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Sunday, October 28, 2012

More on Halloween in Panama

My kids at Multiplaza Mall for Halloween.

As I mentioned in my last article about Halloween, the only place to take your kids for trick or treating here, is Mulitplaza Mall. Multiplaza doesn't do a very good job of advertising though. At Google, I searched for Multiplaza and Halloween to find out what day and time the festivities would be going on this year, and all I found was their Facebook page with very little information. I did find the date and time, which turned out to be today, Sunday the 28th, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. We attended the Multiplaza part last year and found that this year they'd really skimped. Last year there were chairs for parents to sit and watch their children participate in the costume contest and there were a lot of vendors surrounding the stage, offering free food and beverage samples. I'm sure the previous week's protests may have had something to do with the lackluster planning put into this year's event. Most companies' employees didn't even work Friday, so I can't imagine many of them were getting together to discuss Sunday's Halloween plans.

My wife, Marlene, with our son, Matteo. 

The kids showed up dressed in all sorts of fun costumes. Marvel superheroes, especially the Avengers, were the most popular of all. I saw Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Spiderman, and DC heroes Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. I think I heard that the theme this year was recycled costumes. One kid dressed up as a knight with helmet and shield made out of tin foil. One boy donned a robot costume that appeared to be made out of blue painted styrofoam. Our sons participated in the costume contest, but the lengthy event wore us out and we didn't stay until the end. We were at the mall nearly three hours and they still weren't finished with the costume and the shows that went along with it. The shows were great. Dancers, magicians, and of course the star and Multiplaza mascot, Koko, were on hand to entertain the kids, all of which rushed the stage and cheered them on like rock stars. 

Koko and his backup dancers.

Several stores, like Paul Frank, brought their own mascots out to meet the kids, and a couple of stores were providing face painting services for the little ones. About halfway through the show, the kids got bored and begged me to take them trick or treating. I've always hated doing this in the mall. I hated it back in the States too. In South Florida it had become popular to take your kids to the mall. I understand the safety issue, but I just feel like it's a cop out. I want my kids to get out and go door to door the way I did as a kid. Plus, in the mall, you always pass those bullshit stores where employees are handing out store coupons instead of candy. Seriously? When I find a store coupon in my kid's candy bag, you can bet that I'll never shop in that store again. That's such a sneaky tactic. 

So, in Panama, as I mentioned in my last Halloween post, there's almost no option other than the mall. If you were to choose a neighborhood and try to go door to door, first of all you wouldn't make it past the metal bars that block the front doors of many Panamanian homes, and when you did reach someone's door, they would be shocked. There's no way they'd have candy. Not unless you were in a mostly American neighborhood, and even then, it's doubtful that anyone would be giving out candy, unless it was planned beforehand. 

In Multiplaza, we went up and down each aisle of the mall. I'd say that maybe a quarter of the stores were giving out candy, if that much. I was saddened that even the American owned companies weren't giving out candy. A few store employees were excited to participate. At a store called Pink, which is kind of like Claire's in the U.S., the three young ladies behind the counter gave our kids candy, stickers, hand stamps, balloons, and a few other things. However, at most stores, they shook their heads as soon as the kids walked in. Other parents seemed to be as frustrated as I was. One lady passed me and said, "This isn't the United States." I'm still not sure whether she was being a smart ass or saw my frustration and was agreeing with me. I think she was saying it in a nice way. 

I appreciate that Multiplaza does this each year, but I think I'm going to write them a letter. If they're going to put on a Halloween show and get parents to drag their kids out each year, after paying to buy them costumes, I think they should make it mandatory that the stores participate. The costume contest is mostly just several hours of kids standing around bored waiting to find out if they won, and the trick or treating is a joke. The kids looked so disappointed walking from store to store and hearing the employees tell them they didn't have candy. I pride myself on being one of the non "ugly Americans," which I plan to post on on a later date. I don't get angry often, or even complain often. I know I'm in a foreign country and I love Panama. The Halloween event at Multiplaza brings them a ton of money. I'm sure a few people shop while there at the event, and the food court must make a killing. So ramp it up a little, Multiplaza. Make the stores participate, or at least give them some sort of incentive to participate. 

