Creativity can manifest itself in many different ways. In Santiago de Chile it is the creativity of survival that really stands out. This can be seen at most of the street intersections, corners, parks and squares, where you can watch street performers, vendors, food stand owners and other creative souls who have turned the urban environment into their workspace and enjoy the freedom of being their own boss. Performances can range from high-level, acrobatic tricks to push-ups in the middle of the street. The same goes for “food performers”, who are pretty creative whilst preparing the not-so-healthy sopaipillas, delicious sushi rolls, cakes and freshly pressed juices. However, there is something which each of these street activities has in common: they all make the city life more colorful, interesting and vibrant, and, in some cases, reduce criminal practices and poverty.
I have had the possibility to be one of those performers and I can tell you that making money in Santiago in this way isn’t as hard as people think. A creative idea and the courage to showcase it is all you need. The amount of money pocketed at the end of the day should be considered part of the feedback as to how successful your idea was. So, even if your dream office is not on the street, but you are thinking about starting a business, why not test it out on the streets of Santiago? This could save you a lot of time and investment should it not be as successful as you had thought it would be.
How I Made Enough Money to Spend My Holidays in Buenos Aires
So, here is my story; how I discovered it. When I was an exchange student in Santiago de Chile, I was on a tight budget. The holidays were fast approaching and I realized that I needed a job but studying from early morning to late evening leaves you with very few choices. A friend of mine joked, “Just do some begging; a beggar with blue eyes will be exotic, so you will make some money for sure by not doing anything!”
No way! I thought to myself. I have never had any respect for beggars: people who ask others to pay by making them feel sorry for their laziness!!! Nothing is free in this world. If you want to make money – do something! Make the exchange of energies happen; that’s my credo! It was at this point that a thought struck me; why don’t I do some energy exchange on the street myself? But what could I do?
I remembered that I had done Indian classical dance (Kathak) since I was a teenager and had participated in countless performances. So why not do it for the inhabitants of Santiago? I had noticed that next to the house in Bellavista neighborhood where I lived, there was a street called Purisima. Every time I crossed this road to take a bus to my university, there were some performers doing amazing things in the middle of the street for the bored drivers waiting at traffic lights. Most of the street performers there were juggling or doing acrobatics. How cool would it be if I did an Indian dance?
The next morning, on my way to the University, I stopped on the “performance street” to watch a girl doing incredible tricks with many small balls. She took a break as the lights turned green and cars began to cross her “stage”, and I had a chance to speak to her. I explained how I had been thinking of trying street performance and asked her opinion on performing an Indian dance at this intersection. She encouraged me to go ahead, stating that for her, this had proved to be the best and most flexible job ever. She said that the locals were very kind; her little bag containing her money and water had never been stolen from the pavement while she was performing. Our conversation was interrupted when she suddenly ran out to the middle of the street to do a little performance, as the light had turned green for pedestrians.
A few moments later, she came back with a bunch of coins in her hand and she said, “Promise me you will give it a try; you will not regret it!”
The next day I began to choreograph a short routine. I decided to make it 40 seconds long as the lights usually were green for 1 minute. This would give me ample time to perform and collect the money as well. When I felt it was good enough, I put on a sari, which luckily always traveled with me, and went out to start my first working day. I wish I could say I felt confident… it took me a while to appear calm and collected.
I hadn’t even begun when I noticed people starting to watch me. I guess it wasn’t often that there was a blue-eyed girl in a sari standing by the road and looking confused…
I kept encouraging myself: Just one time, Guna, and if you don’t like it, you will never have to do it again. So as the pedestrian light changed to green, I jumped out in the middle of the street and started my show, with pedestrians crossing the street behind me as my stage decorations. Those felt like the longest 40 seconds of my life. I didn’t dare look the car drivers in the eyes and my whole body, especially my hands, was trembling like crazy. I finished my performance and without looking up, went through the 3 lanes of cars back to the pavement. Nobody stuck out their hand with some money. Failure, complete failure, I thought, Never again. But as I reached to my bag and drink some water, I asked myself, Are you giving up that easy? One more time, and if this time there’s no response, then never again.
Green light. I went out in the middle of the street and started my performance again, but this time I lifted my head a little bit to look into the eyes of the drivers and even managed to give them a little, shy smile. My hands were still trembling, but I didn’t seem to notice. I kept the warm smile, and the drivers smiled back at me. When the performance was over, suddenly there were lots of hands sticking out of the car windows with shining coins. Very confused but happy, I tried to collect them all and say “Gracias,” to each spectator. Time was not my friend here and the 20-second limit didn’t let me get all the money, but it didn’t matter, because I felt appreciated. I put all the coins in my bag and in the following days and weeks, I continued to step out into the middle of the Purisima street countless times, with a big smile on my face. My audience loved what I did and their happiness meant a lot to me. Within just a few weeks, I had earned enough to spend my holidays in Buenos Aires!
Performance can also be tasty!
The second time I enjoyed the possibilities of creative money-making in Santiago was just a few weeks ago. I only had my last days left in the city before heading back to Europe, and there was lots of food still in the fridge. Again, it started out as a joke; “Let’s make some food and sell it on the street,” but then it turned into a real business idea. Using the corn and chickpea flour left in my kitchen, as well as some vegetables, I prepared some vegan tortillas, then carefully wrapped up each piece using a transparent film and found a cardboard box, a piece of fabric that would function as a counter and set off to look for a location for my new “vegan restaurant”.
