Monday, June 30, 2008

Our First Road Trip: Part I

Let me explain the process of telling this story: It's long and detailed, and it has many corresponding pictures. To save myself the trouble of uploading pictures twice, I've put everything onto my new Flickr account (new, since there was some drama with the old one). The green words in the story are links to the pictures related to that event. You can click each picture individually to follow the story, or you can just read the story and then look at the pictures all at once, though you may not remember which is which. Some people may feel that this story is unncessarily long, but let me remind you that my blog is ultimately for me, and you don't have to read it. :o) However, I hope you enjoy it! Our trip was amazing, and I'm excited to share it with you guys.

Part I

The night before our trip, I was talking with Alexandre about the details of the weekend at the ranch that his friend recommended. I found out that the ranch was actually in Minas Gerias proper, and not still in Sao Paulo state. This made me very happy for two reasons, the primary being linguistic: everyone I have met from the state of Minas Gerias has been significantly easier to understand, largely because the Minas Gerias dialect has a sound system roughly equal to that of Western American English (apart from the open ɔ and nasalized vowels, the banes of my existence). It's like hearing Spanish spoken by my mother. “Por que?”, which is often pronounced “poh-key” or ([poh-ki]) in the big cities, is pronounced as “per kay” (or [pɹ-kei]) in Minas Gerias. The vocalic American approximant [ɹ]s run rampant. Fabulous. The second reason is because Minas Gerias is a very historically rich state, with a colonial culture almost parallel to the United States south. It was one of the first places inhabited by the Portuguese, and it's famous for its giant plantations and romanticized conquest of nature. So many of the telenovelas here are set in Minas Gerias in the 1800s. It's like reading Robert Penn Warren books, with all the beautiful dresses and forbidden cross-class relationships, except on TV and in Portuguese. And, it's famous for its cheese.
As we were preparing to leave, Alexandre asked, “how much money are you bringing?” I told him, and said, “and I also have my credit card, in case we have any problems.” He laughed. “Oh, Da,” he said, applying the Portuguese L-R CV nicknaming system to my name. “I think you don't have an idea of where are we going.” (Those pesky embedded questions!) “They aren't going to take Visa.”

I humphed. “Well, they have a website.” I really hate moments that reveal my American-ness.

“You'll see,” was all he said.
Early in the afternoon, we started our drive east across Sao Paulo state. It was a beautiful day, with perfect windows-down driving weather. The majority of our views consisted of vast rolling hills of sugar cane, miles and miles (or should I say kilometers and kilometers?) of cane, as far as the eye could see. (I sometimes wonder if parts of the American south look like this, since everything I read about sugar cane says that America is the second-largest producer after Brazil. But where is it?) I also think I saw almost every stage of the sugar cane --> alcohol process, from the seeding, to the sprouting, to the harvesting (including the encampments of poor farm laborers, as well as the encampments of the protesters of the treatment of the poor farm laborers), to the transport in giant trucks, to the processing plants, to the gas stations, to the controversial burning of the fields to start again. It is very apparent just how much this process was the Brazilian government's pet project.

I also saw crops that I had never seen before: rubber, coffee, and soy!

One fascinating thing about the Brazilian landscape is that it combines so many types of vegetation the same area. There are patches that are at once Northern California greenland and lush Amazon rainforest. Everything grows here.
Our drive took longer than expected—6 hours became 9 hours-- mostly because of the many instances of being stuck behind slow, old trucks on single-lane highways. I am very pleased to report that Alexandre is a refined and mature driver, not the typical oaf of a man to tries to show the girth of his loins by insisting upon his ability to pass said trucks by driving into oncoming traffic. His patience kept us safe, and also allowed me to take pictures of the funny things written on the backs of the trucks.
Even with all of its transportation flaws, one valuable thing about the California highway system is its virtual inability to cause you to get lost. Yes, I know it's not impossible to get lost by using California freeways (right, Mom? ;) but imagine how much more often if would happen if you didn't have, for example, a numbered highway system, or signs that show that you are still, in fact, on these highways, or clearly demarcated off-ramps and on-ramps (including such valuable words as “north,” “south,” “east,” and “west”), and no godforsaken rotundas. Even if we are ashamed of other things, we Americans can take pride in our efficiency and logistical abilities. And our high speed limits. :oD
After crossing into Minas Gerias, we stopped in the biggest city (and one of the only cities) in the three hours between the state border and the ranch-- a place called Piumhi, pop. in the low thousands. Alexandre very Brazilian-ly and not impolitely stopped people on the streets to ask for directions and recommendations for dinner. Two men told us about a little open-air restaurant close to the road we needed for our next highway, so we ate there. I had a hamburger with corn on it (???) and understood everything the waiter said. I love Minas Gerias.
As we got closer to the town that the ranch is in, we encountered only small villages and dirt roads. Alexandre, who by this time was tired of driving and being lost, stopped people at every turn to ask people for the directions again. He stopped a cute evangelical teenager with braces and a bible who was very embarrassed to be talking to such a cute boy, managing to give us directions though all out-of-breath and giggly. :o) We finally found the road (stony path?) we needed to get to the ranch. (Perhaps a better translation is a related word: hacienda.) We drove... and drove... and drove. For about 30 minutes. We saw lots of homemade wooden signs for other little fazenda-pousadas (a farm/inn, the type of place we were going to), but none for the one we needed. We also didn't see any sign of lights enough to suggest the presence of a town. We started to doubt the 6 or so people we had asked. We started to get kinda scared. We made our own version of The Blair Witch Project, except in PortuSpanglish. You can maybe watch it here.

