Monday, March 30, 2009

The Good and the Bad

So last week, we went out for sushi to celebrate...well, to celebrate not having eaten sushi for like, 2 grueling weeks. (We seriously waste so much money on the stuff.)

All of the sushi places here (except for the extra cheap one that we still visit once in a while) offer all-you-can-eat deals that come with appetizers like dumplings and hand rolls (tomaki is the Japanese word used in Portuguese), and then as much of almost whatever sushi you want.

Because we were feeling particularly gluttonous, we decided to order the super fancy (read: expensive) all-you-can-eat deal, which included salmon sashimi and other pieces of sushi that we hadn't tried before. It was SO MUCH FOOD. We couldn't even finish the first boat they gave us... this is why:

It's blurry because the place is all mod and I didn't want to use the flash, but you get the idea.

My secret goal here is to inspire the sushi lovers in my life (Patty, Michelle, Elena, and Auntie Tammy and Bayleigh) to visit...

Speaking of visitors! My dear friend Kristin is coming in May!!! :D :D :D As a vegetarian, she's not going to be quite as excited about the sushi, but is certainly going to enjoy the feiras (farmers' markets) with their plethora of new and exciting fruits and veggies. She and I have very similar travel personalities, so I think we're going to have a great time. :D

In slightly more controversial news, this last week was the hazing week for the freshmen at Alexandre's university. Hazing is common practice at pretty much every university here, and some are worse about it than others. Medical schools are particularly harsh. Alexandre says it's because the entire hospital runs on hierarchies and humility, and the freshmen need to remember their place. Many of them come in a little big for their britches--they've just been accepted to study one of the most difficult and competitive subjects in one of the most competitive and respected universities in the country, and can't get too cocky. After all, they've got lives to save.

While that's true in many respects, there has to be some other way to teach the freshmen respect. I honestly don't even know how it's so successful, and I understand even less why the older people continue the cycle after remembering how horrible and humiliated they felt as freshmen. They have a week of nightly parties that become progressively more lax toward the freshmen. Alexandre went the first night (the most harsh), and I decided to stay at home. It's one of those things that I have to chalk up to culture and allow us to agree to disagree.

I didn't want to hear too much about it, but some of the things that they make the freshmen do on the first night are pretty bad. They make them dress up in ridiculous clothing (like men in women's clothes or wrapped in plastic and nicknamed "the present"). They make the girls kiss each other. They make them get on their knees and say things like "we're not worthy." They throw beer over them continually. They scream in the freshmen's faces about what losers they are and how do they think they're good enough to be at the school. Other activities include whatever the older students and residents can think of at the moment.

Luckily, Alexandre has a policy that he doesn't do anything that involves yelling or touching. He likes to tease the freshmen by asking them embarrassing questions or telling them scary lies about the school, but that's about as far as he goes. His year, the hazing rituals were much worse and have only improved thanks to slightly more government intervention. His year, freshmen were forced to drink until they throw up, forced to clean up older students' poop, and other unnecessarily humiliating tasks. It took a few deaths around the country for the government to start cracking down on it.

What I still don't really understand is why the freshmen accept it, why they voluntarily show up to these parties knowing they're going to be treated so horribly. I don't understand why they don't have protests or mutinies. No one likes it, and yet everybody does it. But the university setup is different here (these students will be working with only the same 60 fellow freshmen for the next 6 years, and the older students will eventually become or already are their residents and attendings), and there's a lot of pressure to be accepted. Psychology is a funny (and sometimes depressing) thing.

It's hard to know where to draw the line of "this is culture and if the culture accepts it, then let bygones be bygones" and "these people are humans and have fundamental rights and this behavior is never acceptable." I'm leaning toward the latter.

But we'll end this entry on a more positive note, as per my goal to portray and remember both the good and the bad about Brazil.

The program is called "Academia Para Todas as Idades" ("Gym For All Ages"). I'm not sure if this trend is something unique to our city, or something that is done across the state or even the country, but most parks here have free exercise equipment for citizens to use. I think it's a great campaign to encourage people to lose weight (and yet I STILL manage to find excuses!). Here are some pictures of one here:
This sign explains the campaign and how to use the equipment.

There's quite an array of equipment to choose from!

You even get a view of the lake!

The best part is that they are actually used by people of all ages, most all social groups. They're totally socially acceptable. Do you guys think this would be successful in the US?

