Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fun TV Commercials and Really Living Here

Since I've had the week off work, I've been watching a lot more TV than usual... who am I kidding? I always watch way too much TV here.

I thought I'd share some fun commercials with you all:

1. This is a funny commercial for House (yes, the TV show). It's a good montage of funny House faces and a catchy song to boot (plus, House with Portuguese subtitles!):


2. This is a creative PSA reminding people not to waste food ("lixo" means trash, and people familiar with basic Spanish will understand the rest. If you don't get it, scroll down to the end of this blog entry for the translation. I don't want to ruin the surprise by putting it here!):



3. This is a commercial for a Chinese restaurant that wouldn't last 5 minutes in the United States (please don't be offended, my Chinese friends!):



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I guess those are the most blog-worthy ones. (Maybe Lovely Dharma knows some more? If not, she definitely has much better Carnaval pictures and info than I do!)

In other news, I'm actually kinda-sorta making friends! I had to train a teacher who is taking over most of my classes at the Stupid Job, and she and I got to talking and made plans to go out. On Monday, she invited me out with one of her friends from college and a guy they studied abroad with who's from Holland. (He was here visiting.) We all went out and had a great time:
I especially had a good time because a) we spoke English for most of the night and b) I got to pester and bother the Holland guy about Dutch and its similarities with English (such as ablaut and consonant clusters), things that I get tired of trying to force Latin language speakers to learn.

So that was good, and the next night I went out with Ana, another teacher friend. We had dinner and walked around the represa until it started raining. It's nice to start being social again!
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Things are also going really well on the work front. I'm going to know my final final schedule for sure on Thursday or Friday, but my boss (the good one, the only one for now!) has tentatively offered me a lot of classes for the new semester. Combined with my private classes at home (people I stole from Stupid Job plus friends of other students), I'll hopefully be making enough money to work just at the one school, and possibly even to not work mornings! Wish me luck...
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One final question that I'm hoping at least one reader can answer: we have "ardosia" tile in our apartment (I've read "ardosia slate" on the internet, but I don't know if ardosia is a type of slate in English, or if ardosia is the translation for slate...). Anyhoo, past tenants have tried to prevent what is apparently common slate chipping by putting layers on top of layers of cheap sealant (aka sealer, according to my extensive internet research). The result is that, today, there are little black flakes all over EVERYTHING in our apartment, mostly because they stick to our skin and then in turn stick to the bed, the couch, the chairs, the toilet seat... you get the idea. I need a way (preferably a chemical, and one that's available in Brazil!) that I can use to dissolve/clean up this sealant so we don't have to pay someone 400-500 reais to come in and manually scrape it off.
I appreciate well-meaning American friends and Yahoo message boards, but no, we can't call the landlord to do it, and no, there's no Home Depot in Brazil. So I'm lost! If anyone knows what to do about removing this sealant, I'd appreciate the info!

That's it for now. Have a good rest of the week!

*If you didn't understand the PSA, it said, "1/3 of what you buy goes directly in the trash!"

Monday, February 23, 2009

Carnaval?

This is the extent of my Carnaval experience:
...watching the Sao Paulo parade on TV.

One of my teacher friends, Ana, volunteered to go to with me to a parade, but the closest one was about an hour away and at a crazy fairgrounds place. The only things in our city are the private parties at the athletic clubs that both Ana and Alexandre insist aren't worth the money.

Sigh.

I wish I could've just decided for myself that I didn't like Carnaval, instead of the few people I'm close to deciding it for me.

It's been like any other weekend, with a sushi dinner and a late-night trip to the grocery store. Summer means a plethora of fruits I've never seen before...


... including giant bananas and tiny bananas! (10 points for anyone who can make up a good dirty joke):


The good thing about the week is that I'm on vacation:
Haha. I've wanted an excuse to post that picture for weeks! Yes, it's a LOLcat, NOT Garbage!

Also, our weather has been hot, but lovely. Here's a picture on a nice clear day, and one of the main roads here:

And here's a great sunset from our apartment window:
:)

On the news today, I saw a special about guaraná. This is guaraná:
It's a fruit with a lot of caffeine. The Nor-Cal hippies pronounce it guh-rá-nuh, and since I hadn't seen it written in either language, it took me some time to realize that the hippies and the Brazilians were talking about the same thing.