When the doubt overcame us, we decided to turn around and stop at one of the other ranches to ask for directions. We were clearly at some family's house, and not at a public business. The people in the house were logically wary of us, and didn't answer the door. Alexandre started to panic a little at the possibility of guns or dogs. Luckily, a woman who was probably a maid came out of her quarters to assist us. (The old slave culture of Minas Gerias is still alive here, in many aspects.) She told us not to worry, that we were, in fact, going in the right direction, and that we were just a couple of kilometers away. Paranoia is a strong emotion, as it turns out.
We made it to the village at the base of the ranch (just wild dogs, sand, shacks, and a giant church), went through yet another process of u-turns and direction-asking, and finally found the sign for the road that led to the hotel section of the fazenda. The owner, Senhor Soares, was outside waiting for us. As it turns out, we were the only guests that night, and we were a bit later than expected. But of course, he was patient and gracious, offering us food, milk and coffee. We thanked him and declined all of it. We were happy to be out of the car and somewhere with electric lighting, and we were eager to take showers and crawl into bed. So Senhor Soares gave us our key and a short run-down of the options for Saturday (breakfast before 9, etc.). At this point, we couldn't see more than a few feet in front of us, but we could hear water everywhere around the property. The night was cold, but we were in for a beautiful morning.

Check out Part II here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I'm Still an American

So I know my life is better without fast food. I know that. I know that I'm skinnier and healthier and that I'm decreasing my chances of developing Type II Diabetes and a bunch of other health problems and that I'm saving money and that I'm not supporting the unfair labor practices used to pick tomatoes and I'm not sucking the teat of evil corporations but GOD I just really want an enchirito--

Phew. Okay. Deep breaths.

We're going on vacation here this weekend and getting the kitty on Monday. We were supposed to get her tonight but we realized we'd be in the same dilemma as last weekend and we want to be responsible kitty parents. I took Monday off work just in case we had any problems getting home (the place is about 6 hours away, on the northeast corner of Sao Paulo state, on the border with Minas Gerias. Look it up), so the woman from the shelter can come Monday evening.

Yay yay

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


So, some of you may remember a few months back when my fellow San Francisco optimist Nancy Pelosi caved and agreed to the idea of stimulus checks to be sent out to Americans to help generate more cash flow in the economy.

It turns out that most people didn't actually get around to filing for those checks (so much for Bay Area Optimism), but I did. Because I'm Smrt. S-M-R-T Smart! (10 points for the people who know that reference... Nancy). It isn't the best solution, really, but hell, I'm not gonna pass up free money if it's not gonna be used for something better. The sister so generously offered to put my check in my account for me, since it got sent to her apartment. The check is for almost 600 dollars, which is roughly equivalent to a month's salary for me here in Brazil.

So I'm gonna stimulate the economy all right... the BRAZILIAN economy. ha-HA. Take that, Trickle Down proponents! I'm trickling the money down, all right. Waaaay down.

:D I am truly sorry for all of you stuck in the US with your crazy gas prices and overly-tempting fast food. One of the biggest things I've learned here is how little I really need to be happy. Taking one suitcase with you can do that to a person. I've got good food, some clothes, hot water, my computer, and hair products. (Come on, I'm not claiming to be a minimalist or something.) But I somehow spent so much more money in the US. I had so much more stuff that I thought I needed, like home decor and other accessories. Meh.

I just hope you guys filled out that form back in March!

Saturday, June 21, 2008


So the week's been a bit crazy, but all things good.

First, we still don't have a kitty, as torturous as it is, because we had plans for the weekend. It turns out that the shelter here doesn't actually have a location, but more of an office that organizes pet fostering. We've been in contact with the coordinator there this week, giving her the profile of the cat we want based on our lifestyle. The earliest we could get the kitty would have been Friday, and we left Saturday morning. We didn't want the baby to have to be aw awone on its second night!