A friend of mine told me that back in her home state, her church (I think she said it was her church) would host a Halloween event, where parents would park their cars all the way around the parking lot, in a big circle. Parents would hang out at the trunks of their cars or the tailgates of their trucks. Many of them would barbecue on small grills and play music. Kids would go trick or treating from one car to the next. That sounds like a lot of fun. Maybe I can try to put something like that together for next year. 

Things like Halloween are the things that worry me a little about raising my kids in a foreign country. They're learning so much about Panamanian culture and history and heritage, but they're losing out on that American part of their lives. They can celebrate all of the Panamanian independence days (and there are a lot of them), but it's hard to go all out on the 4th of July. I need to put more emphasis on the American holidays and make sure I don't let those things slip from their lives.  Maybe, as more Americans move to Panama, we can rally together and make sure we keep our holidays alive, as we learn to celebrate the Panamanian ones as well.

I just wanted to say thanks to all of the stores that participated in today's Halloween event. It really means a lot to the kids. That one store in every fifteen that gives them a piece of candy, makes them smile. Tonight, when I was putting my kids to bed, one of my four year old sons, Nicolas "Niko," gave me a hug and said, "Today was awesome, daddy. I got a lot of candy." That melted my heart. To them it was the best day ever.  I just wish I could show them what the real Halloween is like. 

Thanks for reading,


Friday, October 26, 2012

How to order at a Panamanian McDonald's

I'm trying to swear off fast food. The back problems and a recent blood-sugar scare (I'm beginning stages diabetic) have convinced me to stay away from rice, pasta, sweets, and fast food. I'm sure I'll sneak in a burger or two from time to time. I took this photo about a month ago while sitting in line at the drive thru. As I was glancing over the menu (like I didn't know exactly what I wanted already), I thought, "Hmm, this is the kind of thing Americans don't think about until they get here." We realize we'll need to learn Spanish. But I think most of us believe we'll at least be able to order a McDonald's burger, right? 

It was much easier when I first moved here. Back then (only 3 years ago), McDonald's still used combo numbers. I knew my numbers in Spanish. So I could get away with saying, "Combo numero cuatro." I knew when they asked, "Sabor de la soda?" They were asking something about the soda, which probably meant flavor, so I'd answer, "Coca-cola." Saying the word Coke alone will just confuse them. Then they'd ask some question. It was the one thing I never understood, and I came to learn that whenever I got confused, to just say "regoolar" (you have to say regular with an accent or they'll have no idea what you're talking about). Or grande if you want a larger size fries and drink. That confusing question was basically, "What size?"

Most of that process still holds true today. The only thing that has changed is the removal of the combo numbers. Whether they did it just to confuse us expats even more, I'll never know. But they're gone. So we have to change and adapt, right? So hopefully the photo above will help you prepare for your McDonald's journey. You're on your own with Burger King and Wendy's and Carls Jr (yes, we have all 3 here). I wish they had an Arby's...sorry just daydreaming a bit. Oh and Taco Bell is a whole other monster. It takes awhile to get used to ordering Americanized Mexican food in Panamanian Spanish. 

My Spanish is still horrible. I have no excuse. It just is. But this is how I order my food and it always seems to work. First, I forgot to mention, they usually ask your name at most fast food restaurants here. Even at Taco Bell. If the first words out of their mouth are something like, "blah blah blah nombre?" Just say your name, with a Latin twist. My name is Crrr(roll of the tongue)iiistooofaaare. Panamanians have a hard time with my name. I've even had a security guard look at me strange and say, "Que? Lucifer?"

Next step. Order your food. I say, "Un combo de cuarto de libra con queso, por favor." If you look up at the menu you'll see that I just ordered a quarter pounder with cheese, please. Then just to skip the confusion of the flavor of soda, I immediately add, "Con Coca-Cola." Oh, here's another tip. If you happen to come from Texas, Oklahoma, or any other state where the soda Big Red exists. That's the red soda here. They call it fresa, which translated means strawberry, but it's not strawberry. It's the bubble gum mixed with cream soda tasting craze known as Big Red in the States. However, if you want to order it, you need to say fresa. If you were to ask for rojo grande which is Big Red, they'd just look at you like you've lost your mind. 

Next comes that confusing question. I still don't know exactly what they're asking. Just do yourself a favor and say, "Regooolar." Unless you want the larger size. If that's the case, say, "Grande."

If you want it for here, say, "Para aqui (pronounced pada ah-key)." If you want it go say, "Para llevar (pronounced pada yay var)." 

