in August, 2010.

I returned to Chile for a visit because right now I’m prioritizing depth in my relationships with places and people. And also because I worry about the slow fade of memories, especially the fade of memories associated with important personal and professional experiences (such as beginning work on the book, which happened in Chile).

On my first day back in Santiago, the sweep of nostalgia was strong. Memories started coming back in bursts, like how a Polaroid photo takes shape with a few good shakes. There were things I hadn’t thought about for 15 months; the memories were in my brain somewhere, they just needed to be activated into present consciousness.

It’s funny the little things that you remember upon prompting. When I checked into my hotel in Santiago, I noticed the door handle was similar to that of my old apartment, and so was the lock and key. Door handles and locks are the same everywhere in Chile, but only in Chile. When browsing the shelves looking for a bottle of water, I had forgotten that supermarkets play American pop music hits from 10 years ago. When lying in a park listening to locals chat with each other, I had forgotten about the small idioms and slang that define Chilean Spanish, cachai? When ordering a lunch menú, I had forgotten that you should always order mashed potatoes as a side dish because while Chilean cuisine is on the whole forgettable, its mashed potatoes remain the best in the world.

Mashed potatoes may be a memory held by many, but so much of what I remembered during my trip was utterly personal. There is nothing special about a bench along Av. Andres Bello that looks out across the river to Cerro San Cristobal. Yet I once had an important stream of thoughts while sitting on that bench, so returning to it on a sunny morning while listening to “Catch Me” by Demi Lovato on my iPod was a blast.

When you call upon dormant memories, you change them in the process. You remember the most recent version of your memory + whatever present lens you’re using at the time of recall. In other words, how I changed since I left shaped how I remembered what I once experienced.

Some months ago, I watched saw the beautiful documentary Nostalgia for the Light. It’s about the astronomy done in the Atacama desert in the very north of Chile. Here’s the trailer. The Atacama desert is the driest in the world and the only place on earth with zero humidity year-round. Soon, 95% of the world’s astronomy will be done there. The film juxtaposes the work of scientists in the desert who look to the sky for answers, with old women just miles away who look to the ground for answers, searching for the bones of relatives assassinated by the Pinochet regime and buried in the desert. The film is about the connection between the past and the future, ground and sky. It’s also about memory.

In the film, director and narrator Patricio Guzman says, “Those who have a memory are able to live in the fragile present moment. Those who have none, don’t live anywhere.”

27 de Febrero

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The 5th largest earthquake in history (8.8) struck Chile one year ago, today. La Tercera is doing a bunch of one-year anniversery coverage, including a blow-by-blow that begins at 3:34 AM with a 30 second video of security camera footage. Captures the feeling well. Here's an article in English about the recovery effort a year later in the hardest hit areas.

I just spent an hour reading some articles, looking at old photos, and reflecting on the earthquake and my time in Chile more generally. For a second I couldn't remember the names of either of the main newspapers in Santiago. It's not the first instance I've found myself forgetting details, memories, or Spanish words that I used to know so easily. It's sad to notice memories slipping away. But no matter how much time passes, I know I will never forget el veintisiete de febrero, 2010.

Guilt-Free, Pain-Free Solitude When Abroad

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At a recent dinner with American friends who I met in Chile but who are now back in the States, we went around the table and each of us said what we miss and don't miss about that skinny, long beautiful country in South America.

I said I missed the cheap, plentiful lunch menús; the physical beauty and diversity; the on-time metro in Santiago; the challenge of a foreign language. Most of all, I miss the immense stimulation of day to day living in another country. Just walking down the street most days taught me something.

I said I didn't miss the lack of ethnic diversity; how far away the country is from everything else; the challenge of a foreign language; the lack of English language media and books; the poor customer service in companies. I don't miss sticking out so much — so obviously being from somewhere else. (Though, that also had its attractions.)

One person said something interesting. She said she missed "the loneliness of Chile." She explained.