This entry has gotten a bit long-winded, so I'll end here. I'll put up some more pictures from the represa (lake/dam/park area) later in the week. :)

Kristin's comiiiiiinnnggggggggg

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Year Later

So my 1-year anniversary in Brazil is fast approaching, and because I am one to dwell on dates and anniversaries (sometimes to a fault), I've already begun thinking about the ways in which I've changed and the things I've learned after living here for a year.

At first, I hesitated to prepare (preparing?) this post, because I was worried it would end up being a laundry list of overgeneralized pet peeves about life without Target and clothes dryers. But as I really started to compile my list, I discovered that many more good things than bad have come out of my time here. I'll describe all the things, good and bad, below, in no particular order-- just the order that I can get them out of the shorthand in my polka-dot notebook that I keep in my purse and into the blog template.

1. In Brazil, I've learned the value of eating well and making time to eat well. Without the convenience of pre-made meals from Trader Joe's and cheap and delicious fast food, I was sort of forced into healthier eating habits. But it's been more than by default-- Brazilian scheduling makes time for meals at home. It is completely acceptable to refuse to work between 11:00am and 1:00pm. In fact, many places are closed for this time period (except for churrascarias, of course). Alexandre almost always gets a 2-hour break for lunch, which gives us the extra gift of having a homemade lunch at home together almost every day. In this 1 year, I've learned more about cooking, food prep in general, and how to choose meat and vegetables than I did in the 5 years I lived on my own in the US. These are habits and skills that I feel really lucky to have learned, and they're going to stay with me forever, no matter where we end up settling. (Also, you can't forget bombas!)

2. I've Taught Myself a Language. As a linguist, throwing myself into a new country with almost no knowledge of the language was like a free, year-long field study class. It's been a real treat. I've solidified my understanding of language change after spending endless hours comparing the changes between Spanish and Portuguese, and trying to imagine the way the language was before it divided into two. (I never tire of doing this.) One of these days, I'll write up what I've figured out... maybe I can use it for that Master's degree I never finished, though I'm sure someone's already done it. Either way, I feel lucky to have had the background in Linguistics because it really facilitated my Portuguese learning process.

Also, all of this has made me a better teacher-- not only the educational background (Yay! Student loans weren't a complete wash after all), but also being forced into situations without enough command of the language. I always try to tell my students my little stories of supermarket struggles and important misunderstandings (poop vs. coconut and penis vs. bread), to remind them that the learning process goes both ways, and that I feel their pain. (I'm also secretly trying to trick them into building metalinguistic awareness-- I love the lightbulbs that come on when they realize that, yeah, "pau" and "pão" DO kind of sound the same, especially for someone learning Portuguese, the same way "them" and "then" can sound the same for a Portuguese speaker learning English.)

3. I'm still learning how not to think about places in extremes. I learned a big lesson back in my first years of college when I convinced myself that Orange County, California was the worst place to live in the world and that San Francisco was the best place to live in the world, and I switched schools. After 4 months in Oakland with a schizophrenic roommate and a lifetime's worth of encounters with crazy people on buses, I began to appreciate the good that can come from things like gated communities and "urban planning." This seems like such a basic thing to learn, but for me, it has taken some time, and I still haven't mastered it. I still have days when I can convince myself that America is a lovely utopia and Brazil is a lawless land of savages. (These are usually days when I learn that my old boss cheated me out of half of my translation payments or when the water turns off in the apartment building for 2 days with no explanation and there's no one I can call to fix either of those things.) This blog entry is one of the ways that I'm working on remembering that there's good and bad to every place.

4. I'm Okay with Being an American Now. I know this sounds ridiculous, but fellow Berkeley alumni reading this may understand better than others. I spent most of my college experience feeling totally guilty for being American, and not even knowing what that word meant for me, anyway. These feelings came from living in the Bay Area's extreme liberal culture during an era with a republican president. The feelings also came from Berkeley students' obsession with heritage-- being asked all the time what I "was" (the person asking expected a race or nationality as an answer, with "American" or "white" being insufficient). Also, I had issues with feeling...something between and understanding of and identification with Mexican-American culture after growing up so close to the border, but being totally marginalized from Mexican-Americans in college.... you know, because I didn't understand "their struggle," because it wasn't "allowed to"also be my struggle in many ways. It was such a stupid and unnecessary mess. College kids need to be more understanding of each other instead of doing stupid things like having frats and religious groups divided by race.