Don't adjust your monitors. That is fried chicken you see at the bottom middle of the photo. Every fast food restaurant here serves fried chicken. Usually it's just a drumstick and thigh, but that's something you have to get used to. If you've learned the word pollo (pronounced poy yo) means chicken, don't try to order McNuggets just by saying pollo. If you do, you'll get the fried chicken. McNuggets are "MacNooooogets" here, remember? 

Oh, just a heads up. Happy Meals are not called Happy Meals here. They're called Cajita Feliz (pronounced caheeta fayleez). 

I'm really saddened by the fact that they don't have McGriddles here. I loved those things. I guess with the diabetes it's for the best. And you see the McFlurry picture in the bottom right corner of the photo above? McFlurries don't look like that in Panama. They don't mix the toppings in the way they do back home. Here it's basically just vanilla ice cream with the topping plopped on top. If you want the mixed treat you'd better head over to Dairy Queen and order a Blizzard. 

I think that's about all. If you have any McDonalds or fast food question, please feel free to leave a comment below and I promise to do my best to answer. And if you have any funny stories to share, please do. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Halloween shopping in Panama City

Wow, it's been awhile. I mentioned in my last post that I was having some back issues. They just continued to get worse, keeping me off my feet for a few weeks. I didn't even want to try to sit at the computer. Basically, an old military injury, three herniated discs (along with other back problems), is affecting my legs now. A disc is pinching my sciatic nerve, causing pain from my back all the way to my toes. Anyway...I'm feeling a lot better today, so I wanted to get back to blogging. Just didn't want you to think I'd given up on you.

So the other day my wife convinced me to finally get out of the house and take the kids Halloween shopping. Halloween has always been a tricky thing here in Panama. Since way back when the U.S. military was occupying the Canal Zone. Bitterness over issues then, combined with religious thoughts and feelings, have convinced many Panamanians that Halloween is a bad thing, an evil holiday that shouldn't be celebrated. One politician has gone as far as trying to ban the holiday from all schools, public and private, stating that schools are losing sight of their duty, which is to keep students aware of Panamanian holidays, by spending time celebrating Halloween. Personally I think it's sad that the politician is spending so much of his time trying to ban a holiday that only lasts one day. How I feel about is besides the point.

Since I moved here a little over three years ago, I've had a difficult time making Halloween the fun holiday I grew up with. Trick or treating is almost non existent here. Some neighborhoods, like one called Antigua in Costa del Este, which is where a lot of Americans live (many of which work in the U.S. Embassy), celebrates the holiday with trick or treating, but unless you know someone living inside the guarded gate who will invite you in, you can only participate if you live there. I've heard that the embassy also has some sort of festivities, but again, it's only for employees and their families. The only place in town that I know always celebrates Halloween openly for the public is Multiplaza Mall. That's where we've taken our kids the past couple of years. They always have a costume contest and some of the stores, probably not even half, hand out candy to trick or treaters. My main complaint here, and it wasn't much different in the malls back in the States, is the stores buy the cheap candy, which here is the big bag of piƱata candy sold in the little Chinese stores. Every store hands out the same candy and it's all individually wrapped, fruit flavored hard candy. It's boring.

I wish so badly that I could take my kids back to Wellington, Florida, or Naperville, Illinois, a couple of places where we lived and enjoyed great trick or treating when they were really little, and too young to remember or appreciate it. In Panama you never see someone giving out little Snickers bars or Butterfingers or even candy corn. Some of that stuff is sold at Pricesmart (which is the equivalent of Costco here), but no one's going to spring for the expensive stuff. So the kids get a quarter of a sack filled with the stuff grandma used to keep in the little glass bowl on her coffee table. With so much changing here in Panama, and so many expats flocking to this Central American paradise, I can only hope that Halloween will become important here. In the meantime, I'll be headed to the mall this year too I suppose.

My little Wonder Woman

With the lack of emphasis put on Halloween, I was surprised to find a store filled with Halloween costumes and decorations. Last year was the first time I visited La Oca Loca department store in the Los Pueblos outdoor shopping center. By now you've heard me mention Los Pueblos a few times. I've seen Halloween costumes and decorations in some other stores around Panama City, but they're usually way overpriced and the selection is skimpy. We visited La Oca Loca this week to take the kids shopping, and this year they've actually dedicated half of their lower floor to Halloween. It's great. There are more adult costumes than children's costumes, mostly due to the fact that most of the nightclubs (called discos here) host some sort of Halloween party, but still, there are at least two whole aisles dedicated to the kids. And most of the kids' costumes are reasonably priced. One of my daughters bought a witch costume for $9.99. The other wanted to be Wonder Woman for $14.99. One of my sons is some sort of crazy dragon ninja and that cost $8.99. His twin brother wanted to be Bumblebee from the Transformers and that was only $14.99. For less than $50 all four of my kids got a Halloween costume. I spent more than that in South Florida that's for sure.