So Monday it is. Alexandre has to call Monday morning to see if the shelter found a kitty for us. If so, someone brings it to our apartment so we can meet it and see how it reacts to us and our living situation (ya know, some cats don't really believe that people should live together before they are married :). Cross our fingers! (Oh, and to Kristin's comment about shopping at Wal-Mart... I know. I hate it. And I hate to admit that the main reason I do it is because I understand how to shop there; it's one of the only places I can handle on my own. And besides, there are only 2 other options for grocery stores: one is a French chain, and the other is this insanely overpriced crap álà Whole Foods. There's a pet specialty store down the street from our house, though, so I'll probably try to buy most things there.)

Alexandre has also FINALLY finally finished his insane final exam weeks (more or less... he still has a crazy malaria research project going on). We went out with his friends on Friday night after my 7.5 hours of teaching (more about that later). It was roughly the same group that I went out with my first week here-- all very nice people, except this time was much better because I could actually talk to them. Everyone complimented me on how much my Portuguese has improved, and most people still tried to use English with me when they could. Without so much of a language barrier, I felt much more like myself, much my element of being totally obnoxious and talkative in a big group of friends :P.

This week has also been great in terms of work-- I got 2 new private tutoring classes at job #1, and also finally a concrete offer for a promotion. Between the 2 new classes, a review session for another class (it's wierd to be on the other end of a review session!), plus my regular Friday groups, I taught for 7.5 hours on Friday... a glimpse into my old life in the US.
After the very long day, the typically all-talk boss from job #1 sat me down in his office. He explained that the school is growing faster than he expected it to, and he really needs to be focusing on marketing and admin stuff instead of teaching. He said that he would like me to be a kind of assistant coordinator, with a set schedule (!). He wants me to take over all of his afternoon and evening classes (no teaching before noon!), and, in the hours between them, stick around the school to train new teachers, to give placement tests, to work more with the translations, and to contribute to materials development and all that. Then he said that this wasn't a "casual invitation" like all the other vague mentions he had made about me becoming more integrated in the school. It was a serious offer that requires that I quit job #2.

Yay! Of course I accepted it. I've wanted a reason to leave job #2 for a while... the books have their good points, but the fatal flaw of that school is that they believe that their method (or, more specifically, their weak interpretation of the Discourse Approach) is absolutely the best and only way to learn English. This translates to me not being able to bring in any of my own materials or change the activities at all. Sometimes it's okay, but more often than not, it's disjointed and overwhelming for the students. Also, the school is insanely expensive, which means that the vast majority of my students are very formal businessmen who a) don't take me seriously and b) rarely come to class. You can also see earlier entries for various other complaints.

I agreed for my new position to be effective August 1st for a variety of reasons, namely being to protect myself from BrazilTime. I know I'm not going to go into work on Monday with a brand-new schedule. It's going to take my boss time (BrazilTime, to be exact) to figure out his new place for me. Also, the school's closing for 2 weeks at the end of July for a sort of summer break, and I don't want to be broke when August rolls around. Of course, I'd also like to be somewhat nice to the people at Job #2 that illegally employed me by giving them sufficient notice to find a replacement. But, again, and anyway... yay!

In other good news, Alexandre and I are planning a little vacation for next weekend/week, since he's on a short summer break. We can't make up our minds about where to go, mostly because we can't decide between big city experience and rual camping/hiking trip. Alexandre says we have to decide by Tuesday, though, because our eagerness is contagious and we just keep gettting each other all excited about our ideas and we'll never pick a destination.

Another thing: There is a big chance that we'll be moving into a new (and better!) apartment next month. Since before I even got here, Alexandre's been raving about the complex that his friend lives in. His friend told him this week that a woman's moving out, and he gave the landlord's contact info to Alexandre so he could say we wanted it. From the description, it sounds good to me, and ultimately I don't really care about things like square footage of my living room and whether or not there's an island in the kitchen. I know that Alexandre needs a change, needs to see some new walls and make some new associations, so I'm all for it.

So yeah, pretty big grown-up-ness goin' on. It's funny how we always talk about and plan for "when we're older," and then it's there and you're in the middle of it and there isn't really a line you can draw in your life to mark when this transition happened.

Later this week, I'll put up pictures of our little nature adventure to the local dam. I'll also put up a picture of me with my new fancy glasses, as well as a story about a local concert.
Até mais!

