Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bank #6

I have mentioned before that I have a lot of bank accounts here. At last count, I had five accounts at five different banks. Yesterday, in my quest to either try every bank in Costa Rica or to find just the right one (still haven't figured out which it is), I opened yet another account, this time at Scotiabank.

I wrote about the final straw with BAC, so I started asking around with my friends about which banks they used, and if they liked them. A friend from Canada mentioned that she and her husband have had an account at Scotiabank since they moved here (which is about as long as I've lived here, a little over 8 years), and that they met both of my criteria. (And, like someone who's dated a lot of frogs, my banking criteria have been drastically lowered over the years. All I need is a bank that will cash an international check in a timely manner and give me a debit card that I can use outside of Costa Rica. And someone who will say "Salud" when I sneeze, though I prefer "Bless you." That's not asking much, is it?)

So I went over to Scotiabank in Escazu (figuring that that particular branch deals with a lot of expats and wouldn't make me jump through too many hoops to get an account) after dropping son off at school on Wednesday morning. I spoke with the branch manager, who was friendly and nice and gave me a list of documents I'd need to open my account, and which ones I didn't need to worry about. I gathered said documents, brought them back on Friday morning, and in about half an hour, they had opened my account, given me a temporary debit card, and deposited my check (which will be cashed in 9 business days, as opposed to 15-18 at BAC). By comparison, when I opened my account at BAC, I had to bring a three months' printout of transactions from my previous bank (then Cuscatlan, now Citi), which they said weren't valid because they weren't "official" (though I got them directly from the bank itself), then they kept losing my paperwork, and asking me to submit the same documents over and over, and eventually I had a bank account there in a month, and debit cards a week after that. Scotiabank, like a bank anywhere else in the developed world, opened my account the same day! And I deposited my international check the same day! I was ecstatic! See, I told you I'd really lowered my expectations!

We'll see how it goes with Scotiabank. Since I've so far worked my way through half of the banks in this country, I'm holding out high hopes.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

In cars

About a year ago, I believed I had bought the best car ever, my 2006 Toyota RAV-4. And you know what? I still think it is the best car ever. I love my car so much. I have rarely had such love for a car, in fact, with the exception of a 1979 Bitchin' Camaro and a very problematic and troublesome 1972 MGB. I loved that car in what can only be described as a perverse, subservient relationship, as in, Please don't ever leave me, I'll do anything you need, including putting in a new engine, having all of the electrical systems rewired, and giving you new seats and a new top and a new horn. In the end, though, it was not meant to be. I spent far, far too much money on that one-sidedlopsided relationship. (I was going to say "one-sided," but then I realized that like bad boyfriends, I did get some pleasure out of that car. Nothing quite like driving down Highway 1 to Big Sur with the top down on your MG. Or driving to work and having the muffler fall off/the car break down/the engine seize up.)

The Toyota, however, is a completely different matter. It is rock solid. Never a problem. I'm not sure I will ever be able to drive anything other than a Toyota from now on. My aunt once told me, Once you've had Toyota, you'll never go back. I was test driving a Corolla at the time, almost 20 years ago now, and I knew that someday I would have one. So yeah, I could probably be a Toyota ad. I do love my car, though.