It only took me 5 minutes to reach the very center of Santiago, as I was still living in Barrio Bellavista, the same neighborhood I had lived during my studies. In the intersection between Pio Nono Street and Bellavista Street, I found a corner with good shade, put down the cardboard box, covered it with the fabric, then put out my tortillas and started to wonder if I should attempt to rap the famous street seller rhyme, “A luca a luca a luca, “(for a thousand, for a thousand, for a thousand). Side note: One thousand Chilean Pesos in slang is called Luca and corresponds to a proximately 1.6 dollars or 1.3 euros and is the average price for a street food item).
I was too shy to rap. Instead, I just smiled and said it with my eyes. It wasn’t long before the first buyers came to me and asked what I had and where I was from. They then enthusiastically bought two tortillas and left. A few minutes later, I saw them coming back as they ate my tortillas. I was afraid that perhaps they didn’t like them and had come for a refund but as they approached me, the compliments started flowing and they said it was so tasty that they wanted to buy some more. They even asked for the schedule of my food stand. That was it: I knew I was on the right path. A couple of hours later, all the tortillas were sold and I had earned 40 lucas. A few days after starting my ‘restaurant’, all the uneaten food from my kitchen had transformed into very heavy pockets.
As you can see, it took such a small amount of time to establish a profitable business and get regular clients. The good income felt great, but the most important gain for me was the chance to get to know people, make new friends and to realise that if I ever wanted to move to Chile again, I wouldn’t need to look for a job, go to interviews, and work at times that were not convenient for me. I would just have to find out where to buy chickpea and corn flour cheaply!
Why Not Give it a Try?!
There are many busy intersections in Santiago, not to mention the exits from Metro stations and other bustling places. It means there is enough place for everybody and that´s why I am not afraid to share with you a few steps which you can use to gain courage and make some money. It doesn’t matter if you don´t need the money or don’t have an excess of food in the fridge. If you wish to be closer to the locals, step out of your comfort zone and get to know people that otherwise you would never have had a chance to talk to, then here are some tips:
First off, decide whether you want to do a performance, make some food or whether you can offer anything else to impact the lives of people.
For street performance:
- Let your creativity flow. To do a performance, you don´t necessarily have to be very good at something, just creative and funny. I once noticed a guy who was doing arm bendings, because he didn’t know how to do anything else. I saw lots of people giving him money because it was so simple that it ended up being funny.
- Find a street with not too many car lanes; in my opinion, three is best. Time how long the green light lasts while pedestrians are crossing the street – that will be your performance time together with money collection time.
- Performance time has to be longer than half of the total time, but you need around 20 seconds to collect the money. If the green light in your chosen street lasts for 1 minute, then 40 seconds would suffice for the performance time.
- Prepare a little bag where you will put the money and have some drinking water close by. There is always the risk of it being stolen, although this has never happened to me or my friends. If you need your mobile phone or keys with you, make an agreement with a nearby shop, café, street vendor or another establishment so that they can keep your valuables while you are working. In 99% of cases, these people are honest and happy to help.
- Start off your performance, even if you are not sure if it will work out. It is only by practicing that you will be able to figure it out and make changes as you progress.
- Do everything with a smile, have a positive attitude and be grateful for each coin.
If you decide to sell food:
- Identify a corner with many pedestrians. Exits and entrances of metro stations are also a good option – at certain times of the day they can be very profitable.
- Figure out what kind of food you can make that doesn´t need plates, spoons or other extras, but can be wrapped in some film or put in a bag.
- I recommend doing vegan, gluten-free and free of other allergens to ensure that as many people as possible can eat it. A non-vegan can eat vegan food but a vegan is not going to eat meat; it’s as simple as that. If, however, you choose to use one of those doubtful ingredients, be sure to inform your buyers of their presence. If you don´t want to explain to each customer, just write all the information that people need to know on a piece of paper and put it in a visible place.
- Find the ingredients, prepare the food, wrap it nicely at home and then find a cardboard box and some fabric to make it look prettier once covered.
- You are now ready to go! Pitch your stand in your chosen location and get started on your new business!
Any Legal Aspects to be Addressed?
I couldn’t write this article without touching on legalities. So, what do the authorities have to say about these manifestations of creativity? In general, Chile is a liberal country; the state doesn’t interfere in the matters of their people. However, there are rules which govern street activities, particularly if you sell food. You are supposed to get permission for your business from the municipality. However, in reality, very few street food vendors and almost no performers have these permits, because the Chilean police force is focused on hardcore criminals, not creative survivors! There was one instance when I saw police approaching and all the sellers of industrial items like shoes and perfumes wrapped up their things and disappeared, but not the food sellers. I asked the police what the difference was. Their answer was, “People selling ready-made things might have stolen them and our task is to prevent criminality, but people who have made food with their own hands try to survive by working and we are here to help people, not bother them.” This encounter definitely built my respect for the Chilean police, although I had heard that sometimes they might not be so nice. So, I definitely recommend you to take the law into consideration. But in life, it is necessary to take a risk. Sometimes rules are not made with the most genuine intentions in mind, and the only way to express your personal opinion is through action; this is another lesson I learned in Chile.
In summary, I would say that Santiago indeed is a city of creative business ideas. The city gives you everything – free space, a stage and/or marketplace, a good, receptive audience or clients, and even understanding policemen. The rest depends on you! And no matter what kind of creative idea you carry out on the street, it will make you rich: first, in your heart, through all the unique experiences and the new people you meet, while secondly, the coins in your pocket will fill you with pride for your succeeded effort and affirmation that your creativity and courage was appreciated.
Let me know how did it go!