Tuesday, May 15, 2012


The language barrier so far on day to day basis has proved very frustrating. Very few people here in Monterrey that i have come across speak English. Although i am learning latin american spanish, at first it was hard to get my head and mouth around  the local dialect. Latin american spanish consists of complicated grammar, verbs and phrases that will make your head spin. One vowel or consonant difference can mean the difference between an insult and asking for directions. Its this which can become very frustrating to someone trying to learn spanish.

 However Latin American Spanish is very widely spoken and its certainly an advantage to have it in your arsenal. From the USA to Mexico and all of South america with the exception of a few states such as Brazil. From it you can easly learn Brazilian Portuguese and Italian so im told. There has been certain days when its been easy to communicate with the locals, suprising even myself with how much I've learn't and other days when i wish id never opened my mouth. Most of the billboards or advertisements i see i can work out. Newspapers are slightly harder and mexican soap opreas are a nightmare as the actors/actress's speak very quickly. So normally im religated to watching sesame street or films with english subtitles. When speaking to spanish speaking people, there is a very big clue they dont understand you..it usually involves a complete and utter blank look followed by silence. At this point i usually throw a quick "Lo siento, Yo soy ingles, mi espanol es malo" (im sorry im english my spanish is bad) This certainly doesn't excuse the awful spanish but they certainly understand why its bad. There comes a time when you mix spanish and English and you get Span-glish and in this i am fluent !!!. 
Being an English man in northern Mexico there are pro's and con's. One of the latter is people automatically presume your American with money. Mainly due to the light skin and light features. Which has caused me at least one problem so far. However as long as you stick to the nice areas its not normally an issue. So far ive been embraced by the localsand made some good friends. They say the best way to learn is to be in the country and speak with the locals. This is something i do almost everyday and as i said before its suprising how much ive learnt.
Before i came here to Monterrey i did a TEFL course work as a language advisor (i get paid to have conversations with people in English). Its an fairly easy job, as most of the time your just having a conversation in english with someone, about themselfs or some other subject. You have to enjoy interacting with other people and its important to do so with a smile on your face !. Now im almost in my 6th month here in Mexico and i am really enjoying it. In short the TEFL course has certainly changed my life. I live in an  other country have a totally different life style !!!. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

El Sol !!!

The weather in Mexico

Firstly, i must apologise on my lack of entry on my blog, unfortunatley due to work and a copious amount of "Kit off...sun cream on" weather has hampered the blog progress. Since I arrived in November, the weather has been of mixed variety. However I am happy to say that majority of the time, it's been quite warm (for some one who is English and from Yorkshire). There has been days when it rained and damn did it rain. Not even ducks survive the vicious onslaught of the rain and considering I live surrounded by mountains, when it does rain the water runs from the mountains into the valley below I.E my home!!. Everything gets a taste of "wet through-ness". 
Like I said before though, most of the time the sun has been out in full force, which for me always manages to make me smile and gives me a fantastic chance to get some well earned Vitamin A (and a sun tan). The temperature average has been around 25oC which for a Yorkshire lad is "clothes off, sun cream on". Not so much for the locals, who when I was walking round in shorts and t-shirt in December looked at me like I had a chicken on my head. As they were still wrapped up in "winter" jackets, jeans and a wooly hat for good measure!. Apart from automatically making me look like a "gringo" I stay cool, but not sweat free!!!!!.
The strange thing here is, it can be close to as hot as its going to get at 6am in the morning. Many a times I've woken up to get ready for work at 5.30am and its been 25-28oC !!!!. the temperature then only rises maybe a few degrees during the day. 

woke up to a fresh early march morning.