I was thinking about this, and all the other cars I've known and sometimes loved, while esposo was playing Gary Neuman's "Cars" at the cafe this morning (why he has to play 80s music while getting ready for work, I will never know). So I made a list, starting from the beginning:
  1. 1984 Chevy Chevette, brand-new, first car, which I totaled less than 6 months after owning it. It was pretty good up to that point, though.
  2. Really old Chevy Chevette, piece of crap (it was even metallic brown!) in which the heater did not work and which you could turn on without actually putting the key in the ignition. It was fun driving around during the wintertime in Ohio. Not.
  3. 1979 Bitchin' Camaro. OMG I so, so loved this car. My Bitchin' Camaro began my love affair with muscle cars. It was sparkly blue and had a big, fat engine. I would sometimes street race other cars, and once I beat a brand new Camaro. Heh heh... That totally ruled. Sometimes the door handles would fall off. Once I ran into a small tree trying to stop on a patch of ice on the way to school. The Bitchin' Camaro was not fazed in the least.
  4. (Move to California) 1988 Chevy Spectrum. This was basically the same as the Geo Spectrum and the Hyundai Excel, as well as an Isuzu something-or-other. Hard-working little car that surprisingly lasted me a really long time. I only ended up getting rid of it because California started some tough smog standards, and my little car couldn't pass the smog check two years in a row. So it had to leave the state and begin life anew elsewhere (my Mom took it in; she has a soft spot for homeless animals and vehicles).
  5. Mazda B1800 pickup. I can't remember the year of this thing, but it was okay. Nothing special. Bought it from an ex-boyfriend and then sold it back to him when I moved to Costa Rica. He still owes me about $1500 for it, too. Hear me, Pat? I want my money! Moving on.
  6. 1972 MGB. My second "I'm-totally-and-completely-in-love-with-this-car" car. A total and complete money pit. I still loved it, though. One of the best things about it was my mechanic, Mick, a giant of an Englishman who had a shop in Salinas. He was seriously funny and tried frequently to get me to sell the car (not to him, just to sell it, to anyone, so that he didn't have to work on it). I only paid $900 for it, and then I probably put another few thousand into it fixing it up. I could have built my own car with what I put into it. Still... hands down the most fun-to-drive car I've ever been in. My Mom ended up with this one, too. Couldn't actually drive it to Ohio so I had to put it on a train and ship it there.
  7. (Moved to Costa Rica) After dealing with taxis and buses, we broke down and bought the Haunted Hyundai Elantra (1992), the best thing we could afford at the time. I am just going to say that even the MG wasn't as bad as the HH. At least the MG was fun to drive. When the muffler finally fell off the HH, I put my foot down and refused to sink any more money into fixing it. After that, my friends said they could always tell when we were coming. I guess they were psychic or something? ;-)
  8. The RAV-4. Best car so far. Fun to drive, good on gas, cute, not too big, and the best part? Never breaks down. You often see cars sitting by the side of the road here, but it's pretty rare that one of them is a Toyota. So yeah, I love my car.
I've been watching Top Gear on BBC Entertainment lately, and if you haven't seen it, well, you just must see it. Funniest, best car show in the history of car shows ever. My favorite episode so far is the one where their challenge is to test old British Leyland cars to prove that they made a good one (BL made the MG, and they even stop by Morris Garage in the episode, which is, of course, sadly closed down). I'm not sure they did prove their point, though James May's Princess fares best of the three. I don't really know what Top Gear has to do with anything I've just written, other than that it's a car show, and this post was about cars, so... ooh, is that something shiny?

P.S. Go watch that video. I promise you won't be sorry!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Here's something not to do

If you are a foreigner living in Costa Rica, you are likely to have a bank account here, and if you have a bank account here, you might even want to cash checks from abroad. I am going to suggest you do NOT go to BAC. I used to think they were a pretty good bank, but lately things have been going from bad to worse there. For example, I went to deposit a check in my account at the BAC over in San Pedro by the rotunda a couple of months ago, and the woman told me to put my account number and my signature on the back of the check. When I did that, she then said they probably wouldn't cash the check because I had signed it. WTF? I don't know what firma means to you, but to me, it means signature. If she had wanted me to simply spell out my name, I could have done that. (The check eventually did cash, by the way.)

Now yesterday, I get another check, which was not delivered by Interlink like they are supposed to do because they have a new driver and he didn't know what to do with my mail since I wasn't here (our regular guy usually left it in the yard, but with the high winds that wouldn't have been a great idea). So I went over there to pick it up, and since I was already in San Pedro, thought I could just deposit this check in the bank over there. Wrong, wrong, wrongity wrong wrong.

The teller asks me to put my account number and my name on the back of the check. This time, I know not to actually sign my name, but I make a mistake writing my account number. I scratch it out, and then continue writing the correct number. Oh no no no no no. You cannot do this, he says. You can't make a mistake. So he returns my check, and really quite an asshat about the whole thing. Esposo and I go inside the bank, try to talk to customer disservice, and get nowhere. I despise those people. Those of you who live here know what this means -- I have to get another check cut from the States, get it sent down here (via Interlink, so that should take two weeks), then get it cashed in another 15-20 days. Can you all say it with me? FUCK!!!!!

The thing that bothered me most about BAC was their attitude. Yes, it was my mistake, but no one could explain the policy whereby some branches make you put your own account number on the back and other branches do it for you. No one had the least bit of sympathy or seemed to give a shit less. That is what bothered me. So I'm about done with them. If anyone else has a bank here they like (Citibank and Banco Nacional are out of the question), please let me know. I'm thinking of Banco San Jose BCR -- does anyone else use/like it? Help! Agh!

Back to school

It's back to classes for most kids in Costa Rica these days. My son (my little baby!) started kindergarten today. I really don't know where the time has gone. He was so excited to be going. He had already met the school's director, who is a simply wonderful woman, and some of the other people who had been working there during the vacations. Everyone from the guard to the front desk personnel are extremely nice.

The Costa Rica calendar runs February through November, with a longer break in July, unlike in North America where the school year starts in August and runs through June. Also, they have a slightly different system for the grades here: Kindergarten is for kids who turn 5 during that year, then they have Preparatory, for kids who turn 6 that year, and then they go into first grade. There are some private schools that run on the North American calendar. Public school here sucks badly, and I can't imagine anyone actually wanting to send their kids to public school unless there is no other option. Private school, however, is going to cost you. The school we chose is $270 a month plus all the uniforms and materials and registration fees; the Waldorf that recently closed in Escazu was quite a bit less than that, and schools like Country Day are quite a bit more (a friend was paying around $1,000 a month for Country Day kindergarten several years ago, and she absolutely hated it. And she's a teacher in Canada, for what that's worth). All kids (as far as I know; some private schools might be an exception) wear uniforms to school. The public school kids wear light blue shirts and dark blue pants or skirts, Catholic schools wear the typical Catholic school uniforms, and private schools choose their own.