When I went home for Christmas and went into Mexico with Mary, I realized how I had absolutely lost all of these qualms and all of that guilt about needing to define myself in one way or another, about what I have and don't have in life. I don't need to apologize for or explain anything. I'm just me. Somehow-- I'm not exactly how yet-- I've learned all that in Brazil.

5. Along the same vein... America is a Damn Good Country, and, yeah, Brazil can learn a lot of things from us. As much good as I've gleaned from Brazil this past year, there are still some things that make me really irate, and I refuse to learn them or adapt to them. I've said this before: in many ways, Brazil has an every-man-for-himself culture. "Who cares if my neighbor is poor? At least it's not me." I'm not saying you can't find this in America, too, but ya know what? It's worse here, and that's not just me being patriotic. One student asked me if it was true that, in the US, people put change into a newspaper machine in order to open it and take their paper. They have the physical option of stealing all the newspapers, but they just take one. She couldn't believe it. Another student-- a Desperate Housewives fan-- asked me about a scene in which a man's wife died and all the neighbors brought him food and money, even the ones who didn't really know him. He wanted to know if people really did things like that in the US.

In the US, when something is a law (like stopping on red or not selling alcohol to minors), that means something. These ideas of community and mutual respect and empathy make America strong. Maybe even stronger. And people can leave all the nasty, judgmental comments they want, but I'm not gonna feel bad about thinking these things.

6. On a pro-Brazil note... My Life is Better, Being Away from Consumerist Culture. It's amazing how much we SHOP in the US. The pressure to buy more and buy something newer is so strong and hard to trace. I have never heard a Brazilian say the asinine things that I've heard from fellow Americans-- things like, "oh, I needed to go buy those new clothes because I was having a bad day" or "I lost my job, so, to feel better, I went shopping." Americans totally justify wasting money by saying they deserve whatever it is they're buying, even if they can't afford it. I was also guilty of living beyond my means sometimes while I was living there. Again, Brazilians aren't completely innocent of splurging or unnecessary credit card debt, but it's nowhere near as extreme here. It's bizarre. How do we get a lid on that in the US?

7. I Really Value my Friendships and Miss the Way Americans Make Friends so Easily. I've complained before that it's been really, really difficult to make friends here in Brazil. After a year here, there are only 2 people (Alexandre excluded, of course) that I feel comfortable calling up on a Friday night to invite out, but I still don't know if I could tell either of them really personal things or if I could call either of them late at night to cry or rant or just ask for company. After much consideration of why making friends has been so hard for me, I have come to 2 conclusions:
1. I live in a small hick town. I'm often the first or only foreigner people have met. People remember me as being different, and don't see that as intriguing beyond the superficial "está gostando do Brasil?" questions, and don't see me as someone they could actually be friends with. My students have insisted that my experience would be very different in a bigger city in which people are both more open to new friends and more accepting of people who are different. This would be no different for a Brazilian moving to a small hick town in the US.

2. I don't relate well to girls here, and that's no one's fault.
I'm already really independent for an American girl my age, so compared to many Brazilian girls, I'm a weird and confusing hybrid of youth and self-reliance. One student (she was a friend of Alexandre's from school) couldn't believe that I knew how to wash clothes and cook, but that I also had a college degree (do you see what she was getting at?). A student who I tried to make friends with once made the comment, "I can't believe your family allowed you to move here." (She's 26, and her dad still drives her the 1 mile to her job every day because "it's not good for women to walk alone... especially in heels!") Girls here are really kept sheltered (a reader-internet-friend Molly used the perfect word: "coddled"), and in return, are expected to be good and obedient wives once they leave their parents' house to move in with their husbands. The following are various pieces of advice I have personally received from Brazilians (both men and women), some from sources a little closer to home than others (not Alexandre!), on what kind of woman I should be:

* You shouldn't work so much.

* Don't ask your boyfriend to clean. Brazilian men don't clean.

* You shouldn't be cleaning so much, either. That's poor women's work.

* Don't argue with your boyfriend because it is stressful for him.

* Don't talk too much when your boyfriend gets home from work, the way women tend to do.

* Your boyfriend shouldn't let you go to bars alone, even on a night out with your girl friends.

