San Miguel de Allende

It is estimated that nearly one million expats live in Mexico, and the most popular places in order of total number of expats are the Lake Chapala area, Puerto Vallarta, San Miguel de Allende, Oaxaca, Merida, Los Cabos, Mexico City, Guanajuato, Guadalajara, and Cancún. San Miguel de Allende has as many as 10,000 expats living here full-time or part-time in this municipal area of roughly 150,000 people. So, there are a lot of gringos in this area … and that’s not counting all the other gringos (like me) who pour into this area as tourists. I have never in my life seen so many trinket shops and stalls selling a lot of the crap that ends up in thrift stores all across America. To be fair, there are also a lot of vendors who are selling nicer Mexican products such as pewter pieces, pottery, leather goods, clothing, etc.

I own a lot in an over 55 community in Phoenix, and many of my fellow owners are snowbirds from the Midwest, Northwest, and Northern parts of the U.S. Not to over-generalize and be too stereotypical, but many of these retiree snowbirds look and dress alike. However, here in San Miguel de Allende there is an abundance of retired expats who don’t fit the mold, such as people wearing flowing and colorful clothing, long gray hair in pony tails, uncoventional piercings in various parts of the body, and tattoos … many tattoos. I guess that anyone who decides to live in another country is already living outside the box, so I am not surprised by the people I see. I almost feel not hip enough, and I even have a #1 buzz cut. Today I paid Sonja the barber 40 pesos plus a 10 peso tip (approximately $2.80) for a fresh new buzz cut, but maybe I should have asked her to cut some designs into my buzz to make me look more cool. Oh well, I will only be here another 2 weeks so maybe I can escape before my fellow expats think I’m a little nerdy.

I’ve only been here a week, so I should wait before I give this place my final assessment. Nonetheless, I don’t believe that I would pick this place to retire. The nearest airport is at least an hour away, and Mexico City’s airport is 3.5 hours away. The topography in this area is kind of boring and barren. Some things are a bargain (like my haircut), but many other things are not. Yeah, there are a lot of fancy restaurants that cater to expats and tourists, but you also pay U.S prices. The local golf course looks pretty nice, but green fees during the week are $60 and over $100 on the weekends. I walked by a newly remodeled 3 bedroom condo in the center of town today, and I persuaded the contruction dudes to let me look around inside; on the way out I saw the real estate posting on the window indicating that the price had been lowered to $550,000 … that’s U.S. dollars, not Mexican pesos. You can find all the yoga classes, massages, reiki, and various other pamperings that you desire, but again you are paying roughly what you’d pay in the U.S. One of my primary reasons for planning to live abroad is to significantly lower my cost of living (particularly health insurance), but I don’t think that is possible here in San Miguel de Allende. I do, however, plan to get me another $2.80 haircut before I leave town.

10 Ways to Learn a New Language Faster

I learned a new language at the age of 50, and here are some strategies from language experts that have helped me speak Spanish with hundreds of native speakers in various countries.

1. Learn a new language the same way you learned your first language:

  • Listen to native speakers often and for long periods of time.
  • Watch how they communicate.
  • Imitate what they say and how they say it, which may require using your face muscles, mouth and tongue in new ways to produce some new sounds so that you can be better understood.

2. Listen to content that is interesting and at your level (beginner, intermediate, or advanced).

3. Be happy, relaxed, and curious while learning, and be comfortable not understanding everything that you hear. Focus on understanding the general meaning of what is said, and not so much on understanding every word.

4. You should spend time every day learning if you want to learn fast, even if it is for only 15 minutes. If you go for days or weeks without contacting the language, your progress will slow to a crawl.

5. Ask native speakers for help, and in particular you should know how to say in your new language:

  • “Excuse me …”
  • “How could I (find/do/go to, etc.) …?”
  • “What is this?”
  • “How do you say …?”
  • “I don’t understand.”

6. Learn the 100 most common words in the language, then the 500 most common words, and by the time you learn the 1000 most common words you’ll understand 75% of daily conversations.

7. Speak from the first day you start learning a new language, and be willing to make many mistakes every day for the rest of your life communicating in your new language. Be creative and say things any way that you can, because having to say things in a roundabout way is both normal and essential.

8. Use all of your senses to learn the language by connecting words with sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch. Have fun learning a new language!

9. In order to move from beginner to intermediate and then to an advanced level, you must develop the ability to speak using expressions of time and mood – past, present, future, and conditional verb tenses, and in some languages the subjunctive mood.

  • Beginners speak in the present tense, and learn to speak about the past and the future as they progress.
  • Intermediate speakers are much more comfortable speaking about the past, present, and future. They also learn to speak using conditional phrases that any native speaker uses commonly, for example: “I would keep doing things the way they have always been done, but I have an idea …” Another example: “If I were you, I would learn a new language because …”
  • Advanced speakers use various expressions of time and mood, and when they can do this like a native speaker, they speak like a native speaker speaks. The word “fluent” is hard to define, and I choose to believe that I have been speaking “fluently” since I reached intermediate level (which many people can reach in 3-6 months, but which took me a few years).