Guaraná is used for lots of things, but in my reality, guaraná just translates to a fruit that makes a delicious soda.

On the news special, they told the myth of why guaraná looks like it has eyes. From what I understood (since the news was in Portuguese), an indian woman had a negative encounter of some sort with a snake and got pregnant (not sure if she got pregnant FROM the actual snake). Then the men in the tribe killed the baby. The woman buried it and from where it was buried, the first guaraná plant grew. But then I went to Wikipedia and the story was totally different. So either my Portuguese is much worse than I thought, or there is more than one myth about the fruit. Here's the news video, you can see for yourself, as well as seeing all the stages of guaranás preparation:

Anyway. That's what I've been up to here. A whole lot of cleaning and not doing anything for Carnaval. At least I can sleep in!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

I Can See Clearly Now [that] the Rain is Gone...

Since my entries as of late have been far too ranty, whiny, and self-absorbed, I'll fill you in on the work drama so we can move on to more interesting things:

1. Crazy Boss sits me down at work on Monday to continue the phone convo about why I'm unhappy at work.

2. I tell Crazy Boss that it's the same stuff I've already talked to him about. I tell him that I just don't think that his school and I are a good fit, and that I plan to accept an offer from another school.

3. Crazy Boss begs and pleads for me not to leave. He is almost in tears. He goes on about how he knows he's made mistakes at the school and his staff isn't happy, but that the school is just growing so fast that he's overwhelmed. He tells me he wants me to be his coordinator. He offers me a blank check, telling me to quit my other jobs, write up a schedule and salary for myself, and he'd approve it-- give him one more chance, please don't leave, etc.

4. I talk to Alexandre about the idea. He slams it and tells me Crazy Boss can't be trusted.

5. I talk to a teacher friend at work who has been at Crazy Boss's school since it opened. She tells me an important story: 6 months after the school opened, the staff was in the same state of discontent. The school was already a mess. They used to have a good teacher, a young guy who had a lot of good ideas and was leaving for another school. Crazy Boss made a the EXACT same promises to him. He took Crazy Boss up on his offer and quit his other job to be a coordinator. After 2 weeks, Crazy Boss's receptionist/wife complained to Crazy Boss that this guy just "read books and played on the computer all day" (he was planning activities and making the school's website; the wife is totally ditzy and uneducated to boot). She complained and whined until Crazy Boss fired his coordinator, and the guy was totally screwed and had to go beg for his other school to hire him back on.

6. I realize that, while I'd love to have a higher position at a school and make an English school a better place, it isn't gonna happen here with Crazy Boss. He did not suddenly realize that he has a problem with organization. The school did not suddenly grow beyond his control. He's just a selfish, lying douche.

7. I tell Crazy Boss thanks but no thanks, and give him a letter of resignation.

8. Crazy Boss tries asshole guilt trips and attempts at mind control, saying things like, "don't you think you can trust me?" and "I knew you were going to quit. I KNOW you." and "This is the second time you're letting your Monday/Wednesday students down. You already quit on them ONCE. Are you sure you want to do that again?" I insist that this is not the same (fucking douche). I say that I've already made up my mind, and that I don't want to spend my last 2 weeks arguing.

9. The next day, Crazy Boss comes into my room between classes to tell me not to tell my students that I'm quitting. Although the real reason is because he doesn't want students to leave with me, he says it's because he wants "to tell the students how their teacher is quitting the team and leaving them and causing problems." I scoff and say "sure, it's your school" and then promptly tell my students that I'm leaving because the school is unorganized (as they well know) and give them my number. I tell them to act surprised when Crazy Boss tells them that I quit suddenly and I was so unreliable.

I have 5 more days there and then we (the schools, not Alexandre) have the week off for Carnaval and then I start off with my new schedule at the 2 calm relatively stress-free schools.

blech blech Enough
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Carnaval is coming up, and I can't get much out of Alexandre about it except "we're not doing anything for Carnaval because you won't like it. Remember Barretos? Trust me."