* You and your boyfriend should be wearing promise rings if you are really in a serious relationship.

* You should dress more femininely (is that a word?).

* Why don't you wear heels more often?

* Do you have fake boobs? Really? You don't?
(Okay, that one wasn't advice, but it was equally asinine and within the same topic.)

8. I have a wonderful boyfriend, and we've had a great year together. I know I generally keep boyfriend stuff out of the blog-- It's not really the point of the blog for me, and besides, what would I email my girlfriends about? -- but Alexandre was obviously the reason I moved to Brazil in the first place, and is the reason I'm still here. Of course we have our share of spats and issues, like any couple, but overall, it's fabulous. I still can't believe I found someone who's so great to begin with, and who ALSO thinks I'm great and who understands me and my craziness. We make each other better, which is the best thing anyone can really ask for in a relationship. April 11th is our Brazilian Anniversary (not to be confused with our American Anniversary), and celebrations have yet to be decided on (though will likely involve sushi). He's the best person I could ever have a "we" with.

Well, this post has become a bit excessive. Enfim, there are days here when I feel so happy and lucky to be here, and days here where I beat my head against the wall and use all my willpower not to put a ticket home on my credit card. I think that that's healthy. All I can do is try to learn as much as I can from the experience and try to make myself better any chance I get. So when we eventually make it back to the US, we can continue this Brazil-American hybrid life we've created and try to enjoy the best of both worlds.

You Know You've Been Away for A While When...

... when you don't recognize any of the movies on the movie channels anymore.

Our cable company tries to entice us to pay for premium cable by "liberating" (allowing us peons to watch) the movie channels once in a while. The movie channels have been available all week, and I don't know what any of the movies are! I've been here so long that American movies have been advertised, have come out in theatres, and have been released to DVD and I wasn't there for any step.

I'd tell you what I've been seeing, but it's physically impossible for me to watch a movie at home all the way through. I get so darn distracted. Plus, all of the titles are translated into Portuguese, and they're always something different to make the premise of the movie a little clearer. For example, "Saw" is translated to "Deadly Games," because neither the past tense of "see" nor the tool would make much sense without extensive advertising. (I didn't watch the movies so I don't know what "Saw" actually refers to.)

I don't really know how I feel about all that.

I have gotten out of all of my morning classes (except Saturday, which doesn't really count). So I start work at 4pm 4 days a week, 2pm one day, and then the Saturday class, but it's totally laid-back and I can go home and take a nap at lunch time. Success!

Now I really have no excuse not to exercise in the mornings.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Come Visit Me!

Okay guys, seriously, if you're one of the many friends of mine who have insisted that you'd come visit during my first 3 MONTHS and now it's been 11 and you're still not here, now's your chance!

American Airlines is having crazy sales on tickets from "over 100 cities" (including all major CA airports) to "major cities" in Brazil, including Sao Paulo. I did the price search to see if it was true, and sure enough, some round-trip tickets were only $468!


The trip has to end before June 30th, but that's okay, because my birthday's on June 3rd!

It goes for our Brazil--> US tickets, too, but Alexandre insists there's no way he can get any time off until August. Sigh.

Click here to check out ticket prices!

It also has flights to Argentina with these crazy prices, but that information should be irrelevant to readers that I know in real life. Because if you're going to choose, you should visit me, not silly ol' Argentina.

Please come on think about it pleasepleaseplease

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Festa do Milho!

Today was the Festa do Milho-- The Corn Festival!!

It was SO great.

It was in one of the small towns relatively close by physically, but half a world away culturally. We had to pass through the town to get to the fairgrounds, and it consisted of little more than tiny, simple houses, 2 big churches, and a pharmaceutical factory that probably employs most of the residents. Most of the city folk were seated on lawn chairs in front of their houses, drinking beer and watching "os movimentos" (the goings-on), as Alexandre mocked. As we turned a corner looking for the main road that led to the fairgrounds, a little boy came running around the corner in his underwear, carrying a chicken upside-down by its leg.

Like I said, half a world away.

We were surprised at the size and popularity of the corn festival-- we had to wait in a line of cars for about 20 minutes before we could get into the parking area. I tried to get some pictures along the way of the houses that lined the road and a father and son riding horseback against traffic:

The parking lot doubled as a rubber tree farm (or should I say the farm doubled as a parking lot?), so I saw where tires come from, up close:
A small slit is cut in the tree trunk to release the rubber in its pure form, and then it drips into the bucket attached to the tree. Neat!