Monday, June 16, 2008


So I was late leaving to work this evening. I was rattling off a bunch of plans for the night to Alexandre, and running out the door. I opened the door to our second-floor apartment to see a little baby KITTEN sitting on our doormat! Just sitting there! Looking up at me with darling kitty eyes. I gasped-- I wasn't expecting a kitten on the doormat!-- but before I could respond further, the baby ran into the apartment and under the couch.
I started sputtering gibberish in a high-pitched voice. I'm still in the process of getting my voice back after last week, so the noises came out sounding like largely inaudible monkey mating calls. But it was a baby kiiiiiiitty! Come on!
I really was late for work, so I calmed the (almost) equally-giddy Alexandre (sans noises) even though all I could think about was how I really, really (really) wanted it. So I suggested that he leave the door open so the cat could go out, but also that he put out some milk to try to lure him into staying. We have never talked about the idea of having a pet, and didn't have time to do it right at that moment. So I called, "think about it!" up the staircase as I scurried down to the car.

When I came home from work, Alexandre was in quite a panic. "Amore! O kitty se fue!" (The PortuSpanglish never stops. This translates to, "the kitty left!" NOTE: Alexandre requires that I tell you that all of this was said in a very deep and stoic voice.)
"What happened?" I asked.
"I tried to get him to stay. I put out milk and he drank all of it! He was running around the apartment and saying 'meow meow!' and I could hear him while I was making dinner and it was so nice and he let me hold him and everything and I used the belt from my robe and he played with it look it's on the door and I think we really bonded! And go look you can see his little feets on the sofa-couch go look! But then he peed on the bathroom rug and I yelled at him and he ran away! And I tried to go look for him outside but the complex was having an HOA meeting and I didn't want to go so I didn't want them to see me so I lost him and Amore I really want a kitty. [Inhale.]"
I have never seen my boyfriend so excited about something. Not even when his soccer team wins, or when he gets 100% on his tests.
Everything was suddenly so clear. We NEED a kitten. It's been so obvious and yet, somehow, has never crossed our minds.
"I want a kitty, too!" I said, equally excited now.
"But what do we do when it pees everywhere?" he asked. And then: "I've never had a pet. Just a turtle, once."
"NEVER?! Don't worry, I'm American. I've had lots of pets. There are these boxes you can buy, and a special sand. We can put it out on the balcony and leave the door open. We teach it to pee in the box."
This information was music to his ears.

We decided to go look for him outside. We knew it was a long shot, but we were too excited to just sit in the apartment. During our search (which proved to be in vain), we discussed our plans, like names and colors and gender and vaccines, and what do we do when we go on vacations? and does Brazil have animal shelters? Yes, this would work. The little cat on our doorstep was destiny calling. (I choose to call upon destiny only when it suits me.)

So we're going to a shelter tomorrow, and then, if we find one, to Wal-Mart for the cheapest supplies. All during dinner, Alexandre kept telling me about more little details with his perfect evening with The Kitty that Got Away, just reinforcing how much we need one. We also made a verbal kitty prenup. If things go south (or, north, in my case), the kitty stays with Alexandre, even though I will miss him. ("Her!" says Alexandre, over my shoulder. He wants a girl.)

Once we get the kitty I'll put the pictures up.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

I Hate CNN

With some time to relax on this fine Saturday afternoon in the Brazilian interior, I've decided to explain the formula that news agencies like CNN use to scare and surprise people into reading their trivial articles.

It's a formula for Vs, or Shock Value, whose Latin coefficient symbol can be found here.
The equation is as follows:

Vs = (j[Ae-Aa]) (r)

j= subject of article and
Ae= expected action of subject,
Aa= Actual action of subject and
r = rhetoric
Fc = cheese factor
The value of [Ae-Aa] is often referred to as The Fox Variable.

Allow me to explain with some examples from today's front page of CNN.
The following headlines have a low coefficient of shock value:
"Powerful Earthquake Strikes Japan"
"Bush Pushes Transatlantic Partnership"

While the value of r is high-- the titles use active and image-provoking words like "powerful" and "pushes," the difference between Ae and Aa is far too low. People expect earthquakes in Japan. People expect the president to push for transatlantic partnerships. Furthermore, the value of j is relatively low, perhaps only 1.5 or so; Americans don't care much about Japan, as a rule, unless the title also includes "coeds" or "gang bang," and the president's popularity is low right now. The value of Fc is 1, because the cheese factor has neither a positive nor negative effect on the Shock Value of the headline.

Now, let's see some headlines that have a very high coefficient of shock value:
1. "Princess Caught Frolicking Nude"
2. "Woman, 74, Accused of Smuggling Heroin"
3. "LA Toilet Water May be Used in Taps"
4. "Rare Male Sea Dragon Pregnant"

Do we see the AMAZING difference?! Look at the difference between Ae and Aa in headline 1. Princess?! NUDE!? Headline 1 also increases its Vs because the value of j=princess, and Americans are fascinated by royalty of any kind (Hollywood celebrities included). The word "caught" increases the value of r, but the Fc is increased a tad with "frolic."