"But what IS it? What is it for?" I ask.

"Haven't you seen the clips on the news? It's Brazilians dancing to bad music and getting drunk and taking off their clothes and having sex with strangers and filling up the hospital after getting into stupid fights and accidents." My boyfriend sounds like.... me. "I am a result of Carnaval shenanigans," he continues. "Why do you think so many Brazilians have November birthdays?"

I've given up on getting anything blog-worthy out of the boyfriend. I press my sometimes less-cynical students for more information.
"It's a big party before lent," they tell me.
"Each city / region has their own type of party," they tell me.

Most people go on vacation during the week, but I'm not sure if everyone is actually like, on the streets celebrating, or just using the week off work as a chance to go visit their family and friends.

So all I really know for sure is that I'll have a week off work to deep clean the apartment and put off getting a maid for another month. I'd like to go to some kind of celebration to get a feel for the enigmatic holiday, but Alexandre's right that I probably won't like it, if it is like he says it is. I have a very low tolerance for big groups of debauchery.
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It's been raining here... and raining, and raining... and raining. I like it though. It's not like the awful rains of my Berkeley days. The sky always looks awesome. It's summer rain so it's not cold, and plus, we have a car, so there's no waiting at bus stops in the 40-degree rain:


Yes, I took these pictures. While driving...a stick shift. In Brazil. In the rain. (Sorry, Nanny!)

With the rain comes a host of crawly things trying to escape the water. This very, very strange bug made its home on our car window. The picture's not great because of the reflection, but maybe someone has an idea of what it is? I can't even begin to describe it, because I've never seen anything like it in my life. Hopefully the pictures will suffice:
Isn't it WEIRD?! Notice that Alexandre took these pictures... I wouldn't get close to the thing.

This guy, an urubu, was trying to dry himself off outside of our apartment after a short downpour:
Notice how he can turn his head all the way around! He stood like that for about 10 minutes.

So yes. February has been kind of stormy, in more ways than one, but March is like a new year in Brazil, time for sunshine and better jobs and a time when things can only get better. :)

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Week of Interviews

So I went to two interviews this week at other English schools. The coordinator at the first school talked to me for about 30 seconds before she offered me a class. (It's because I was recommended by another teacher, so she was a but more trusting.) The school seems decent, and the pay is better than both of the schools I work at, but it's REALLY difficult to park there (it's downtown), and so far, she can only offer me one class.

I had the interview at the other school on Friday. This other school is new, and teaches English and Spanish. The coordinator was friendly, and the school's layout is clean and professional and all that. Something I liked about this school was that they cater to teenagers, but encourage them to stick around the school instead of hanging out on the street or at the mall (preferring them to be at a safe, enriching place). The entire bottom level of the school is a "club" (English borrowing with semantic shift)-- kind of like a Boy's and Girl's Club. It has TVs, couches, computers, video games, a little library, even a swimming pool and barbecue area.

Both schools are chains, which means they'll be on the more organized side of the EFL school spectrum. They each have their own book series and I don't have to prepare anything (yay). Unlike Crazy Boss, they don't promise that the students can study whatever they want, whenever they want (and with the AMERICAN!).

Anyway, at the second interview, the coordinator asked me if I'd be willing to teach Spanish classes. I was honest- I'm not a native speaker, and my vocabulary is actually very limited. She asked if she could just give me the Spanish test and see how things went.
Oh my gosh... my poor brain! I took the English test first, which required a lot of translation of English to Portuguese (phrasal verbs), and Portuguese to English (nouns). The Spanish test was really difficult and also used Castillian Spanish (and required translating from Spanish to Portuguese and vice versa...).

I told her that I didn't think I'd be comfortable teaching Spanish. She admitted that they were totally desperate for a Spanish teacher during the week and that it'd only be basic classes. So who knows. She said she liked me and would be emailing me this week to set up a training, but didn't say how many classes they could offer.

But it should be fine-- between the private classes I already have, and the classes I'll be picking up from the job I'm keeping, I should have more or less the same number of hours (maybe 3 less per week or something negligible). I decided that my last day at crazy job is going to be the 20th (but he has an extra week after to find a new teacher because it'll be Carnival and the school will be closed). I'm going to tell him some time this week... gotta find an opportune time.

