By Scott Fugit
“When you cease to learn, you cease to live.” As Mark Twain said back in the 1800’s, he could have been talking about expats and expat-wannabes. Wisdom and confidence are close companions.
For someone trying to integrate into a foreign culture, Twain’s old saying works in several ways. Comfortable expat living in Cuenca, Ecuador means there are endless things to be learned. A healthy attitude means you never stop absorbing knowledge. The list is almost infinite. There’s language and culture, the city’s geography, what to buy and where, Ecuador and regional news, international relations, dollar policies and domestic politics back home — it’s all grist for the expat’s brain mill. The challenge quickly becomes selecting what’s most important, and then trying to absorb it all.
At one time it was printed material only. When the internet came along, there were suddenly many more sources offering valuable information for expats. Related websites now abound. So many, that time and convenience enter the equation. How many hours a day does someone want to sit at a computer screen and read? Written information also allows for only so much emotion, sentiment and nuance to be conveyed. The spoken word is a faster and more efficient form of communication. It’s also the way most knowledge is exchanged between expats.
As the old saying goes, to be a successful inventor, just find a need and fill it. Way back in 1894, an American physicist, Alfred Meyer, discovered there where sound tones made inaudible by others of a lower frequency during human speech and music. Much later, in the 1980s, these tone overlaps were accurately charted using auditory curves. Within several modern German institutes, algorithms manipulating these sound curves were written and refined by a team of scientists calling themselves the Moving Pictures Experts Group (MPEG). Their newly patented sound compression software removed the inaudible bits, greatly reducing the size of the file. In its final third version, they produced the most compact digital sound representation possible – about 1/11th the size of a standard CD music file. They called this new format MP3. This meant that sound could now be efficiently transferred via the internet.
Originally, the Apple “IPOD” was the most common device for playing mp3 files. Software was developed to automatically download “broadcasts” using the new format. The two words were combined, and the term “podcast” was the logical result. Around 2004, better internet telecommunication technologies come together with this new and efficient mp3 form of recording human speech.
Modern podcasting was born.
Currently just a decade old, the mp3 podcast world is rapidly growing and evolving. Happily, expats and wannabes now have the opportunity to benefit from this technology. It connects us, the world, and popular expat destinations like Cuenca. Most importantly, it easily transfers information using the spoken word.
Today podcasting is like early talk radio once was, but with much more variety. Now, the technology allows anyone to be a podcaster. Whoever is doing the talking projects their own personality, delivery style and knowledge base. They might be a PhD in an ivory tower, or a visionary wearing pajamas and living in his parent’s basement. The field is wide open and anybody qualifies. The predictable result is frequent upheaval, with hosts, content, sponsors and websites in constant flux. Podcast shows often come and go quickly. The best, most enduring ones minimize personality and concentrate on real information. Their purpose is usually stated openly. This is particularly true for those podcasts dealing with expat and wannabe culture. Typically direct and openly anti-establishment, they are both uncensored and under the radar. Views are bluntly expressed with little subtlety. Most importantly, they are not afraid to explore radical notions like citizens leaving the USA for a better life somewhere else.
Some say podcasting is now all that remains of what was once called investigative journalism, or free speech. The mp3 podcast world is often called “alternative media,” “fringe reporting,” or the old standby, “conspiracy theories.” The subjects covered are rarely mentioned on western mainstream corporate media. Again, this is particularly true for the expat and wannabe topics. Helpful discussions relating to Americans expatriating are politically touchy for many reasons. Before podcasting, such dialogues were not easy to find. Historically, the obscuring of knowledge has worked well in controlling radical ideas.
Yes, the mp3 world is also threatened by controlling techniques, but it’s a tougher target than ad dependent big media. But TV viewership is plummeting. New studies show most Americans go to the internet for news and opinion. This is not good for the controllers and they are reacting predictably. Formal regulation of internet based podcast speech has not yet happened, although many people are trying. At one point, a legislative idea was proposed to develop a licensing process for “journalists,” and thereby limit independent internet based media.