Let's consider headline 2. The Fox Variable (Ae-Aa) is incredibly high, especially when multiplied by j=Woman, 74. These values are so high that the coefficient of shock value can still be of an acceptable level, even with a low value of r.

Now it's your turn! Determine the relative Vs of each of the headlines, 1-4, ordering them from highest Vs to lowest Vs, with explanations.

The following two headlines have the potential for a high coefficient of Vs:
5. "Walking a little can go a long way"
6. "'Hulk' an Action-Packed Adventure"

The value of r in headline 5 is high, as is the value of j (j=Hulk) in headline 6. However, the high Fc, or cheese factor, significantly lowers the value of the coefficient.

Now that you are fully versed in the Vs Formula, you can more successfully resist it!

Please note that, though the two values share a direct relationship, the Vs is not to be confused with Jc, or The Christian Sympathy Factor, in which the Fox Variable is replaced by the Coefficient of Damnation, or ✞. ✞ is the difference between the holy value of j and the unfortunate effects of Aa. For example, "Precious, Innocent Child who is Training to be a Nun Diagnosed with Fatal form of Cancer" has a high ✞and therefore a high Jc, possibly the highest possible.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Estou Rouca!

So last Friday, we went to the local theatre/arts center because they were having a north eastern music festival. Some parts of the north east are desert, so all of the marketing for the festival had little drawings of deserts and coyotes. Comforting!

The band on Friday night was a quasi-famous group that Alexandre really likes. They're called Cordel do Fogo Encantado, and Elena and Michelle would both really enjoy them. It's a crazy mix of traditional Brazilian music, African music (since most slaves in Brazil were originally taken to the north east), and reggae. It was fun to see Alexandre so excited about something. He knew all the words to their politically-charged songs, and he sang and danced around the whole time. I danced, too... but just a little. You can take the girl out of lower-middle-class white America, but you can't take lower-middle-class white America out of the girl.

There were a lot of people smoking various substances inside the basketball-court-turned-concert-hall, which I think allowed for me to be more susceptible to the throat-based cold that I picked up this week. I lost my voice, which is a bit difficult for an English teacher. I also learned how to say "estou rouca," which technically means "I'm hoarse," but is what people use for "I lost my voice."

The week has also been a bit scattered because poor Alexandre is right smack in the middle of his finals session (spread out over three weeks, and a combination of written tests, oral tests, and tests with real patients). His eating and sleeping schedule has been erratic at best, which makes it a bit difficult for me... since we share a one-bedroom apartment at all. But despite his busy-ness, he was entirely enthusiastic about using his stethoscope to check my lungs and choose the perfect cough syrup for me. His reward? Catching the same cold. Haha. Love is a funny thing.

Speaking of love, Thursday was the Brazilian Valentine's Day, which is called "dia dos namorados" (Couple's Day). I bought Alexandre a book (some of you have heard the story), and he made me a fancy chicken parmesan lunch and cut the chicken in the shape of a heart. Adorable. (He made me promise not to put a picture on the blog.)
Admittedly, it's my first time having someone to celebrate a Valentine's Day with (moving on up from "Singles Awareness Day"), and I thought I'd be more excited about it. But when it finally came down to it-- when I finally had the chance--I didn't care so much. It just kinda felt really contrived and commercialized, and it also caused a crazy wait at our favorite sushi restaurant. We ended up eating Chinese takeout at home while watching Brazilian sitcoms, and I couldn't have been happier. It really is true, after all, that you don't need a day to remind you that you're in love awwwwww mush mush cheese mush--

I had a nice talk with one of the other teachers at Job #2, after the boss gave me yet another pressuring lecture about how I need to quit Job #1. The other teacher told me to ignore her. She said she's just doing her job, but doesn't actually expect me to quit. She told me that every English teacher in the area has 2 jobs-- that it's the only way to make a living as a teacher here. She also reminded me that the boss isn't going to fire me just because I can't teach one class. It was helpful to get her perspective. Between the two jobs and all of the translation work that boss #1 is giving me, I'm almost at a point where I wouldn't really want to accept any new classes. I mean, I probably still would, because I'm me, but.

So yes. That's where I'm at.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Just so you all know, since the US news isn't really reporting it, the US bombed Pakistan today. Civilians died. There was video on the news here of men being carried to makeshift ICUs in tents.

The only articles I could find were buried in the world sections of CNN and MSNBC. The ambiguity of the wording is something to be admired. Notice that the language in the CNN article makes readers think that the bombing took place in Afghanistan, not Pakistan. Both articles also use phrases like "Pakistan says that there was a US airstrike" and "Whoever was to blame, the airstrikes have angered Pakistanis."