I don't think the crazy boss will be surprised. Yesterday, he called me at home. He said that I seemed stressed and unhappy at school and wanted to know why. He sounded considerate enough at first, but I knew to tread lightly. I explained that, while I was happy that he was planning to change things (since most of those changes I talked about from the beginning of the year, like grades and rules for 1-1 classes, haven't actually happened), I feel like there's not really any standards for the school and that I am too responsible for the success of my classes. I reminded him how he only recently ordered the textbooks for the semester (classes started January 12th), and he didn't even order all of them and they still haven't come, so I've had to prepare material from scratch for all my classes. I also pointed out the frequency with which he schedules me with a new student with absolutely no information about them, and I have to walk into the first class (that they're paying for) checking their level and asking why they're learning English and all that. Then I have to make something up really fast to fill the hour, or hope I have some activity with me that they can use. I also noted how ridiculous (I used the word 'frustrating') it is to be double-booked for classes.

He didn't hear a word I said. He jumped in to attack, going on about how "everyone's complaining" but he's doing his best so he doesn't see what the problem is. (Right.) He also said that the books would be coming, so that's not a problem (um.... he asked why I'm stressed now...). His argument was basically that things would be changing eventually in the future so I had no reason to be dissatisfied. Fucking Douche. Before I could respond to anything, he said, "I need to call you back later" and hung up without waiting for a reply. When he called again a few hours later, I didn't pick up. What's the point of asking me to air my grievances if he's not going to listen?

As we (?) say in Portuguese, "ele não existe." It's the negative meaning of, "he's such a character." If he asks why I didn't call him back, I'll say that I prefer to have serious conversations like that in person. And then I'll tell him I've gotten a better offer from another school and I'm going to try it out.

In short, this job stuff has really been stressing me out and I'll be glad when February is over.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Giving in to the Maid Debate

All right. I've given up on my stubborn-ness. Alexandre's been suggesting that we get a new maid ever since we moved into this apartment, and I'm finally accepting the idea. I was insistent upon not having one, for a variety of reasons (some of which aren't on the list, like what a whiny control freak the last maid was). We've been able to maintain a decently clean apartment so far, but I'm confessing now that the work is starting to wear on me. Let me explain so I don't sound totally lazy.

When I lived in the US, I kept a clean house (even with a less-than-clean sister! :) love you Danette). I would have never considered getting a maid in our apartment. But here is my conclusion: Cleaning in the US is FAR easier than cleaning in Brazil. Our apartment here is roughly the same square footage as my US apartment (I'm TOTALLY estimating), but here, we don't have a dishwasher, garbage disposal, clothes dryer, hot water (except for in the shower), Swiffer sweepers, Clorox bleach, or the plethora of cheap, specialized cleaning supplies available in the US. Almost everything in the apartment must be cleaned with the staple Brazilian all-purpose cleaner, Veja. The price for specialized products (like things to clean the stove or the toilet) can be as high as 20-30 reais a bottle, more than my share of the maid for the week.

The biggest frustration is the laundry. It's no longer something I can throw in a machine while watching a movie on a Tuesday night. Our washing machine is a glorified bucket-- no hot water, no distinction in cycles, no ways to add bleach or fabric softener, hardly even a spin cycle. In order to produce clothes that are actually clean and don't get grungy after a month or so, I have to pre-soak the clothes in color-coded buckets, and then hand-scrub everything white (including Alexandre's entire work uniform now that's he's in the 5th year), every stain, and every armpit (lovely) before sticking it in the machine. When I say hand-scrub, I mean use a brush on a sink with a built-in washboard. With no dryer, I have to scramble to wash clothes on the days that it isn't raining, and then iron everything, even sheets. (Ok I know I don't HAVE to iron sheets, but the bed looks so slovenly when the sheets have dried all wrinkled on the line.)

I don't want to sound bratty. Lots of people have to do these things in the world. I'm not saying it's okay for them either. Furthermore, many of the people in the world (Brazil and beyond) who don't have machines and chemicals to facilitate the cleaning products do ONLY this all week-- they're housewives. They don't also work 35 hours a week outside of the home (Coughdoublestandardcough). It's very time consuming to be a first-world woman and a third-world woman at the same time.