10. Find language coaches and teachers who (1) work at understanding you, (2) don’t correct every mistake you make, (3) demonstrate how to say things correctly, and (4) use words you understand or can learn.

It’s never too late to learn a new language, and not only is it good exercise for the mind, but it will enable you to discover and enjoy more places and people.

IMPORTANT! Chris Lonsdale’s insightful TEDx video is the inspiration behind much of this content, together with strategies that I have gleaned from various other sources as well as from my own experience teaching English as a second language. Watch the video of Chris at

Unos días en Guadalajara

I will always be amazed at how you can fly on a plane for just a few hours and land in a completely different world. Sometimes it feels like everything is different – different people, different language, different customs, different food, different interests, different houses, different streets and traffic laws, different vehicles, different money, and much more. But of course, deep down all of us people are pretty much the same in that we want to be happy, healthy, wealthy, safe, and loved.

I’m staying in a very dated condo that I believe has 3 bedrooms and one space converted to a 4th bedroom. Normally, mom and dad (about 70 years old) live here with their near 40 something year-old daughter, but they recently made space for the son (and eldest) to live here temporarily with his wife, 5 year-old boy, and one month-old daughter. And oh, there are also two wiener dogs in the house as well as one big German Shepherd who (thankfully) is only in the house briefly when he is escorted through to the street in front to go for a walk. When the daughter’s boyfriend visits, that makes 9 of us plus 3 dogs, and honestly living with all these bodies has been an adjustment for me. I don’t really want to be a hermit and hide out in my room, but I do that often to have some peace. Fortunately, everyone is very nice.

Not only have I explored the immediate area extensively, but I have also taken several trips on public transportation into the center of town to visit the main market, cathedral, another church, money changers, some language schools, a university, the wealthy touristy area, etc. And yesterday on my way home, I went on a long and inadvertant adventure out to the far reaches of the city. Let me tell you about my long adventure.

Figuring out the bus system is usually one of the toughest tasks when travelling, and I still have not found a printed or online system map for Guadalajara to help me. But even with a map in hand, many of the streets are not marked with street signs, so you have to rely on landmarks to find your way around. In fact, knowing the names of streets is not very common here. I cannot tell you how many times that I have walked up to someone on the job, and asked them to confirm what street we were on, only to have them tell me they had no clue what street it was. I’ve often thought, “You work here and you don’t know what street this is?!” But alas, this is very common and so I just keep asking until I find someone who knows where the heck we are (or at least what street we are on). I any case, yesterday I got off on the bus too soon, and after exploring that area for awhile, I caught what I thought was the same bus number heading in the same direction as the bus I had exited. As it turns out, I was wrong. This new bus kept going … and going … and going … and each time I thought we were at the end of the city and could go no further, it turned down another alley and found another pothole-filled semi-dirt road to continue down. Finally, after at least half an hour, me and the few remaining riders got to the very end of the road (or dirt pack), and the bus driver stopped the bus, opened the doors, turned off the engine, and started to exit the bus. Not knowing what to say, I just blurted out, “Eso es todo?” (That is all?). To which he replied with a smirk and a nod … and then he left. He’s not the first bus driver I’ve had in Latin America who took me somewhere that I did not necessarily want to go … in fact, some of them get a kick out of delivering you lost. But just as many other bus drivers are sincerely helpful and try to help the lost gringo find his way. Fortunately, there were about 4 other buses in this same place, and I correctly assumed that one of them would eventually start a journey back to the center of town. As soon as I heard an engine start, I jumped on the bus and presented my bus fare, and he took my pesos with the same smirk and nod as the previous bus driver. So I tried to at least endear myself to him somewhat by saying, “Estoy perdido” (I’m lost), but leaving the dirt-pack-road-bus-station-with-the-hole-in-the-wall-office/café, he just had to use his cell phone to call his buddy (perhaps the other bus driver) to have a big laugh over (presumably) me and my predicament. Oh well, when you’re new in town in a foreign land, sometimes you just have to go with the flow and be willing to be the butt of jokes. I’ve learned that taking offense can only make matters worse … and besides, it’s all an adventure that you can find ways to enjoy and use to your advantage. As I see it, I got me a 14 peso (76 cent) complete tour all the way to the far west side of Guadalajara and back!

Consejos para una Vida Éxitosa

Cada persona cambia significamente durante la vida, y hoy día desde tengo casi 56 años, nada es más importante que vivir con propósito y el deseo de crear un mundo mejor. Por eso, tengo unas ideas que quiero compartir con ustedes acerca de los hábitos y actitudes que son muy importante en mi opinion.