Here's a Portuguese article, if anyone reading this can read it:

Yeah, I know, the republicans are going to cry "But 9-11!" Except that's not the same at all, and except the people involved in Sept. 11th weren't from Pakistan, and how are we better than terrorists if we kill civilians but then lie about it instead of taking credit for it?
But, you know, there was a tornado. And it killed boy scouts. The contrast of a deadly tornado and the poor, innocent, All-American boy scouts is just too much to avoid putting it on the front pages of CNN and MSNBC.

God bless America!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


So the blog is getting slightly popular in the internet world, thanks to all you lovely people and your word-of-mouth abilities, and also because I was apparently one of the first people to write in English about the uncontacted tribe. This is nice, and flattering, but also a bit of a problem, because I am also one of the first links that comes up when people do Google searches for my job (yeah, the one that I talk trash about). So I went through and took out all of the references to the names of my job. Henceforth, the job that had the tongue-in-cheek name will now be called GetSmart English, or just Job#2. The other job will be called EnglishSchool, or Job#1, since it's the primary job. Okay?

I'll write more later, as I have to run to work.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Brazilian Traffic Laws

I haven't been able to find a Brazilian driving handbook in English, so I thought I'd write one for myself:

EDIT: After driving in many other cities in Brazil, I learned that this horrible driving is specific to small towns in the middle of nowhere. So don't get too scared.

Per civil code §Bras97355, the following traffic laws are legal and binding for all drivers in Brazil:
  1. A stop sign is really more of a yield.
  2. The dotted and solid lines that divide lanes are really more just guidelines. Drivers are permitted to drive with the car in both lanes if the environment (narrow lanes, parking lanes, slow drivers) permits.
  3. The city reserves the right to suddenly block lanes with buses, trash dumpsters, or parking spots.
  4. All lanes can be turning lanes if you believe in them enough;
    • Drivers in lanes with turning arrows can also drive straight, and
    • Drivers in lanes without turning arrows can turn if they feel like it.
  1. Turning signals are for losers!
  2. 6a. A red stoplight is hereby declared green 5 seconds before drivers expect it to turn green, and
    6b. A green stoplight is hereby declared red 5 seconds after it has already turned red.
    6c. We realize that laws 6a and 6b conflict. Good luck with that.
  3. Drivers are permitted to drive against the arrows on a one-way street if they believe enough in their skills of avoiding oncoming traffic. This law pertains especially to motorcycle users, but is not recommended for horse-drawn carts.
  4. Horse-drawn carts are hereby permitted to be driven on side streets and main avenues alike, and do not require registration.
  5. The city reserves the right to suddenly change the one-way direction of a street, mid-lane.
  6. The city reserves the right to require that the occasional street adopt European-style lanes, in which cars are driven on the opposite sides of the road.
  7. The city is not responsible for any potholes or outdated one-way direction signs.
  8. Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way. However, if a pedestrian is interested in a game of chicken, he is more than welcome to declare the right-of-way to be his.
  9. Pedestrians also retain the right to cross the freeway on foot, given an adequate level of confidence or apathy.
  10. If you are white with a nice car, do not worry about being pulled over.
  11. If you are black with a bad car, do not worry about being pulled over.
  12. If you are white with a bad car, worry about being pulled over.
  13. If you are black with a nice car, definitely worry about being pulled over.
  14. Drivers retain the right to park in either direction and on either side of a street, pulling over against traffic to park on the opposite side of the street.
  15. Motorcyclists reserve the right to ignore all traffic laws, wholly and completely. \ end civilcode §Bras97355,
We thank you for your cooperation and compliance in making Brazil a safe and happy place to drive!

A Long Entry for a Long Week

We'll start with the birthday.

It's a tradition in Brazil to kiss people for their birthdays and to say “congratulations,” both of which were a bit surprising and uncomfortable, but yet another one of those things where people mean well and are doing right in their context and so then it's nice.

Alexandre bought me some girly and flowery Brazilian perfume. :o) I taught my class on Tuesday evening and then went out with some students, another teacher, and Alexandre to a small bar by my work. It was pleasant and the food and beer were delicious, but it didn't really feel like my birthday because Danette wasn't there. It felt like I was half-celebrating something else, like a test we all took.

Here's a picture of the group, as well as a stoplight picture:

And also, here's what I think is an AWESOME picture. I took it after almost 2 liters of beer and I didn't even edit it at all:

The next day, Wednesday, I regretted the two liters of beer because I had to work... All. Day. I insisted on showering when I got home from the bar (of course, right Danette?), but realized later the next day that I didn't wash my hair. Genius. I had to teach in the morning, and then go to a meeting, and then teach some more, and then spend a gazillion hours translating stuff, and then teach 2 night classes. Suck. But it only sucked because I was tired and oily. I have missed being busy, and Wednesday was a glimpse into the life I once lived.