The reason this maid/cleaning culture of Brazil irks me so much is that it's things like this that keep the Brazilian economy stagnate. Machines like this are widely available in 1st world countries-- its this very machine culture that so greatly helps to define these countries as "first world." The reason these things are not available in Brazil is because of the country's criminal tax system (click here and scroll down to "Value Added Sales and Services Tax/excise Tax"). People pay insane prices on imports (the site tells you that the tax can be up to 300% of the original price... my students tell me that it averages at about 100%), but the citizens don't see any of it.

Where does this tax money go? As my students always tell me, "into the--teacher, how do I say 'bolsa'?--pockets of the politicians." So people pay maids instead of paying for machines. Brazilians could open their own factories instead of depending on international imports, but no companies have opened in Brazil to make any kind of difference, because there is so little capital available to open something like a dryer factory.

A basic law of economics (thank you, AP Macro) is that specialization leads to innovation. But there is no innovation being developed in factories to make the machines even cheaper or more efficient. Maids don't have much room for innovation. They have no way to move up in a company. No way to get out of their situation. And everything stays the same forever and ever.

Since Brazil doesn't have a strong enough economy to open their own giant, efficient factories, they could have foreign investors come and provide the capital. Brazil is understandably wary of allowing American markets to come in and put factories (they, too, have seen the results in places like Mexico), but do nothing to form partnerships, attract investors, or create stronger workers' rights laws. Why? Because then politicians would lose their extra income.

Armchair liberal American conspiracy theorists love to complain around a bong about how bad the US government is, but many people have no idea how much control we have over our government (and how it's only getting better). If you think about it, it's this control that we have to thank for having the freedom and respect we do. Our government is more or less transparent, thanks to the free press. When a politician is behaving badly, there is a lot of social pressure for him to resign. When we don't like a politician, we can vote him out of office, and there is a better replacement available. We can almost always trust our police (of COURSE there are the bad seeds, but it's nothing like here). If taxes get raised, they almost always get used for a good cause. (Of course some people don't believe these tax-funded causes, like national health care, are good, but disagreeing with taxes on moral/economic grounds is different from disagreeing with taxes because they won't get used for the way they law proposes.)

I'm not just frustrated for myself with this cleaning situation / tax situation in general. I'm frustrated for everyone that lives here, Brazilian or not. Everyone deserves a fair economy that allows for job options and upward mobility, and people shouldn't have to move to America to have a better chance at getting it. Brazilians are giving more of their income to taxes than we do in the US, and they have less to show for it. But I mean, how do you start fixing a problem that is so deeply rooted in the society, an "every-man-for-himself" mentality that has permeated all stages of Brazilian life? How do citizens take back their government and give themselves a chance to build a better life?

Do other people follow the huge jump I made here (the need for a maid as a metonymy for political corruption), or am I just crazy? (If no one else will get it, Jamie will. Thanks, dear friend.)

PS: Job hunting is going well-- I'll have updates tomorrow when I know more.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

How Things Work

So last week, I invited a teacher friend over for lunch. (Her name is Ana, and she's very nice. She lived in the US for like, 10 years. She's chatty.) Alexandre suggested that I make her Mexican food, but we didn't have any ground beef. So I went to the store to pick some up. I'm totally over shopping at the overpriced Brazilian Wal-Mart and contributing to their empire. But Alexandre recently found a local supermarket with better prices, so I decided to go check it out.

I walked around the meat department, looking for the styrofoam and plastic wrap. There was none! Only a giant butcher table with 3 butchers cutting up meat, and a sign saying something to the effect of "please take a number" in Portuguese.
I took a number just to be safe, and then asked the butcher, "do you have ground beef?" (in Portuguese).

He looked at me funny. "Yeah...but [something unintelligible]."

"I'm sorry, what?"

A lady next to me butted in, probably after hearing my accent and seeing my confusion. "Did you understand him?" She asked.

"Nope."