The crazy dragon ninja costume for $8.99

What impressed me the most was the great customer service at La Oca Loca. In each aisle they have attendants who will actually approach you and ask if you need help. That's almost unheard of here. Customer service is something severely lacking in Panama. Not at La Oca Loca. One girl I remember from last year because she provided great customer service. This year she did exactly the same. Most of the attendants are dressed in costumes and they'll gladly help you find a costume to fit your little ones. Then, which I don't think you could do in the States (I may be wrong), they walk you over to the dressing room and let you open the packages and try the costumes on. In the photo above, my son Nicolas "Nico" is modeling his crazy dragon ninja costume. 

One of the many costumes my daughter tried on (typical woman) before she settled on being a witch

I got a kick out of some of the store employees walking around dressed up in costumes. My sons went nuts when Batman came walking down our aisle. He took time to shake their hands and everything. Another employee was dressed in a creepy white outfit with a scary mask. He was getting a kick out of spooking the young women shoppers. On our way out of the store we passed yet another employee dressed as Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I thought my sons were gonna shit their pants when he came walking up the stairs behind us. Matteo and Nico took off. You can tell from the picture below we had a hell of a time getting them to pose for a photo with the guy. 

If you're having a hard time finding party supplies here, or you need an affordable costume to wear for your office Halloween party, save yourself the aggravation of searching the other stores in Panama and dealing with terrible customer service. Head to Los Pueblos shopping center and go to La Oca Loca. It's right behind El Costo and right next to Popeyes. When we were there last week the sign was missing. I think they're redecorating a little bit, so you may not even see a sign that says La Oca Loca, but it's there. And it's the only place I go now for Halloween shopping in Panama City. 

Thanks for reading. Oh, and please, if you're here in Panama and you know of any place to take the kids (other than Multiplaza), let me know. I'd love to find a new haunt. Leave comments if you have any suggestions.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

My new book cover

I try not to mention my book too often on my blog, because let's face it, you're not here to hear about my book. You want info on Panama. But every once in awhile I feel the need to share my book, especially at a time like now, when I've had the cover completely revamped. Check out the new book cover, and click on the link below it to be taken to its Amazon Kindle page. Or copy and paste the following link into your browser:

If you don't have a Kindle, you can also find my book at Smashwords at:

Some reviews:

5.0 out of 5 stars Mirror Images Book 1: The Darkness of Man May 24, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Amazon Verified Purchase
This book is amazing. I bought it on a whim when I ran out of books on my phone. What a great purchase. I could not put it down. The suspense had me flying through each chapter (even when I said to myself, just one more chapter). What a great book. Can't wait for the next one!!!!!

5.0 out of 5 stars Good Read April 26, 2012
By jp
Format:Kindle Edition|Amazon Verified Purchase
I am normally a person who reads history or older westerns. But the description and the cover of this book caught my attention. And I have to say I was very impressed with the authors spin. It was nice to read a book with an original plot and theory. I would recommend this book and look forward to more from the author.

5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional Read! July 27, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
The Darkness of Man is an awesome concept by a remarkably talented author. I've often thought there's magic in mirrors and Powers brings it on home. Don't miss it!


When an average Joe's reflection in the mirror switches places with him, he finds himself trapped in a strange mirror world, battling his way back to the other side so that he can stop his reflection from destroying the life he knows.

“Have you ever wondered why so many people in prison claim to be innocent? It’s ‘cause most of ‘em are,” Dozier whispered.