Wednesday was also significant because Alexandre's school (specifically, his graduating class) was putting on a big fundraiser party. He's been running around all week in preparation. After I got home from work on Wednesday night, I took a shower (yay) and met him at the party. It was country-themed (the word “country” means the exact same thing here), and Alexandre had to wear a hilarious plaid shirt and hat and serve hot dogs (pictured below, sans hot dogs). He and most of the people I knew were working, but he introduced me to two foreign exchange students from the Czech Republic who didn't have to work and who speak really good English. I think it's safe to say that they're the first non-Brazilian people I've met here (aside from an old British woman who owned a language school and who responded to my application with a snide, “my husband and daughter are also teachers. We have enough native speakers here.”). It was comforting to share “stranger in a strange land” stories with the girls, and also to appreciate the fact that the two languages I already spoke before coming here are not from a different language family. One girl's name is Katerina, but she pronounced it with a crazy [R] fricative thing that I couldn't even roughly place on the linguistic phonology chart that I keep in my head. Of course I got them to talk to me about it, and they said it's a hard sound for everyone.

Do you know whyyyyyy?

According to Wikipedia, it's a “raised alveolar non-sonorant vibrant” whose voicing depends on environment and assimilation, and it only exists in Czech. Duuuuude. Linguistics people. Look that shit up. “Raised” just means fricative. And just to make it fun, Czech also has both velar fricatives and the dZ affricate as contrastive phonemes. I think I'll just have to record them saying it so those of you who care can hear it. I wanna be able to say a sound that no one else can learn if not on their mother's knee.

Anyhoo, the party was pretty fun; the girls and I exchanged numbers and made plans to not spend afternoons inside of our apartments and I got home late and slept really well.

Oh, I forgot to mention the drink. It's apparently popular in Brazilian country-style parties to serve this drink that is a mix of wine, fruit, and hot apple cider. I got to drink this and bask in just how smart Brazilian people really are.

Thursday was my first day with two new students. My boss changed up my classes so I could teach the more advanced students. This pleases me. One student is in the most advanced level, which means it's basically a regular English class. The textbook has newspaper articles and history book excerpts and teaches elements of writing styles in different genres. Fun! A far cry from “Hi, my name is....”, although both are equally important.

Thursday night, my other boss asked me to go with him to a presentation at one of the universities here. He explained that it was a group of students studying tourism whose teacher had organized a short lesson from us on basic airport English-- vocab, phrases, etc. Of course, it was also a way for my boss to plug his language school. I understood that my presence was really just a way for my boss to show me off as a selling point (“She's a native speaker, and a teacher from the US!”), but I figured it'd be at least an interesting experience. (Also, I got paid to go.)

I can't really explain the strange feeling I had during the event, but allow me to try. It was a big group-- I stole a picture of the lecture hall before it got too crowded:

My boss insisted that I stay on the stage, even though he was doing all the talking (in Portuguese). He told me that I could pipe in and offer any extra explanations or examples during the presentation. He also wanted me to be available at the end of the presentation to talk a little about “my experience” (??) and to answer any questions the students had.

This presentation did not go as smoothly as planned. The reason? The students were expecting a free 30-minute English class, but instead got 10 minutes of English and 15 minutes of pressure to study the essential world language that is English...and to study it at my work, while they're at it. After the actual language activities (in which the lights were turned off so the students weren't able to take notes, against my requests), the students started to pick up on the situation and started to get restless. Quite a few people walked out, everyone was whispering and mumbling to themselves, and I also saw a couple of people on their cell phones. The last five minutes were supposed to be me “talking about my experience in Brazil” (read: showing off my fancy native speaker accent), but I felt so bad for all of them that I tried to give them some information that would actually be useful. I told them that the biggest difference between US airports and other airports is the crazy security procedures, and not to let customs make them feel like criminals. I also told them that travel agencies in the US are losing out to the internet, and that successful travel agents specialize in certain regions of the world and are also aware of all the good websites for cheap tickets. At the end, no one had any questions. One girl did come up to me at the end to ask for my MSN email; I didn't exactly understand why, but she seemed nice so I went ahead and gave it to her.

Blah. I left the presentation feeling imperialistic and far too stereotypically feminine, a short Vanna White or something. First of all, I'm not my boss's complacent little assistant. I don't sit and look pretty while he incorrectly explains my native language and culture to a group of college kids. (NO ONE calls LAX “LA International.” When I tried to say that during the presentation, he completely ignored me.) Second of all, I don't teach English because I think people need to learn it, or because I think it's better than other languages or something. I teach English because I love my language, because I like to share it with people, because I'm fascinated by the language learning process, and, for better or for worse, because there's an international demand for it. Out of respect and sincere interest, I always do my best to try to learn the basics of my students' languages and cultures, and also to remind my students of the value of their own native languages. English is popular because American culture is invasive, not because it's somehow structurally superior. Tonight made it seem like I think otherwise, and I left feeling not-too-good about myself.