When you're in a place where you don't know anyone and where you're not expected to know anyone, it's easier to enjoy your own solitude. If you don't want to do anything on the weekends, you don't have to — you aren't getting many incoming calls or text messages. If you don't have anyone to hang out with on the weekends when you do want to, well, that's okay, because after all, you are a million miles away from your home base.

When you're in the city or state or even country where you grew up and speak the language, you're expected to have vibrant relationships, wonderful friends, constant companionship. If you want to be alone, you likely have to deal with inbound social requests or feel guilt about not reaching out to your friends. If you want to hang out with others, but have no one to hang out with, you'll feel lonely. If you want to hang out with others, and do, but find your friends underwhelming or distant, you feel even lonelier. Essentially, when home, your expectations for relationships are higher than they would be when abroad, and it's easier to feel disappointed.

I thought that was the most interesting insight of the dinner.

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To be sure, too much solitude over the long run isn't a good thing, and it's a common problem in long-term expats, I think. See my post Urban Nomadism: The Sources of Unhappiness of Serial Travelers.

Start-Up Chile: $40k to Live There and Start a Company

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Governments round the world are trying to stimulate entrepreneurship. The Chilean government recently announced a bold initiative that stands apart from the usual innovation and start-up handwaving. They are seeking two dozen entrepreneurs who want to move to Santiago for six months to get their company off the ground. The Ministry of Economy will give you US $40,000, take care of your immigration stuff, set you up with local entrepreneurs and mentors, bank accounts, and temporary office space. You do not have to stay in Chile beyond the six months, although their hope is that you do, or at least keep a satellite office or development team in Santiago. In a nutshell: you are being paid to live in Chile for six months to work on your business. All you have to do is apply on the Start-Up Chile web site with info about your background and business idea.

Several people have emailed me about this program. My basic take is that it’s a great deal for young entrepreneurs who need to put their heads down and build a prototype. Beyond the seed funding, you enjoy a lower cost of living — perfect for a bootstrapping coder. Plus, as loyal blog readers know, Santiago is a great city for work and play, replete with enough interesting entrepreneurs and investors to keep you stimulated. Actions speak louder than words: I lived in Santiago for eight months.

The big downside of Start-Up Chile, assuming you’re not targeting Chile or the Latin America market, is you are leaving your customers, partners, and potential investors, whose feedback is especially important in the early days. Skype can only take you so far when it comes to customer development and fundraising. Plus, Chile is as far away as anywhere — SFO-Santiago takes longer than SFO-Tokyo. English print media such as the Economist and the FT do not distribute to Chile. Of course it’s easy to read news online, but this is telling of Chile’s isolation and small population (and even smaller English speaking population). Don’t think you’ll fly back and forth like you would to and from Mexico.

Despite its obvious limits, Start-Up Chile is a terrific opportunity for many high-tech entrepreneurs. It should also be a point of interest for other countries looking to foster innovation — does this rather large investment of taxpayer money actually increase local entrepreneurship in the long-run? Can outsiders effectively infect the culture with their entrepreneurial impulses? Time will tell, but I am not surprised in the least that it is Chile leading the way with this high-risk, high-reward approach.

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I recently wrapped up my eight month adventure living in Santiago. I am proud to have fulfilled my goal of living in another country for a meaningful amount of time — a goal first set on my 18th birthday. Although I did not achieve fluency in Spanish (for various reasons to be explained later), I do know probably six or seven thousand words in Spanish, I got around the city fairly easily, and I could read a major newspaper cover to cover.

I experienced three historic events while there. First was the election of Sebastian Piñera, the first president not of the Concertacion political party which had ruled Chile since Pinochet. I remember the campaign, the debate, and the honking in the streets all night after the votes were tallied. Second, the fifth-largest earthquake in history shook the country on the 27th of February. I have distinct memories of that night and the subsequent days. The looting on television, the empty grocery store in my neighborhood, the aftershocks that continued for weeks and weeks, tsunami warnings, and virtually every news report referencing el terremoto del veintisiete de febrero. Third, The Chilean soccer team won two big games in the World Cup for the first time in 50 years. The country was captivated and it was hard not to be swept up in the fervor.