We had thought long and hard about sending our son to school at all, as I've been in the field of education for many years, and I know how bad some schools can be. I also disagree with most of the basic, fundamental ideas of school. So I'd always thought we would homeschool. In fact, we were quite dedicated to the idea of homeschooling. But things change.

The problem that has arisen with homeschooling is not the "I can't do this" feeling or "he needs socialization" nonsense, but that I simply don't have time for it. I wish he was old enough to be left on his own, as he loves doing art, building, making music, playing outside, even working in his workbooks on his own. The trouble is that I felt like he needed more -- more interaction, more to do. I felt like he was getting bored.

So we've found a small private school we like, and have gone in with the attitude that if he's not getting anything out of it, or if his behavior starts to get worse (because he's a great kid now and I don't want that to change), or if he just doesn't like it or doesn't want to go, we can always pull him out. We're not that wedded to the idea that he has to be in school.

However, he was very excited to go to school. He actually wanted to go. Huh. Go figure. We dropped him off this morning, and he was so happy to have his own desk with his own name on it. He had been asking me for weeks if I would stay there with him on the first day. Yet, today, he was fine for us to leave. Actually, he was encouraging us to leave! Which we did, and I have to say, other than going through childbirth with him, it was the longest four hours of my life. It was weird to be driving around without my little guy in the car. And yes, I did get there a *little* early to pick him up. On the pretense that I had to drop off some paperwork (which I did, but it also gave me a chance to observe him in his classroom unaware of my presence).

On the ride home, we talked about his day. How he's made new friends already, and how everyone speaks Spanish (though it is a bilingual school), and how much fun he had, and how he wants to go to school every single day. Even on the weekends. LOL... Apparently, though, I had a brain fart this morning and forgot that Wednesday is "bring your own snack" day, and didn't pack him a snack. I wish the teacher or aide or anyone for that matter, who had seen him come in empty-handed, had at least asked us if he didn't bring a snack or if we forgot it in the car or something. I could have gone out and gotten him one easily enough. But no one bothered to mention it, so my kid was the only one snack-free today, and I felt really bad about that. He said he didn't care, even though he only had a cup of water from the bathroom sink while everyone else was eating. Ugh. We spoke with the director about this, and she agreed that someone should have mentioned it to us this morning, and also that usually the teacher asks the other kids if they wouldn't mind sharing some of their snacks with the snack-free child. Well, that didn't happen either, so you can bet we'll be speaking to the teacher in the morning, at least to bring these things to our attention so we can make them right, you know? The last thing you want is your kid to be left out of something that is your own fault.

Despite that, he had a great day and is looking forward to going back. Maybe I'll get used to this four hours by myself every morning. It's been many years since I've had that time alone!

Friday, February 06, 2009

Well blow me down!

Jeez Louise, the wind here has been spectacular lately. I feel like I'm living in a wind tunnel. Another reason the electricity/internet/cable go out? High winds.

A few years ago, before son was born, I was at home in San Rafael (Escazu) during a tornado. Esposo was at work, and our handyman just happened to be there fixing the plumbing in the bathroom. I looked outside, and there was a small tree flying by my backyard, and a piece of metal roofing landed in the driveway a few inches from my Haunted Hyundai (lucky that, since we didn't have insurance on the old hunk-o-junk). As I was looking outside, I mentioned something to the handyman about how scary it all was, and he said something like, Yep, a little bit of wind today! Ah, such a knack for understatement. Only later on the news did I realize there had been a tornado touchdown in our neighborhood.

Somehow, I (and now twice with friends) seem to be blissfully unaware of what's happening outside of where I am at the time. Take the most recent earthquake, for example, when I was with two of my friends and all of our children in a Land Rover. Then as we were eating lunch, one of the friends remarked how the country was probably falling down around us, and here we were completely unaware, having lunch. (Which turned out to be completely true.) Yesterday, during playgroup, I commented that it felt like being in a wind tunnel (the end of Multiplaza where Cafe Te Con Te is), and the same friend made a similar remark, referencing our previous lunch during the post-earthquake craziness. Amy just told me that 200,000 people are without electricity in Pavas and Rhormoser, and cell phone towers are now running on battery backup, so they expect them to go out soon. Great.

See, these are the things you just have to deal with in a developing country in the tropics. Speaking with Chris this morning, she asked me if I wasn't used to this by now. And really I should be. But I still haven't been able to sleep very well at night through these winds. I just keep wondering if part of the roof is going to be blown off, or a tree is going to come crashing down on the house or through a window (knock on wood, so far so good).