Luckily, I got to come home to my super-sweet boyfriend and his super salty chicken dinner (I mean that literally, Jamie. Jesus.). I got to rant and have him remind me that I'm not just another absolutist American. He's also really good to have around for getting all the bugs out of the apartment. It was unusually hot here today, so insects of various morphologies are taking refuge in my human living space. We have an extra helping of what are technically grasshoppers but what I prefer to refer to as locusts, as well as these tiny little black flies that like to take showers with me. As I type this, I'm trying not to be too grossed out by the quiet thud of bugs flying into the balcony doors.

Oh, and also, I'm staying here until October. We're going to the federal office tomorrow to renew my visa. We'll celebrate with sushi and my very first Brazilian paycheck. :o)

Monday, June 2, 2008

Germans Are Awesome

I'm supposed to be simplifying an article about insects for my English-learning biologists, but it's taking a while because I'm concurrently watching this amazing German-based news channel called DW-TV that we have for some inexplicable reason. The channel only plays in English or German, and it never has subtitles.
That matters little, for me, because I don't need Portuguese subtitles and I'm therefore going to ignore the whims of the Television gods (also known as Net, our media company).

Today, they're having a special explaining the current world food crisis. The entire thing has never been so logical to me before. It's also much more effective to explain the details to me than to just show me pictures of sad, starving children (take that, Angelina Jolie!). With the details, I can see the connections much better. The show is also effective because it shows that there are good and bad side effects from every advancement-- it appeals to the intellect rather than soccer mom emotions or hippie extremism. For example, the cost of gasoline means that people can spend less money on food. So countries like Brazil invest money in ethanol to help lower energy prices. The ethanol production (via sugar cane) is successful, but the side effect is that the government had to overtake lots of land in order to plant the sugar cane. They took the land away from small, local farmers. This is a bigger problem in Brazil than it would be in say, America, because, as the show explains, 80% of food that Brazilians buy comes from a local farm. 80%! Another example? China's been developing at a rapid rate-- great for China! Lots of people are leaving poverty, living longer, and eating better. However, in order for Asian people to eat better, the price of food has to increase with demand, which hurts food eaters (think about that) in the Middle East.

The show has breaks with pictorial representations of the causes, just to be sure that you're following them. It also lays out the basic, big picture effects: the more a country imports, the more it is suffering from the food crisis. Africa always suffers the most.

They also interview different people for the possible solutions, and aren't afraid to say, "there's probably no solution."

In short, DW-TV is God. I believe everything it says. DW-TV is my shephard, &etc, &etc.

It's been cold (like, actually cold) and rainy here the last few days, which is making me even more lazy. It also makes it impossible for our clothes to dry without being all stinky and mold-smelling. We have to keep a fan on them, and it still takes a day or so. I remember Tasha complaining about this when I visited her in Spain, but my spoiled American/desert brain didn't understand.
Ah, well. After the enlightenment from DW-TV, I can write off my laziness as a way to conserve energy and resources! Right?

Back to the insects!

Oh, PS: Alexandre gave me a tour of his hospital and university yesterday (better late than never, I suppose!). It was fun and insightful. But the coolest part? Seeing a freakin' OWL that didn't even fly away from us.
Here he is, hanging out on a soccer goal post, under a palm tree. How Brazilian.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Make a Difference!

Every year, thousands of privileged American twentysomethings travel abroad and suffer from many unexpected and unprecedented costs, such as sinfully irresistible international food and devilishly cheap alcohol. These nickel-and-diming temptations leave young Americans abroad without basic resources that you at home take for granted, such as wine, bus tickets, and hair cuts. This epidemic can no longer be ignored-- the entire international community pays the price! And what's more, this suffering is entirely preventable. The good news? In deplorable conditions such as these, only 20 dollars can buy an ex-pat's groceries for a week! It is time for those of you at home to wake up and do your part.

For just dollars a day, you-- yes, YOU!-- can help make this American's birthday just a little bit brighter.

The Agency is in desperate need!
Your donations are gratefully appreciated!
Operators are Standing by!*

*There aren't actually any operators. You can, however, email me or leave your email as a comment, and I can send you my bank account number so you can go to a Bank of America and make a deposit! If you were planning on getting me a birthday present but were so disappointed that I wouldn't be around for you to give it to me, then a cash donation is a fabulous substitute!

You can make a difference.
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