Chile will always carry a special place in my heart. It is a physically beatuiful country and singularly diverse in its various landscapes. The people are hard-working and kind. Its economic success is remarkable. It takes a certain patience and perspective to appreciate a city like Santiago compared to its flashy neighbor, Buenos Aires. But I like its underratedness. Of course there are things I do not miss about being there; it is an imperfect country. The flaws do not outweigh my fundamental fondess and admiration for the place. Un gran abrazo a todos mis amigos en Chile.

Fall Becomes Winter in Chile

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You only know a city if you've seen it change.

Cities change like any living organism. For the change to be welcome and invigorating — and not jarring — it needs to happen at a pace that allows you to witness and process it and yet through it all still feel like most of what's around you is familiar.

This is what is happening to me in Santiago. Most things feel the same. The same panhandlers in the same places. Same metro stops, same doormen, same American 80's music played at the supermarket. There are churrascos, empanadas, sopaipillas, jugos naturales. The mountains still envelop the city on a clear day.

But there is just enough change that I cannot forget this is a city with a pulse in a part of the world with four seasons. When I arrived in November I lived in shorts and sandals and sat at my desk shirtless. A good Saturday would be ice cream in Plaza de Armas in the sun, followed by lying around Parque Santa Lucia watching the stray dogs wander about, and perhaps a McPollo at McDonald's before las once. Campaign ads for Frei and Piñera and Marco covered the streets. My go-to lunch placed served a good menú ejecutivo for 2,200 pesos.

Now the shorts are gone and sweatpants in. It's too cold to sit outside for long periods of time. Many dogs, even the homeless ones, wear sweaters, which is cute. Piñera is president. The lunch place has raised their price to 2,600 pesos so I've found a new joint. McDonald's is now advertising the Big Mac not the McPollo.

The "Earthquake of February 27th" doesn't dominate the news, and the cars no longer have spray painted patriotic messages of "¡Fuerza Chile!" as was the case in the weeks after the quake. Chile's spot in the international news scene came and went in about a week's time. It's back to being that long skinny country in South America that makes wine.

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I still learn new things about this culture almost every day.

I learn about maids / cleaning ladies. Everybody has maids. Even poor college kids. The maid comes once or twice a week for a full day even if your tiny apartment could be cleaned in two hours. She cooks and washes your clothes. My gym has two full-time maids who clean and clean and clean the same floor over and over. A combination of cheap labor and culture? I hear it's this way throughout Latin America.

I learn about how small this country is. 16 million people in total! I feel like every other person I talk to knows the President personally.

I learn that general low trust among the people manifests in different ways. Every house is behind a gate or fence. Nobody moves to the center of the train on the subway. Landlords prefer to rent to foreigners.

I learn that Chile is both modern and advanced (the most competitive economy in the region) but also backwards. It has the lowest percentage of women in the workforce of any Latin America country — 48%. Abortion remains illegal. As says the guidebook cliche for virtually every country in the world: "It's a fascinating contrast of old and new."

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I'm sitting in a hotel room in La Serena on a mini-vacation, in norte chico, about 5.5 hours north of Santiago. Tyler Cowen told me before I left that he was in La Serena 20 years ago and it was a very nice town. It's true. I'm now experiencing a weird kind of flash-forward nostalgia, envisioning the day when I tell someone that I visited La Serena 20 years ago and that it was a very nice town.

I leave Chile at the end of July and I'm already getting wistful.

The Atacama Desert

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Last week I spent five nights in the Atacama Desert in the north of Chile. It is beautiful, remote, relaxing, and very much worth visiting during a trip to the southern cone.

Atacama is the driest desert in the world. In some parts, there has been no recorded rainfall since recording began. It looks and feels like a bigger, grander, sandier version of the Grand Canyon and Utah canyons, though grander only by a bit.

The town of San Pedro was erected in the middle of the desert to service tourists. It's not as cheesy a town as it could be, and does a nice job providing basic infrastructure and tours to see the desert, canyons, and sand mountains. The food in San Pedro was surprisingly good. There were many excellent menús to choose from — the set, three course meals is how you eat well and cheaply in Chile (and all of Latin America).

