Back to the Future

Between leaving Ecuador and moving to Jakarta, I am spending a few weeks in New England with my parents. Though this blog is more traditionally about our adventures abroad, the experience of being ‘home’ merits a few entries of its own, mostly because Americans seem to live in the future, and also because the U.S. is sometimes under appreciated.

In Ecuador, we lived in Quito, the capital, not in some jungle town. We had smart phones with 3G. Our building had a generator so that we wouldn’t lose power, and central hot water so we didn’t have to lug gas tanks to fuel a heater. It felt modern; after two years, Quito seemed as though it had as many technological amenities as anywhere else. I was wrong.  It sounds cliché to say that technology makes a big difference in our lives, but it does.

The dentist:  I already know that my dentist here in Connecticut has digital X-rays and a nice computer system we did not see at dentists’ offices in Quito.  Today my dentist said, “This cavity is small, so I’m going to do this with a laser so that I don’t have to numb up your mouth.” I was out of there in less than 30 minutes with a filling that looked like my normal tooth, feeling good and not blathering through a Novocaine-numbed lip.

The bank: I opened a new bank account and got a credit card today. I was shocked that each transaction took only 10 minutes. I was amazed that the only ID I needed was my driver’s license, and that the bank accepted my Social Security number, and Bruno’s, without any paper documents, even though Bruno was not there. Even as a citizen in Ecuador, with both passports, my national ID and voting card, a bill from my address, a letter from my employer with my salary for the next year, and a letter of recommendation from a family member with a standing account, complete with a copy of that person’s ID, I was denied an account … at three different banks.

The supermarket: Ecuador has a big supermarket chain called Mega Maxi. The inside looks not unlike a U.S. Wal-Mart, and you can find a number of imported goods on the many shelves. But yesterday I wandered around Whole Foods in shock. The variety was overwhelming. Mega Maxi would dedicate 10 feet of shelf space to a single brand of pasta in three shapes. Instead, I saw a different brand every foot, in every shape, of every kind of grain. Then there were the quick-preparation varieties: 10-minute macaroni in white cheddar, organic Swiss, pesto, in shells, macaroni, organic Spagettio’s. Mega Maxi carries Kraft mac n’ cheese, its only quick-prep pasta meal. This difference is apparent in every aisle, from cereal to produce. The freezer section is especially shocking: Mega Maxi did have about three types of frozen meals: a lasagna, some chicken nuggets and pizza. They were mostly disgusting. I had forgotten about the rows and rows of organic burritos, sag paneer, Pad Thai, lemon-pepper salmon, etc., etc. And the vegetable section, with ready-to-eat quinoa salad, pre-cut fruit salad, veggies and dip.

Selection is just the beginning, I had also forgotten about self-check out, and now our local stop n’ shop has these wands; you carry around the wand, scan your items and put them in your bags as you shop. At the self-checkout line, you return the wand, swipe your credit card, and walk out the door with your groceries.  What can take an hour in the supermarket in Quito is done in five minutes, and you can make dinner in 15. Suddenly, hours of time are freed up, and the need for a paid cook at home is eliminated. Technology leads to efficiency.

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