Living in technically a desert, surrounded by mountains has its pro's and con's. Depending if your glass is half full or not, theres hardly or no breeze as the mountains act as a wind blocker. So while you're sat reading the thermometer and it says 24oC, it will feel a hell of a lot warmer!!. The downside is in the "official" winter the temperature will and can drop rapidly in the evening. This so far has played havoc with my health and well being. The rapid change in temperature has caused me constant cold and flu like symptoms. I am glad to say that the "winter" is almost behind me and the days are getting warmer. A few days ago, I was treated to a very outrageous 37oC, (which apparently according to my local friends is a pretty standard day) bearing  in mind so far I've only been exposed to 27oC ish. Believe me when I say just an extra ten degrees will make you want to hide in a fridge. Just for good measure recently the air con in the car I use to get to and from work has broken. (Brilliant!!!)
The houses here are obviously and thankfully are built to deal with the heat. So the houses apparently stay very cool during the summer. However, many a times I've had a near death expirience, rolling around on the cooler tiled room floor, screaming to the sun god to have mercy!!!.  Another thing is exactly that, it certainly gets some getting used to having tiled floors and stairs. Many a time after sweeping and mopping the floor, i walked down stairs clinging to the handrail like a demented ninja worried about slipping and falling the rest of the way... which, I may point out I have done plenty of times. I will also mention I  have no Air conditioning in my house only high powered fans which do nothing but waft warm air around.
All is not lost though. A very good point to living here is that due to the amazingly warm weather is I've had lots of practise making fires to get "my barbecue on". With all learning processes it has its share of ups and downs, ranging from bathroom vists from both ends of my anatomy to partial paraylsis of limbs and my face. Not to be out done soon as I was fit again I had the tongues and forks out ready to go again. However if that has put you off there is another option. Here in the north of Mexico, you can go to the butches, buy some meat and have them cook it out side for you on the open fire BBQ if you so wish. Which at first, I found very amusing.
Now I'm in April and the weather has certainly changed, in the last month most days hitting mid thirties with daily accuracy. Which has caused my sleeping pattern to change, when I say change I mean I just don't get much at all. Waking up at 2-3am sweating like a lunatic. Most evenings now are around 30oC and with the afore mentioned lack of Air con this is an issue. The arrid nature of the desert plus high humidty will lead to sleepness nights. Slowly but surely I am getting used to this but not by much. A few hours sleep followed by a cold shower, sorts the problem out if only for a few more hours.
After the mentioned sleepness nights it gets better. The sun beans through my curtains smashing into my face with annoying reliability. Staying alseep or in bed isn't an option as the morning sun is very hot so out of bed and into a cold/luke warm shower is a god send. After watching sesame street and other various cartoons in spanish I head out for my daily commute to work in the crazy hot sun. Normally my day consists of around an hour on buses only to have to walk for maybe 15 minutes to get to my final destination. During the 15 minutes is a mixture of beautiful scenes varied wildlife and diving inbetween cool tree shadows to keep from sweating profusely. Thankfully for me the office has air con which has become more than just a novelty given the Bonkers heat and crazy humidity.
Missing the midday heat I finish around 4pm and walk out again into the un-relentling arrid heat. A quick utter  of "dios mio, es caliente no?!!!" Roughly translated as "Oh my god, it's hot isn't it?!!!!" and I run for the nearest shade. This brings a small smile to the faces of security at the door seeing a european struggling with the savage heat. The usual reply is a low chuckle and "eso es nada werito!!" ("this is nothing blondie"). Blonde or blondie is the standard name for some one who isn't mexican and has light skin. Well another month or so and the Summer will be on its way and it will certainly, bring some very warm weather. The day will certainly be hitting 40-45oC most days and for this resides for 40 days, it has no repect for Yorkshire folk or even mexicans and they call this beast Canicula.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

When you speak jiujitsu, you don't need spanish!!

EKBJJ Barnsley my old friends and gym.. miss you guys!!