There are three main tours to do in Atacama. Two involve early wake-ups (4 and 6 AM, respectively) which ruled them out for us. That left an afternoon hiking tour through a moon-like landscape followed by a view of the sun setting behind mountains way out in the distance. We watched it perched on a top of a rock formation. Beautiful. The rest of the time we lounged around the hotel pool and enjoyed the still, dry desert air.

The most annoying part of San Pedro is the stray dogs. They sleep by day, and wander the streets by night. They bark and growl and make so much noise that they keep you up at night, even if your hotel is far away. Mostly, it's rape. Male dogs pinning female dogs and trying to have their way. Yelps and barks ensue. I know: I saw this happen more than once up-close. Why don't poor countries more aggressively neuter dogs?

My friend Steve Dodson visited Chile for a couple weeks and we went up there together. After our epic swing through Argentina last summer, a reunion was in order. We had a blast. We chatted for several hours each day, sometimes shooting the shit, sometimes discussing a set topic around which there was structure. About a fourth of the time we discussed relationships (generally), a fourth on business / entrepreneurship / finance, a fourth blogging / information diet, and a fourth other stuff. Thanks to our conversations I must issue a retroactive and prospective hat tip to Steve for helping me think through a handful of blog posts.

I recommend visiting the Atacama Desert on your trip to Chile. A good southern cone trip would involve visiting B.A., Valparaiso, Atacama, Iguazu Falls, and Patagonia if you have time / money. Don't forget little Uruguay, too.

This Week’s Newsweek

There are four articles of note in the latest Newsweek magazine.

1. I wrote a brief personal piece on Chile. I mention other natural disasters that preceded Chile and conclude:

The anonymity then of death tolls, my lack of proximity, and the fact that I wasn't sending or receiving "Are you OK?" e-mails made it easy to think in broad, analytical strokes. But now I'm thinking about people, places, and details. I'm trying to track down friends I haven't heard from, and I'm afraid of what I might find out. I have images of driving on roads and bridges that are now destroyed. When I saw footage of looters ravaging supermarkets during other disasters, I blindly condemned them; I thought, how could this be all right? Now I'm deeply conflicted watching interviews with old Chilean women emerging from broken supermarkets, dodging tear gas, and shrieking into the camera, "I don't have water, I don't have food—what do you expect me to do?" The lessons I'm learning are not necessarily intellectual or academic; they are about empathy.

A few days after the quake, I ate dinner at my favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant, just down the street from my apartment. For the first time, my usual waiter initiated a conversation with me. He asked how I was doing and how I was feeling in light of all that had happened. Normally he doesn't bother trying to decipher the broken Spanish of a gringo. But the bond of our shared experience—for the moment, anyway—transcended language barriers. We all know the clichés: common challenges unite uncommon people; humanity knows no borders, etc., etc. But those maxims really do come to life when life itself is at its most tenuous.

2. Jacob Weisberg takes Obama to task for his vague "it's not the size of government that matters, but whether it works" mantra. Size matters.

3. Robert Samuelson wonders when Millennials will wake up and smell the coffee about the dismal economic situation they are inheriting. Will there be a generational revolt against the Baby Boomers who left us holding the bill? I'm thinking of Buckley's Boomsday.

4. The cover piece is about why bad teachers need to be fired from schools. Aka: Teachers unions are as selfish and reckless as ever. Kind of old news by now….

Pick up the issue at newsstands everywhere!

Update from Chile

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Folks, we will return to regular programming here soon, and I want to talk at some point about the Chile situation more broadly, but let me quickly address some issues as the day-to-day developments unfold:

1. I want to stress the vast differences in conditions that exist right now within the country. If you walked down Av. Providencia in Santiago you would be hard-pressed to see that anything had happened. There's utter normalcy. To be sure, some sidewalks are portioned off with caution tape, some buildings have visible damage, and my local supermarket is essentially empty. But on the whole I view Santiago as more or less back to normal. I am totally safe and have access to food, water, internet, power, etc.