"Well, you have to choose the kind of beef you want, and then they grind it for you..." The lady continued talking, but I started to panic. What KIND of beef?!? The ground kind. I had no idea what to choose. I decided to start paying attention again.

"...for example, you could choose 'coxão duro,' coxão mole,' o 'patinho.'" The lady was saying. She was pointing at the pricing signs. "Those are all good for ground beef. Do you understand?"

"Yes, I do. Thank you very much for your help." That really was very nice of her to explain that, and she wasn't even condescending or anything. Maybe she had visited the US and understood why I wouldn't know those things.

Now, while I waited for my number to be called (and trying to stifle feelings of impending doom as the numbers crept up ever closer), I had to decipher out which cut to choose. The store had a moderately helpful sign up behind the butchers' table that looked like this:


I say "moderately" helpful, because I don't even know the names for cuts of meat in English or Spanish, let alone Portuguese. And even if I did know, we eat a different breed of cows here in Brazil, which might change things up a bit. I realized how bad it is that I don't even know what part of a cow I'm eating when I eat it. I really have no idea where my food comes from, especially in the US. How embarrassing. I remembered the 3 cuts that the lady told me, and I found them on the diagram. I also compared their prices. The patinho looked best-- it looked like the "meatiest" region of the three, and was also the cheapest.

Now I had the task of figuring out how many kilos I wanted. I still haven't developed any kind of intuition for how much a kilogram is. (Kilometers, however, I do better with, mostly because I drive much more than I weigh things.) I kept my eye on the scale as the other customers ahead of me made their purchases. Hmm... that guy's bag is 1.2 kilos, but that's way more than I want. Hmm...He has 1 kilo, but it's still kind of a lot. Then, suddenly, it was my turn.

"Hello," I ventured."I'd like a little less than 1 kilo of patinho... ground. Like point 9 kilos."

Dumb dumb. I forgot that a kilogram is 1,000 grams, so I could've just asked for 900 grams. I also forgot that the rest of the world uses commas, not points, to denote decimals. The butcher (not the same guy as before) responded with an understandable "oi?" ("huh?")

Where had that nice lady gone? I tried again. "I want almost one kilo of patinho please. Ground patinho."

"Okay." He pulled out a giant slab of meat and chopped the fat off with a sleek superknife. Then he stuffed it into a meat grinder behind him, put a plastic bag at the bottom, and turned it on. It was just like the play-dough set of my youth. Out came the bright red meat. He tied it up, weighed it, slapped on a price sticker, and we wished each other a good day at the same time.

Jesus. But I did it! I didn't have to go to Wal-Mart, and I made a delicious lunch to boot.
After some research online, I learned that "patinho" means "knuckle," which is kind of gross. It didn't look like a knuckle in the picture. I've never heard of "knuckle" as a cut of meat. (Perhaps that is a poor translation.) But it tasted all right, which brings me right back to where I started, I suppose. I can't say with certainty that I learned anything.

---
To continue along under my "how things work" title, we bought a new fan this week. (Remember that we don't have an air conditioner, and we can't find anyone to install our ceiling fan.) I only tell you this so I can show you our last fan, which had become a sort of Frankenstein by the end of its existence:

The position it's in in the picture is the only position it could be in. Also, Alexandre repaired the power cord, the blades, and even some wiring, before we accidentally knocked it over and finally killed it. Why all the hard work? Well, it's more of the norm here in Brazil. A stupid piddly fan of that size costs 100 reais. (It's 18 dollars on the US Wal-Mart website. My monthly salary is roughly the same in dollars and reais alike.) So Brazilians fix stuff. I, on the other hand, would've scrapped the thing months ago and picked up a new one at Big Lots... if I had been living in the US. But I'm not. So we fix stuff (and by that, I mean "Alexandre fixes stuff"). And because of it, he knows how lots of things work, and I don't.

I feel a little guilty for not knowing about household things, but it really doesn't effect my life as much in the US because the cost of living is so much cheaper. But I feel a lot guilty about the meat thing, and I'm going to make an effort to learn more.

Something I DO know: If you want to royally piss off your cat, wrap her up in a blanket and put a hat on her and sing "baby bumpkin gatinha!" to her and take lots of pictures:
Works every time.
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