SEAN PRESENTE. Desde que vivimos completemente en el momento presente, cada vez más me siento obligado a centrarme en el aquí y ahora. Nuestras mentes van para tantas direcciones – por lo menos sé que mi mente funciona como así – y nuestras mentes están constantemente llenas de charla, y perdimos demasiado tiempo pensando en el pasado o preocupandonos por el futuro. No estoy tratadando de decir que no podemos o no debemos aprender del pasado, tampoco significa que no debemos preparar y ahorrar para el futuro. Sólo significa que el momento presente es donde vivimos, y es muy importante enfocar en la ahora … en el presente. Nada más. Apaguen la mente. Olan las flores. Disfruten la vida. Den gracias. Respiren conscientemente. Animen a otras personas. Sean esperanza!

HABLEN MENOS Y ESCUCHEN MÁS. Sean personas que dice muy poco. Tengan en cuenta que muchas personas hablan demasiado, y ellos dicen muchas cosas que son críticos y sin amor. Cuando otras personas están hablando, escuchen con atención. Cuando hablen, digan muchas cosas que son útiles y amorosas. Las palabras pueden manifestar los milagros, así que a través del poder que está ubicado dentro de ustedes, les sugiero que manifiesten algunos milagros hoy con sus palabras.

SEAN AMABLE y NO SEAN SIEMPRE CORRECTO. Es muy importante dejar todo juicio y permitir a la gente ser y hacer lo que quiere. Es tan fácil de encontrar defectos en otras personas, de ridiculizar a los demás, de presentarnos superior a los demás. Pero ¿Piensan que esta aptitude es un servicio a los demás? Claro, hay momentos en que es importante hablar en contra de las injusticias en el mundo, pero la mayoría de las veces que pasamos tiempo discutiendo y criticando y juzgando a otras personas, no es más que nuestra necesidad de tener razón en nuestros propios ojos en lugar de ser amable. Cada uno de nosotros es dada oportunidades todos los días para elegir entre ser amable y ser correcto, y parece que la elección de ser amable es siempre la mejor opción.

DEN. Podría ser un poco o podría ser mucho … pero de cualquier forma pueden verla, el dar es una buena manera de vivir. Den a alguien una sonrisa. Den a alguien el benefício de la duda. Den a alguien una flor. Den dinero a los pobres. Den tiempo para ayudar a otros. Den el regalo del perdón.
Wayne W. Dyer en su libro que se llama, “El Gran Cambio,” dice esto:

“Apoyo incondicional. La cuarta virtud cardinal nos informa que estamos eternamente apoyados en el proceso de vivir de forma auténtica. Abandonamos la ambición impuesta por el ego y nos relajamos en el verdadero significado qu apoya nuestra vida particular. El apoyo incondicional se manifiesta como un servicio a los demás sin expectativas de recompensas, ni siquiera que nos den las gracias; es el componente más importante para sentir que nuestra vida tiene un propósito. Es la forma más segura de aprender a pensar como Dios piensa.” “Cuando nos vemos como expresiones divinas individualizadas de Dios, nos sentimos más inclinados a desear comprender la forma en que opera la fuerza creativa.”

VIVAN CON PASIÓN. Sólo tenemos una oportunidad de vivir esta vida, así que si hay algo que quieren hacer que han estado posponiendo innecesariamente, les invito a dejar de posponerlo … y en lugar de eso, busquen sus suenos! Este es un asunto que a veces es difícil de proponer porque vivir con pasión puede aparecer egoísta, especialmente para aquellos que piensan que pueden ganar el favor del cielo en negarse lo que disfrutan. También es difícil imaginar los más pobres, los que viven en la pobreza extrema y que buscan sólo para sobrevivir hoy día, es difícil imaginar que ellos pueden pensar en una lista de deseos; para ellos, vivir con pasión significa la intención de mantener su vida como es … parece que ellos solo pueden preocuparse en sobrevivir . ¿Cómo puedo justificar mantenando mi lista de deseos y mi intención de vivir con pasión cuando hay tantas personas que necesitan tantas cosas necesarias en el mundo? Una forma de hacerlo es a través de organizer su lista en una manera que da beneficio no sólo a sí mismo, sino también a la humanidad. Enfoquen en ganar un millón de dólares para que pueden dar la mitad a causas necesitadas. Vayan en un viaje en un crucero y durante su parada en cada puerto enfoquen en buscar y encontrar a los pobres que se sostienen con la venta de artesanías hechas a mano, y compren sus cosas. Aprendan un nuevo idioma para que puedan usar este talento para ayudar a la gente a aprender inglés, porque con este entendimiento de inglés la gente puede mejorar su vida. Completen un maratón de corriendo para que puedan ser más saludable, y para que peudan ser menos de una carga para sus seres queridos y en el sistema de atención de salud – haganlo para que ustedes tendrán más energía para ayudar a otros. Tomen una clase de baile para que puedan aprender más sobre una otra cultura. Tomen una clase de arte para que puedan pintar un cuadro bonito para colgar en el refugio para personas sin casa. Hay una gran variedad de formas en que podemos vivir con pasión que beneficia tanto a nosotros como a nuestros vecinos en el mundo.

Obra Citada: Dyer, Wayne W. El Gran Cambio, p. 105 Hay House, Inc. 2010.

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