Despite the resulting uproar, the effort drew a surprising amount of anti-free speech support from legislators. The backup plan is now in effect, in which corporate media ignores the mp3 world and it’s new, diversified and individualistic medium of podcasting. The mainstream will continue working to deflect, minimize or ignore useful information helpful to various segments of US society, such as the growing numbers of unhappy Americans considering a move abroad.
Even though the mp3 world still holds some independence, a wariness and healthy skepticism is always warranted when consuming any media, including podcasts. As usual for expats, it’s best to use all of your own knowledge and experience, plus consider everyone else’s.
Like most people in my age group, I’m a user and not a techie. I have tried to maintain a grey haired novice’s approach to the podcast information below. For beginners, the actual mechanics of finding, downloading and listening to these shows can be frustrating. Keep in mind that if it was easy, everyone would know this stuff. We aging skeptics have learned that propaganda comes spoon fed, while real truth is always locked away and hard to access.
For those unclear on definitions, the term “streaming” refers to playing an mp3 file in real time directly from a website connection. This is standard procedure for viewing video content like movies. Typically, no permanent file is downloaded during the streaming process. The same is true for audio mp3 streaming.
I prefer to download mp3 podcast files. Although download times can vary based on the speed of your connection, the result is a file that can be copied to various devices, saved for later listening, and provided to friends. Try downloading files at night. When Ecuador is asleep, transfer speeds seem faster.
To make podcasts truly useful, convenience of listening is paramount. Streaming a show chains me to a computer. When I listen to podcasts, I’m also doing other things. Most modern phones will play mp3 files but I prefer a small, basic and cheap mp3 player with a modified set of earbuds, the left one cut off. With low volume playing in just one ear, I can discretely follow the podcast discussion and still be mindful of my surroundings, whether sitting on a bus, people watching in Parque Calderon or strolling along the river.
Yes, downloading mp3 files takes a few steps. But they’re easier than the ones on the escalinata, from the Tomebamba up to Calle Larga.
Let’s talk techno.
Pick one (or all) of the Podcast websites listed below. Then follow the steps to find the download icon described under Download Tips. Nothing is standard and all four download pages look different. The same is true for the names used with the mp3 files.
On the correct download button? Right click and the “Save link as…” window pops up. That command is usually in the middle of the list. Clicking on it opens another window to allow saving the mp3 file to a directory you choose.
The “Save as type:” should always say “MP3 Format Sound”. If not, you are on an incorrect download button. Back out and take another run at it.
In Windows, your downloaded mp3 file often ends up in the “Download” directory under “Favorites,” unless you choose differently. This works fine. Most importantly, you know where your mp3 file has landed. Losing it is a common grey haired novice mistake — it’s like a digital version of your keys.
You can also build your own podcast directory using the file manager program Windows Explorer. To name your own directory, right click on (C:), and then “new” and “folder.”
Different software will play mp3 files on your PC. Windows Media Player is common. From the file manager, right click on the podcast mp3 file, do “Open with,” and choose a player. Make sure your speaker is turned up.
Or copy the podcast file it to a portable mp3 player.
Expat and wannabe culture are the showcased topics in several of my favorite mp3 podcast shows listed below. There are certainly others you may know of. Search them out, have a listen and spread the word. Let us know your favorites in the comment section below.
Podcast Show: Johnny Mueller’s Expat Files
Subjects Covered: Living in Latin America, the “gringo advantage,” scumbag politicians, expat life compared to “cat food in Cleveland,” the dollar versus “funny money,” cultural challenges, international relations, finance and economics, language issues, starting a business, cars and driving, buying real estate, Latin romance, “boots on the ground” appraisals, escaping the USA, all aspects of the expat experience.
Show Frequency: Expat Files is a half hour show posted twice a week.
Mp3 Download Address: http://prn.fm/catagory/archives
Download Tips: The Progressive Radio Network is an excellent source for many informative podcast shows, the Expat Files being just one of them.
- Shows are added to the top of the stack, so scroll down until you find the latest “Expat Files”.
- A left click on the show title takes you to a separate page for that episode.
- Near the bottom, look for “Download this episode (right click and save)” in red lettering.