2. What are you seeing on TV are images of Concepción, the largest city near the epicenter. It's about 350 miles south of Santiago. The situation in Concepción is deteriorating. Citizens have taken up arms to protect themselves and their stores from looters. My understanding is that most people still do not have access to water, food, power, etc. The Army is running the city, certain constitutional guarantees have been suspended, and as of yesterday there was an 8 PM to 12 noon curfew in place. Yesterday I was in a cafe eating a churrasco and all of us sitting there were watching footage from Concepción and thinking, "Is that a different country?"

3. In the view of several commentators here the government deployed military assets too late. Tanks began rolling into Concepción late Sunday night, nearly 48 hours after the first quake. By the time troops had arrived, chaos had already gripped the city. The government also stupidly advised citizens near the coast to return home after the quake; fortunately the people knew better as a tsunami came shortly thereafter and caused more damage. There have been other complaints about government's ineptitude. This will be clearer in time.

4. The damage and loss of life will not rival the situation in Haiti. Not even close. I have had some awkward conversations with people who are uncertain about how they should think about Chile vis-a-vis Haiti. Haiti is worse and needs more help. That said, most of us don't volunteer or give to charity based on greatest need — we do so for selfish reasons. I have spent no time personally trying to help Haiti. I have donated no money. I have, by contrast, both invested a lot of time in the Chile situation and donated money to relief efforts. I have obvious emotional interests in Chile.

5. Chile does need help. It is now asking for international aid and receiving it. It's up to each person to decide if and how they want to help. If you want to donate money specifically to Chile relief, I recommend this reputable organization. If you speak Spanish I would also recommend Un Techo Para Chile.

6. The best news coverage is in Spanish. Try La Tercera.

7. I appeared by video Skype on the CBS Early Show yesterday morning and talked Chile for a minute or so. Embed below.

Experiencing the 8.8 Earthquake in Chile

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This is a blow-by-blow dispatch of my Saturday. In subsequent posts I will offer a more analytical take on everything. Photos are from this incredible set of images on Boston.com of devastation in Chile.

At 1:45 AM on Saturday, February 27th, I slunk into bed. It had been a loud night. My neighbors had hosted a raucous birthday party which called for several renditions of Feliz Cumpleaños and various dance songs. Despite the noise, I actually enjoyed the festive atmosphere. Before turning out the light I read Isabel Allende's latest book, My Invented Country, a memoir about her growing up in Chile and eventually re-settling in California. She discusses the similarities of the two places. I read until 2:20 AM and then turned off the light and fell fast asleep with my windows open and the summer Santiago air breezing over me.

At 3:34 AM I awoke to my entire apartment shaking violently. My bed creaked and I heard a vase of flowers in my kitchen fall over. I did not mentally process or consciously think of anything, not even "earthquake," but I had an instinct to walk over to my desk and grab my laptop. [I'm not what it says that my first thought was to protect my laptop, but there you go.] Propped up on a stand I feared it would fall over the desk and break, and indeed it was going to do so shortly had I not grabbed it. I stood clutching my laptop. A sliding French style door that separates my living room / desk area from bedroom moved and hit me, so I backed up and leaned against the wall for support. The shaking continued for a bit more time and then stopped and everything was silent and dark. The power had gone out in my building so all white noise and power lights: gone. I heard no screams or sounds or anything. Just total black silence.

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I put my laptop on the floor and got back into bed. The utter silence and stillness made it easy to fall asleep, and I suspect I was snoring away by 4 AM. Not long after, I awoke to shaking. This time it felt even more intense though technically reports show it was *only* a 6.3 size quake. My bed really rocked and seconds later I heard sirens outside. My power was still out. This is when I started getting scared.

After the second major aftershock ended, there was a joyous albeit brief stretch of stillness, and I heard my neighbor say, Gracias por Dios, Gracias por Dios. Then it started again. My bed gently rolled back and forth seemingly without stop, like I was in a boat on an ocean. I convinced myself my mind was playing tricks on me. Seriously. I pulled the sheets over me and tried to go back to sleep. But the sirens were non-stop.