Once inside, we had to pay for food tickets in advance that we could use at the various booths. This system proved very safe and efficient for booth employees! 1-real tickets were orange, and 2-real tickets were green, and, probably since it was a church fundraiser for a rehab center, every booth selling a given item had to charge the same price for that item.

And then... on to the food!

We started off with traditional corn-on-the-cob ("milho assado" in Portuguese), prepared by the church friars:

They brilliantly gave us a piece of corn husk with our purchase so as to facilitate butter and salt application. Genius! Alexandre demonstrates:

And I got enjoy the fruits (or in this case, vegetables) of his labor:

We then moved on to other delicious snacks. I'd eaten some of the corn concoctions before, like coxinhas (except these ones had corn-based dough), "escondidinho" (cornmeal with dried meat) and the pamonha (pictured below), but they were particularly delicious at the festival. Some new things for me were the corn juice (It sounds like it would be strange, but it was SO tasty!!) and a sort of corn stew with couscous and chicken.

Here's the corn juice and the pamonha (which is kind of like a sweet tamale):

And here's the corn, couscous, and chicken stew:

We finished off our meal with corn-based churros (prounced "shuhous" in Portuguese... I don't know how to make a the sh- fricative symbol on my comp) deliciously injected with doce de leite:

Unlike our small-town-folk experience in Barretos, people at the festa do milho were generally friendly and respectful, and we (and by we, I mean Alexandre, the native speaker) joked with someone about something in almost every line we waited in. All in all, it was a yummy and adventurous day.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Gatinha's Spaying

Gatinha got spayed on Thursday ("castrada" in Portuguese, easy to remember). This should make our life much easier, as we won't have to deal with her night-long calling and moaning during heat.

We had to get up early in the morning to drop her off at the vet (which is why I look like such a fright). Here she is, completely unaware of her impending doom but annoyed about having to take yet ANOTHER picture:
And here she is now, with her band-aid on her little shaved, stitched tummy and a kitty cone that she hates even more than taking pictures:
However, she's adapting herself pretty quickly to life with her cone... at our expense. She can't eat or drink while she's wearing the cone, so we have to take it off for her every once in a while to make sure she gets some nutrients. However, after only about 40 hours with the thing, she has learned that if she goes next to her food and drags the cone around on the floor or knocks it into things, we take it off and she can eat (but more importantly... we take it off. She is suddenly hungry or thirsty every 10 minutes!).

She did this about 6 times last night. It was never loud enough to wake up Alexandre (conveniently), but annoying enough for me. What was that that I almost forgot? Oh yeah, I remember! I never want to have kids. I much prefer a full night's sleep. And now that Alexandre has revealed his heavy sleeping habits, even during times when the "kid" needs extra, 'round-the-clock care, I'm even less motivated. Maybe I'll accept adopting an 8-year-old.

And here are a few random updates/pictures:

1.We're going to the corn festival tomorrow! Pictures and stories to come.

2. Here's a picture of a news reporter with really intense eyebrows:

3. And here's what our sky looked like on Thursday evening:

4. And here's Gatinha, packing herself in our suitcase last weekend (she apparently wanted to go to visit the in-laws, too):
5. And here's a song from Carnaval that's still really popular right now. The singer's name is Claudia Leitte. It's called "beijar na boca" which literally translates to "kiss on the mouth" but is a sort of Portuguese euphemism for "make out with someone" or "get with someone." The lyrics are asinine but the rest of the song is catchy. Also, you'll get an idea of what Carnaval is like in the big cities. This clip has the lyrics written on it, which is fun for Spanish speakers to try to figure out (unless I'm the only one that does that... Jamie?):

That's all I've got for ya know. Check back tomorrow or Monday for corn pictures. :)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My Ántonia or Why America is Good

I just finished reading My Ántonia, which was really a beautiful way to learn about America while living in another place.

America is Good because of how it started. Men came from all over all at once and were generally okay with each other. The harsh winters taught them empathy for a new neighbor who wasn't used to the cold. Those who tried to take advantage of their neighbors were simply left to fend for themselves, neither punished nor prized. Those who lamented over their miserable lot in the unforgiving land, those who made sure everyone knew about their ancestor's riches or even their supposed fame in their old countries, and who insisted that they deserved something better, but who then refused to work on account of this supposed status, received little sympathy. The neighborly helping hand went to those who could show they were trying their damnedest.