- Right click and “Save link as…”
The first Expat Files show was recorded in November of 2010. There are now almost 200 episodes available under the prn.fm “shows” tab located here: http://prn.fm/category/archives/expat-files/ . Every one of them is informative, insightful and worth downloading.
Other Related Websites and Services: Johnny Mueller’s website is currently changing, but was originally located at www.ExpatWisdom.com. He offers phone consultations and organizes small, popular seminars for expats and wannabes.
My Comments: Johnny Mueller is the king of expat podcasting. He currently lives in Antigua, Guatemala and covers all of Latin America in his twice weekly shows. He started his expat experience more than 20 years ago, speaking no Spanish while working in radio stations and spending time in 21 Latin American countries. He has built houses, started and sold several businesses, traveled widely in the region, made use of medical care, experienced romance and generally lived all phases of an expats life. He claims there are 10 million U.S. expats. They should all be dedicated listeners. Although his early podcasts were criticized for being stereotypical, his style has matured with his experience. Johnny Mueller has the gift of gab, and consistently turns his extensive expat know-how into entertaining, humorous and informative podcasts. He explores all the cultural clashes likely to be experienced by wannabes. His shows are full of sharp, witty comparisons between life in Latin America and the U.S. He has a low tolerance for “scumbag politicians” of any stripe. The recent political upheaval in Guatemala has been covered on Expat Files with an insight and detail impossible at any corporate media source. Current events from an expat’s perspective are consistently part of the effort. If you download and listen to only one expat podcast, Expat Files should be it. No matter what your level of experience as an expat or wannabe, you will always learn something new and useful from Johnny Mueller’s Expat Files.
Podcast Show: Richard Martin’s Wake Up Call
Subjects Covered: Expat life, economics, international relations, media deceptions, corruption, poverty in America, historical perspectives, politics and despair, escaping the U.S.
Show Frequency: Wake Up Call is a one hour show posted twice weekly.
Download Address: http://richardmartinswakeupcall.podbean.com/
Download Tips: Richard Martin maintains his own unaffiliated website for downloads.
- Left click on the blue “Download,” near the bottom of the show description. This takes you to a Podbean website.
- Look for the green “Download” tab in the center of the page.
- Right click and “Save link as…”
The website has archived episodes dating back to December, 2014.
Other Related Websites and Services: Richard Martin organizes expat seminars and meet-up groups. He offers his own private phone number for consultations.
My Comments: Richard Martin produces his shows from Panang, Malaysia. Well researched and smoothly scripted, he creates every episode himself. A former concert pianist, he traveled widely as a young musician, and later took up global journalism. He covers all things expat, but is especially adept at blowing up U.S. government economic claims and optimism, like the so called recent financial recovery. His background includes a stint as an investment manager. He readily admits his message is “no fun,” and his listener numbers are not growing significantly, because “not everyone can take it.” Like all podcasters in the escape the USA camp, his message is determined and unrelenting — get out while you can. Somehow, that lesson seems even more convincing when delivered with his proper British accent and perfect diction. Although he lives in Asia, other expat locations including Latin America, are often discussed. Wake Up Call offers excellent information and is well worth the download effort.
Podcast Show: Blake Sawyer’s Escape
Subjects Covered: Expat life, health and spirituality, homeostasis and happiness, America’s culture of disease, drugs and death, future mortality rates near term and beyond, destination rankings, escaping the USA.
Show Frequency: Escape is a one hour show posted weekly.
Download Address: http://overseasradio.com/show-archive/
Download Tips: The Overseas Radio Network (overseasradio.com) has some very interesting Expat oriented podcasts. Shows are typically country specific, and often real estate or business oriented. Try them all and see what you learn. Blake Sawyer’s Escape is included.
- Escape! with host Blake Sawyer is fifth on the list at the download address
- Left click on “Escape!” for a specific show page.
- Shows are listed by date, the latest on top of the stack.
- Right click on “Download: date of show” below the show description. Then “Save link as…”
Other Related Websites and Services: https://escapetheusanow.com/ Blake Sawyer’s own website has free and subscription information available for download. His website name says it all.