I gave up on sleep and waited for my power to come back on. By 8 AM my power was on but internet down. I watched the local news reports about the earthquake. CNN was broadcasting exclusively Chile quake coverage. I realized this was going to be an international news story and that I needed to communicate my status to friends and family.

At 9 AM I walked out of my building in Providencia with my laptop searching for a free wi-fi signal. There was rubble and broken glass on every street but I did not see any major building damage. In an alleyway behind my street I found a free "dlink" network with a weak but working signal. My inbox showed a dozen "Are you OK?" notes — I would receive about 200 of those emails throughout the course of the day. I fired off some "Yes I'm fine" emails and then posted my first tweet of the day: "Friends, thanks for all your notes. I am safe in Santiago. It was a terrifying night. I am happy to be alive. More updates later."

Throughout the day I used Twitter to post updates. There are few English language people in Chile posting updates, including official journalists. The BBC has always been understaffed in Latin America. The New York Times' coverage was and continues to be astonishingly bad (they're still filing from Rio de Janeiro). LA Times is filing from Bogota. As a result, my tweets got picked up by lots of media outlets who asked if I could comment on the on-the-ground situation. I did interviews with the AP, BBC, and a live video interview with CNN in the afternoon. My main goal in the interviews was to dilute some of the usual media hysteria over natural disasters: most of the country has power, I said, most of the telecom is working, there is no looting, etc.

In the late afternoon, I walked around my neighborhood a bit more. The sky was a gray haze from a supposed chemical fire that had started downtown. Nevertheless, I was amazed at the tranquility of Santiago. Public buses full of people passed by. Cars drove calmly. People chatting on the streets. I ate dinner at my favorite local restaurant and it was full of people. Much of the rubble and glass I had seen earlier had already been picked up. The scene was such a contrast from the images on TV. I know what I saw was a million times better than what the scene is like more north in Santiago, or especially in Concepción and along the coast. Still it's a reminder that it's hard to generalize about a situation in an entire country, let alone in one city.

I went to bed at 9 PM having not slept since 4 AM. I wondered whether my bed would start to shake. It didn't. All was calm. I fell into a dreamless sleep.

I was woken at around 8:25 AM Sunday morning to another vigorous aftershock. According to one count, the 67th aftershock since the first nearly 24 hours earlier.

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A Smattering of Impressions from Chile

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(Santiago in the morning)

I have been living in Santiago for about two months and I've learned a great deal about the country. Below are a smattering of impressions and lessons.

Chile as Catholic country. Abortion is still illegal here and divorce was too until only recently. Gay couples do not even have domestic partnership rights. But it's not as Catholic as people think. The elite are Catholic, but "the masses" are not as much. I have not yet met a Chilean under 30 years old who fervently believes in religion. Most go to church to appease their parents. The current president Bachelet is technically agnostic (read: atheist) and she's been separated three times and has three children from two men. I foresee a continued weakening of the church which is good thing inasmuch as it paves the way for more liberal policies on social issues and a more entrepreneurial, free-thinking culture.

Historical legacy. How do you feel about Pinochet? Ask an educated Chilean this question and be prepared for a range of answers. Pinochet's legacy in Chile is complicated and it is hard to find sources who can assess his pros and cons objectively. Older folks sport scars of his brutal military dictatorship. When you personally know someone killed by the dictatorship, you don't much care about economics — Pinochet is evil. Younger people, enjoying the economic success of the past few decades, tend to be more sympathetic to Pinochet, whose free-market economic policies are frequently cited as the cause of today's prosperity. Here's Tyler Cowen's solid analysis of how good Pinochet was, really, for the Chilean economy.