On the other side of the mirror, lies a horrific world where each of us has an image, our violent replica, capable of fulfilling our darkest desires, and only released into our world when we’re unable to follow through with an evil deed. Gabe Cutter, an average paper pusher, has his life ripped out from under him when his image switches places with him, hell bent on destroying the life Gabe knows, and killing his cheating fiance’. Now, stuck on the other side of the mirror, Gabe must join together with a band of stranded survivors and find a way to get back to his world before his image destroys it. Along the way he battles his way through maniacs, monsters, and ultimately his own heart, as he realizes that the woman he’s been trying to save...wasn’t worth the price of admission.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Nothing goes to waste in Panama

Hey everybody,

First I just want to apologize for not posting anything the last few days. I've had some pretty bad back problems (pinched sciatic nerve), which wouldn't allow me to sit down at the computer at all. I'm slowly getting back to normal. So here's a new post.

When I lived in the United States, I’d grown accustomed to either donating items that were of no use to me, or simply throwing them away. If it were something that someone else could use, I’d call up Salvation Army, Goodwill, or a local church and give it to them. However, if my pots and pans were charred, or my clothes were ripped, or my shoes were falling apart, I’d usually just chuck ‘em in the trash bin. 

I learned an interesting fact when I moved here. Nothing goes to waste in Panama. Down the street from my house is a Zapateria, which is basically a (guy who fixes shoes). I know they used to fix shoes back in the old days, back when Hans Christian Anderson was singing about mermaids and such, but it would never occur to me to take my tennis shoes, or even my dress shoes in to a Cobbler to have them repaired. I would honestly just throw torn up shoes in the trash. I’d never realized that someone else could fix the shoes and put them to good use. 

Same with pots and pans. Panamanians cook with a lot of oil. Everything is fried here. From the empanadas (pastries usually stuffed with meat or chicken) to the tortillas or even lunch meat (Panamanians don’t trust eating ham right out of the package), everything is tossed in oil. Eventually, no matter how well you clean your pots and pans, more than likely they’ll begin to char and turn black. Again, in the States I would have just gotten rid of them and bought new ones. Probably cheap new ones from Walmart, but still, I wouldn’t hold on to nasty ol’ pots and pans. Here, over near the Los Pueblos outdoor shopping center, there’s a guy who’s sole purpose, his entire business, is to clean charred pots and pans. People actually pay this guy to return their pans to new. 

Same with couches and chairs. In the States, if my couch or another piece of living room furniture was old, with stains, and I wasn’t able to clean it with a good ol’ upholstery cleaner, I’d probably sell it at a garage sale, or put it out on the corner for someone to pick up, or donate it if it were still in good enough shape. You should’ve seen the look on my mother-in-law’s face when I told her I wanted to get rid of my old couch. We were moving, and we’d had rat problems at the old house. I knew the little rodents had been crawling around inside the bottom of the couch. We’d found holes and rat crap all in the bottom of the sofa. She begged me not to throw it away. She said she’d take it to someone to have the fabric ripped off, the inside cleaned, and then have it reupholstered. She wanted to give it to her mother who could really use a new couch. That’s awesome.

Even simple things like oscillating fans with the motors burned out will be reused here. It’s hot in Panama, and fans are put through more wear and tear than the poor things deserve. So when my $20 fan goes kaput, I won’t hesitate to toss it. My wife’s uncle won’t let me. He’s taken old fans off my hands, lamps, and even a worn out toaster. These are things that you could pick up in the store for no more than $20. Yet, he’d rather repair them. I figure, if he can fix it, he can have it. And he’s fixed and kept quite a few of my old things. 

It’s very rare that you’ll see a garage sale or any kind of yard sale here. In Panama, if something works, it’s passed on to family. Shoes, clothing, electronics, household goods…you name it. If it can still be used, even if it needs to be repaired, someone in the family will be glad to take it off your hands. It’s probably the same reason you don’t see many used clothing stores or old consignment shops. My aunt in Boca Raton owns a consignment shop. People bring in everything from books to clothes to furniture. The whole point of the consignment shop is for people to make a little bit of money, some sort of commission, when the store sells their stuff. However, most people just give their stuff to her. They just don’t want it anymore and they don’t know what else to do with it.

That kind of store would never work here because no one would be willing to give the store anything. The consignment idea might possibly work, but you wouldn’t prosper with that kind of business here. People would rather pass items down to their family members than give it to some wealthy gringo/gringa running a consignment shop. The old saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” definitely applies in Panama. 

Thanks for reading, and just to throw this out there, I welcome any comments. I haven’t received many. Don’t hesitate to comment on any post. If you have a question, or want further clarification on something I’ve written, don’t hesitate to comment. I promise I’ll get back to you.