As you recall from the first post, before i left the UK, i was training and teaching brazilian jiujitsu in the UK within the EKBJJ association  under Eddie Kone. When i landed my job as an educational advisor in Mexico, i knew i had to continue my jiujitsu training within Mexico. I trawled for hours trying to find a place to train, but more importantly to myself try and stay within the Gracie Jiujitsu network and find a gym that practiced Helio Gracie's philosophies and teachings of leverage, technique and intelligence over brute strength and power. Strong men grow on trees but as Eddie says "I want to be the smartest, not the strongest"  At this point i am not slating any other gyms it's just my preference to stay that side of Gracie family. So for hours i searched and i found in the shape of Youtube. I competition clip from a Royce Gracie jiujitsu school. I emailed the person who uploaded the video asking where it was and he replied within twenty four hours.
I made a note of where it was and when i arrived in Mexico and was settled, i went to see the school. Now this is can a nervous affair joining a new school as a purple belt, you tend to have a very large "X" on your back, as a marker for everyone to leave with one of  your limbs or at least test themselves. This wasn't the case at Royce Gracie Monterrey, everyone shook my hand and smiled. They treated me as one of their own from day one and made me feel at home. In some gyms there can be a large amount of "testosterone vibing" in the air, as you are eyeballed and been mean mugged by the various "Pitbulls of  the gym".  Each one snarling and growling draped in the latest tapout shorts and rash guards or Hayabusa clothing, as you walk towards their instructor. Usually followed by silent whispers (who is this guy, i think i could take him, he is only small etc etc.).
Truth is most of the afore mentioned "gym pit bulls" may have never fought or are "armchair UFC veterans" and it's very likely the closest they have been to an octagon, is a maths classroom. Im sure at some point we have all come across the MMA/BJJ gyms or individuals within these gyms, that just want to beat the living hell out of white belts and wear a Tapout shirt get the regulation shaven head/funky hair cut to make themselfs the part. Now im not saying that every man or woman that walks through the door will be a fighter, but the ones that seem to think they are fighters normally aren't. My dad once said to me;

"A lion doesn't walk around africa roaring to let everyone know he is a lion. Everyone already know's he is a lion"

 Im no veteran, but I've competed in MMA, submission wrestling and GI jiujitsu tournaments across the UK. Some of my fights i won, some i lost, sometimes i got on the podium sometimes not but, all the while gaining valuable experience to pass on to others. Which as an instructor is one of the job descriptions, to prepare them to compete if they choose so, not just physically but to understand what they are going through mentally also (sometimes to say "it's okay to feel like your gonna s**t yourself, it's natural and i guarantee your opponent is feeling that too. If they aren't then they are either stupid or their name is Fedor Emelianenko!!!) Knowing their instructor has been there certainly helps... in  my very humble opinion of course!!
 Ulbaldo and i at the gym, wearing the same GI!!

The moment the door swung open there was not a single ounce of ego, no Pitbulls, no monsters and very tranquil, how ever there was a lot of spanish been thrown away. I approach the desk to where there was a very "professor of algebra" looking gent who i soon found out was Ulbaldo Marroquin. Despite looking like a very well educated man (and he is by the way) he is a Brown belt in BJJ,  master of taekwondo has some  and has various MMA title belts to his name. The Training is self is of high quality and the Ubaldo has a great amount of knowledge, the gym itself is has been well thought out and set up brilliantly. 
The first time i trained i had real problems breathing and it was one of the very few times,  ive struggled with normal day to day basic jiujitsu training. However after a month or so im slowly getting used to it, however that doesnt stop me dripping with sweat and when i walk off the mats due to the warmth.
Ulbaldo speaks no english what so ever and i speak very little Spanish..although im learning everyday somethings can be complicated to explain...unless you know Jiujitsu!. Ulbaldo is always smiling even during sparring!!  He has a wicked sense of humor and great Jiujitsu and above all that he is a genuinely nice person and nice to be around and has alot of knowledge about his own chosen profession. 
Although he speaks no English, like anywhere in the world you dont need to speak the same language if you have Jiujitsu. We communicate on the mats when we "roll" (live sparring for those who dont know) or share knowledge. Normally a nod of approval and then a smile usual tells me we agree. There are english speaking guys in the gym but this is limited to a handful. Again, speaking english is never a problem if you speak jiujitsu as the "rolling" speaks for you.
My old instructor and good friend Eddie Kone once said "You cant hide who you are on the mats" (training area) if your a complete idiot it shows in your Jiujitsu, if your a bully it will show in your training, You can tell what type of person he or she is just by sparring with him or her. If you have an Ego and it isn't checked at the door normally this involves Mr Ego with broken limbs or  going to sleep.