Santiago. It's a top-notch city. My neighborhood, Providencia, is probably my favorite of any neighborhood I've been in, ever. The metro is world-class. Drivers are sane. It has gotten a great deal more cosmopolitan in the last 10 years and as such you can find cuisine and culture from all over. Where Santiago falls short is night life, or so I'm told — to me the night life is plenty good, but there are probably a few less all-night clubs than in Buenos Aires. Santiago is just as beautiful as B.A. and of course it is much safer and less corrupt. Colombians and Mexicans I know call Santiago "boring." It is less chaotic than Mexico City and more predictable than Bogota but it is not boring.

Food. Chileans eat more bread than anyone else in the world. A local told me this and I believe it. One kilo of bread a day. It is hard to get vegetables or decent salad at a cheap restaurant. Chileans have the best mashed potatoes in the world (puré). Peruvian food is the best in the Hemisphere and there are many good Peruvian restaurants in Santiago. Tres leches might be a cliched Latin desert but it is so tasty. It is impossible to buy fresh milk in Chile which is a disaster. Traditional Chileans do not eat breakfast or dinner (other than bread and butter); they eat only a very big lunch. Avocado accompanies everything, including the delicious McPollo Italiano at McDonald's.

Not being in control. Traveling and living abroad requires ceding a lot of control in day-to-day life. Even if you want to exercise control, you can't, because of language problems or cultural barriers. I like to be in control, but I don't mind being forced to go with the flow from time-to-time, especially if it results in greater cultural insight. I'd say a good 60% of the time I do not know what I am ordering at restaurants. Thankfully I eat anything. When in doubt — which is often — I answer questions in Spanish that I do not understand with "No." When someone asks me when I do, I say escritor because it's easier to pronounce than any other word that would be appropriate.

The country is not very diverse. Yet I'm told there are low levels of trust among the people. This is counterintuitive: usually diversity means less trust, homogeneity more trust. While there's probably no safer place in South America in terms of violent crime, petty crime has been on the rise in Chile, and this may engender some of the mutual distrust.

The power of a model. A Chilean soccer trainer is now working for Real Madrid. Before no one would have believed a Chilean could be training an elite European soccer team. Now, with even just one example, they see it to be possible. This is what the country needs in the way of entrepreneurs: models. Examples. Some big exits. In America you can dream of being Steve Jobs or Larry Page or Dave Packard. There are no such entrepreneurial icons here.

Chile is far, far away. I can get to Asia faster than to Chile from San Francisco. Chile is surrounded by the Andes to the east, desert to the north, Antarctica to the south, and ocean to the west. Before air travel the country was fairly isolated (it still is). This might contribute to the country's relatively few immigrants (other than Germans in the south) and general close-mindedness to foreigners. Chileans paint a charitable picture of how isolation built national character: the people who did get here suffered and endured more than usual to arrive in Chile and they are used to working hard and overcoming obstacles.

Sometimes when I meet long-time expats I think about my post Urban Nomadicism. I recently met an American ex-pat who's been here for 15 years or so. I could feel the emptiness of someone without roots. He said he recently visited the U.S. and when he called a tech support number he got transferred to someone in India! Shocked! (By the way, here's an outstanding piece on how hard serous romance is with someone who speaks a different native language.)

The country needs better branding / marketing. Economists know about Chile's economic success, but beyond that the only thing that comes to mind to uninformed Americans I talk to is that Chile's the place with that funky, lanky geographic shape. Buenos Aires is the hipper Southern Cone capital city; Patagonia is not seen as uniquely Chilean, and it's not; the Atacama desert and Easter Island are low-profile; and other than wine there are no famous Chilean exports. (Yes there's salmon and copper and others but people don't know about them.)

Sebastian Piñera: He was elected President a couple weeks ago. It marks the end of 20 years of rule of the concertacion in Chile. Piñera is of the right-wing and made billions in the credit card and airlines industries, and yet strengthening the social safety net and accounting for the lower and middle class figured prominently in his campaign. Likewise, the left-wing candidates did not propose altering the fundamentals of Chile's numerous free trade agreements or its privatized industries. So none of the candidates would have brought major changes to Chile.

Here are two other posts of mine on Chile summarizing lessons and impressions. Here's a good Weekly Standard piece on Piñera's victory.