My Comments: Blake Sawyer’s style represents more of a challenge for the uninitiated listener. A successful author and entrepreneur in the field of health consulting, he also manufactures a line of nutritional supplements which he frequently mentions on his podcast. His shows are full of spiritual challenges, health, diet and lifestyle confrontations, plus self-improvement appeals. Mixed with frequent biblical references, his consistent and unabashed plea is for you to leave the USA now while it’s still possible. Not immediately dedicated to that goal? “Are You Stupid?” is his question for you. That line was the title for a recent series of Escape shows. Blake Sawyer lives in Argentina on what sounds like a large, idyllic farm which he often describes for his listeners. We also hear about his amazing health and that of his family, his NFL physique at 60+ years of age, his massive aura, and his deep understanding of the human body. Then it gets extreme. In his soothing, quiet, slightly effeminate voice, he openly states how a large percentage of North Americans will soon die horrible deaths. In his estimation, this will occur within the current decade — maybe twenty years tops. Analysis of how and why this is going to happen is covered in the 180 Escape shows archived at his website. “Don’t jump from the frying pan into the fire” is Blake Sawyer’s tag line on expatriation. His website has downloadable material such as very complete lists and country rankings, details of his grading criteria, and more of his writings. Ecuador is typically in his top five rated destinations among the hundreds he’s studied. His practical observations on food production per capita, water availability and local’s attitudes towards expats, Americans in particular, are very informative. These are things wannabes should be aware of. There is no doubt he has valuable advice to offer although some will consider his style hard to take. Typical for the fast changing genre of expat podcasting, Blake Sawyer has recently hinted he may soon end his show. Get it now and be the judge — does the Escape podcast qualify as fear porn? Maybe. But what I find most frightening, is that Blake Sawyer might be right. If you’re an expat wannabe, this guy will make you wannabe faster.
Podcast Show: Ecuador at Your Service, with Michel Blanchard and Ashley Rodgers
Subjects Covered: Expat life and culture in Ecuador and Cuenca specifically, local organizations, charities, events and personalities.
Show Frequency: Ecuador at Your Service is a half hour show posted approximately once a month.
Mp3 Download Address: http://overseasradio.com/ecuador-at-your-service/
Download Tips: For Ecuador at Your Service:
- Go to http://overseasradio.com/show-archive/
- Left click on “Ecuador at Your Service,” fourth on the list.
- Shows are listed by date, the latest on top of the stack.
- Right click on “Download: date of show” then “Save link as…”
My Comments: I am a fan of Ecuador at Your Service, and download every episode. I appreciate their efforts. They cover local Cuenca charities and businesses, real estate questions, expat issues and community personalities. Although there are occasional audio problems, several recent shows have shown improved sound. They could use a second microphone. In podcasting, dual hosting is not easy. Michel and Ashley have gotten smoother and more relaxed with experience. Their show content avoids controversy or conspiracy discussions — unlike other expat podcasts. It makes them a welcome addition to the mix. Don’t expect a spirited debate on the existence of the Cajas “Wawa Grande” big foot, but for thoughtful dialog about being a Cuenca expat or wannabe, the Ecuador at Your Service podcast should definitely be on your list of downloads.
“Why do you listen to that thing so much?” It’s a common question I get from friends back home. Their talking about my earbud and little mp3 player, usually clipped to the back of my hat. I have a standard answer: “Because I want to know which way to run.”
Maybe that’s also true for most other wannabes. We are constantly evaluating plan B strategies, how to separate from home, personal economics, adapting to a new culture and language — it’s never ending. The where and when questions top the list. Cuenca is a popular answer to the first question. Many of us are still working on the second.
When expats and wannabes make big decisions, insightful, relevant and up to date information is like gold. Now, with internet access, we can hear very knowledgeable people from all over the world talk about expat life. The fledgling web based realm of mp3 podcasting allows this magic to happen. We should all be listening.
Established Cuenca expats can start an mp3 infoline to the world, and add to their existing knowledge.
And for us expat wannabes, hopefully the podcasts reviewed above can help in making all the decisions.
Like which way to run.
Scott Fugit retired recently to study leisure, travel writing and Ecuador. His goal is to bring real experiences and entertainment to articles relevant to expat life. He and his photographer wife Dee are Cuenca wannabes. Contact him at email@example.com.