Me and the New Jiujitsu Family. (im on right hand side black gi) 

My new family is great, and the guys always make me feel welcome i have some awesome new friends at the school that are always ready to help me in anyway they can. There are far too many people to thank and remember so many names but thank to everyone at the school and i hope to have a long relationship there with everyone and no doubt, friends for life. The one thing I will say about training at this gym. The heat and elevation can be hard work, sometimes your looking at 25oC in the evening and in the summer it can be as warm as 38oC at 9pm. That combined with the elevation and wearing a thick cotton kimono can sometimes prove hard work just walking onto the mats!!!. However all said, the Royce Gracie jiujitsu school in Monterrey is one of the best gyms ive had the honor of training in and the guys and girls there have made it feel like home from home!!! So if you are ever in Monterrey Mexico, grab your Gi and go train there. If you disagree with my statements about this gym i will pay for your class myself !

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Famous Mexican traffic...

Well, there isn't much to say that hasn't already been said about this subject. To get around Monterrey, you have a few options. The first is the bus service which is very cheap, at only ten pesos to travel as far as you wish is good value... but its cheap for a reason, most of the buses are... well how do i say this...a little worse for wear. As  for the drivers, most of them either had a crack sandwich for breakfast or just are absolute lunatics behind the wheel.
The second option is to use the Metro system normally referred to as "Metrorrey" is a high floor eletric train service, which again is fairly cheap again an example of this is for around six trips its about twenty four pesos (about a pound) along around 31 kms of track.  However been on the "Metrorrey" bus service is an emotional  experience. Every so often the change machine decides to swallow your pesos, the turn-style system tells you, you haven't given it enough money when you blatantly have! However, most people use this system along with the regular bus service to get them where they need to be. As of yet i have not had the joy of traveling on this electric train system but I've been told its very good and obviously has no traffic draw backs, which leads me on to the next thing... driving.

 Most of the drivers here also as mentioned before, have slightly different vehicles and rules of the road for that matter, to those in the UK. For example: Most things are the same except cars here don't have indicators or turn signals...well i presume thats the case because ive never seen one used!. Drivers do use their hands to signal, but its usual for other reasons and in the after math of some insane maneuver someone just made, instead of letting others know where they are going. 
Driving here, in Mexico is something of  an art. It requires death defying moves, balls of steel and ability not to really care about anything else except your journey. I remember a conversation with my girlfriend while we began to drive towards some traffic lights. She couldnt see wether the lights were red, green or changing due to a large truck infront...so she said "ill just keep driving and hope"...to which i replied, well nothing really i just gripped the seatbelt for all i was worth and closed my eyes!. After a few horn beeps and a relatively smooth intersection cross, i breathed a sigh of relief. ( and i admit it was first time i have believed in god.) When i asked "why didnt you just hang back and see what colour they were" she looked at me as if i was asking her to tell me next weeks winning lottery numbers...but all in all she is actually a very safe, good driver. Most of the drivers especially the motorcycle riders have serious mental issues !!!. Its like they dont even care if they crash !.
Something i was impressed by is the insurance companies here, If someone has a crash they call a number and someone comes in out in said insurance company car and evaluates everything for them. Insurance is dealt with on the road side!!! No matter where you are someone will be with you within 20 minutes..take note UK insurance companies! Maybe you should roll like this, instead of sitting on your massive profit margins !!!. 
Monterrey rush hour traffic

In rush hour morning and evening sitting in  Mexican traffic is a very stressful place to be. If you thought the M25 in the UK was bad..you have experienced  nothing !!. Its mainly because there is a high volume of cars and people in one confined place in the space of an hour. Although nothing compared to Mexico city its still something that would end your day in that very special way!.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

In the beginning...

On the 27th of November i taught my last Brazilian Jiujitsu lesson at EKBJJ Barnsley. I was vistied by many of my students and many instructors from under the EK jiujitsu banner. Even the head coach of EKBJJ North, Mark "monkey" Bottom was on hand to say good bye. Standing in front of almost everyone i had taught and trained with for the almost four years, within the north of england was very touching and hard for me to say good bye. Not only this, but Mark took the ranks like every other student. To this day i will never forget that !. (Thank you Mark)
The Eddie Kone jiujitsu association is in my mind the most well run, no ego lets train establishments ive ever had the honor of training with. The jiujitsu that is taught by Eddie in London is in my opinion the best in europe with EK Jiujitsu associations spreading from the UK to Europe and into Brazil !. Eddie himself is slight in stature 55-60kg and standing at an around 5 feet 7 inches tall. On the mats he is a monster, relying heavily on raw technique, leverage and intelligence instead of power and brute force. He has trained closely with the most famous Gracie family from Brazil. including the famous Rickson and Royce however most of his time was spent with Royler. In fact,  Eddie is the only man outside of the US and Brazil that has a black belt from Royler!!. If you ever get the chance to visit London and would like to train jiujitsu, go check him out  he is a friendly, warm and has an amazing sense of humor.
A few days later my things were packed and ready to go a few calls from and to close friends and i left to start my twenty four hour door to door journey to become an educational advisor in Monterrey, Mexico.
Landing at 2145hrs local time i nervously stepped out of  terminal B at General Mariano Escobedo airport into the warm november evening air. I was met, by my now Girlfriend Sonia. We travelled by car to my house, during the journey i wound down the window and took in the sights and smells of what would be my new country.
 The first thing that struck me about Mexico was the manner in which people drive on the roads. In mexico, it isnt necessary to have a license in order to drive a motor vehicle or indeed pass a driving test, theory or otherwise. So most people dont have license's they just buy a car and hey presto!. In addition to this the vehicles dont have to pass a yearly MOT test like in the UK (imagine the state of some of the vehicles!) So you have people driving around no clue on how to drive and most cars in a bad state of repair anyway..needless to say there is at least bad accident on the news reported everyday!!.
I arrived home safe (god knows how, i had to use the force, majority time i was in the car) I had a quick shower, collapsed on the bed and i  fell asleep.
Sunrise outside my house

I woke up with the warm mexican sun shinning through the window and onto my face. I walked downstairs and saw one of the beautiful sunrise's ive ever had the pleasure of seeing. I walked a little further down the road and took a photo of my street during sunrise. Feeling the sun on face i smiled and i walked back in the house.
My home is technically in the middle of a desert, so the temperature can change drastically from cold evenings to extreme heat during the day. Sometimes it gets upto fourty four degrees even fifty in summer. The change in weather, along with the language barrier, is something i am slowly but surely getting used to. Like most things in life there are perks, and having a bbq almost everyday is one of them. Even during the days when it rains like mad people are outside on the streets selling barbecued steak and chicken for a few pesos. The other thing which i find very odd in Mexico, is most people have these BBQs outside their homes also, you can sit on the porch and eat with other random passers by on someone else's property.
Which leads me onto Mexican cuisine!. Most of the "street food" being sold you find in Monterrey is 95 per cent meat...chicken, steak, fish and pork. The other percentage is corn or "elote" which is sold on the cob or   more popularly sold in little cups with mayo, cheese and chili powder. Here in Monterrey you will certainly find very spicy food they add chili powder to everything without even thinking! I remember being at the local "store" and seeing chili flavored children's sweets. So if your a meat and spicy food fan.. you would be in paradise here..

In the beginning of the new year i started the process of acquiring something called an FM3. This is a legal requirement to anyone who wants to work in Mexico who doesn't have citizenship here. Apparently this a relatively straight forward process that has a "four week turn around" process.....as long as you have the correct paper work. By the way when i say correct paper work, i mean every month the immigration office reviews what is needed!!!!!. Unfortunately for me, i flew into Atlanta, Georgia first then into Mexico and wasnt given the tourist visa before i hopped onto the plane to Monterrey. My passport was stamped at mexican customs then i was released into Monterrey. So when i asked at immigration to begin the process they asked me for the visa to which i replied "what visa..i just had my passport stamped" After a brief conversation in spanish with his co-worker, he looked at me like i had a chicken on my head and mentioned that i have to travel to the ministerio republico (basically a police station, which isn't the most pleasant place in mexico to be, i can assure you) report it lost and gain an ACTA. After a few weeks of backwards and forwards, taking photo copies of everything in the world,  talking to various people and of course crossing the "correct" peoples palms,  the process was started. Upon the three week mark i was in possession of the elusive tourist visa. As you can imagine, i was very excited about finally having what i needed to start work legally. I approached the INM building happy as larry but it was to be short lived...
The person of the desk said "okay, now we start the process of the FM3 which is basically the same process...oh dear!!!!. So again more photos taken along with finger prints and photo copies and another 3000 pesos spent on "admin fee's" three weeks later i finally acquired it. Frankly now i will treat it as gold dust!!!!.

INM building Monterrey