The northern states didn't start on a foundation of slavery (specifically) and hierarchies (generally), and this old world model of society brought to the South eventually lost out. The northern states, which set the standard for the America of today, were populated with people who didn't see hard work as a representation of poverty, but as the only respectable road to wealth. Americans have always felt a certain disdain for the communities that keep their women in white gloves and try to put on airs, the people who “live like mice in their own kitchens.”*

The Americans that give the country its strength today are the ones who do not evaluate their neighbor's worth based on his parents' name or notoriety, but only on his own acts, because they, too, had seen family members succumb to winters of various shapes and sizes and wish, too, to be judged only on their own merits. Someone becomes successful in America almost never by luck, but by taking the right risks and by embracing the idea of hard work. That means that even the best “breeding” can produce failed adults if that adult makes the wrong decisions, and, likewise, there's no reason to be sure that someone from the wost of beginnings can't eventually make a name for himself. There is a respect for roads less traveled, for those who get what they want in the way that works best for them, even if it takes a little longer or requires a few stops along the way (provided, of course, that this method doesn't require hurting other people in the process).

America is Good because it takes cultural change in stride and it does not hang on to outdated ideas of caste and bloodlines. The first Americans never stopped telling their children of the humility that is gained during a months-long boat ride across an icy sea. The boats have also yet to cease their voyages today, and for this reason the stories stay fresh. America is Good because, even though it can take a little reminding sometimes, Americans never forget each other, and the fact that the happiness of one depends on the happiness of everyone. We always see ourselves in the faces of our neighbors, and this makes it possible for us to grow together.

*A quote from My Ántonia. Have I inspired you to read it yet?

I know this was totally optimistic and idealistic but that's how the book made me feel.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Jerry Springer, Falcon Style

This afternoon, Alexandre was watching the Corinthians vs. Palmeras soccer game on TV (a big one, apparently), and I was trying to entertain myself with the internets. But a far more entertaining thing occurred! I heard some new crazy bird call outside and close by, so of course I ran out to the balcony to investigate.

No, it wasn't this bird-- which I have seen, and didn't know the name of until today, when I was trying to find the name of the falcon:

(that's called a tesourinha... "little scissors")

But something more like this bird:

Except his wings were black, and he had white stripes on the undersides of his wings.

How do I know it was a he? Well, there were actually two hes, and a she. One male (let's name him... Jeff) was hanging out on a big antenna, flirting with his lady friend falcon (let's call her Mary Sue). But then some macho tough guy falcon (his name can be Billy Bob) came up and started messing up Jeff's game.

Billy Bob kept circling around Jeff and Mary Sue, cawing and scwacking (sp?) like crazy, and swooping down just next to Jeff without actually hitting him. Every time Billy Bob got close to Jeff, Jeff ducked out of the way, but as soon as Billy Bob passed, he made calls after him, like "what? What? Come on back! That's what I thought!"

Eventually the two males finally started fighting for real, but Mary Sue seemed to be bored with the whole thing, and she flew off and left them to be their macho selves (fun note: "macho" in Portuguese means "male." ;). One of them (I think it was Jeff) stopped fighting and flew after her, as if to say, "wait, Mary Sue! Don't leave! It's all for you, baby!"

The whole thing was quite entertaining...much more so than the soccer game, at least.

Is America making a big deal about International Women's Day? Brazil is pretending to make a big deal about it, but the whole thing feels like a damn farce. Brazil has a lot of things to be proud of, but the social views of women / women's rights definitely isn't one of them.

We went to visit Alexandre's parents this weekend. On the way home, I got a picture of two older people sleeping on the bus because I thought it was nice:

I showed the picture to my friend Ana, and she said "that's so sertaneja!" (If the Wikipedia info wasn't clear, think Barretos.)

On our way home, the bus stopped at the big rest stop that we always go to. This rest stop has started selling Newsweek in English. I am elated. Today there was only one copy and it was last week's issue and it had clearly been used/left on a table/shipped badly at least and it was 12 reais even though the cover had a permanent price written as 11, but.... I paid for it. It was soooo nice to be able to read Newsweek on a bus (just like the good ol' days of BART and AC Transit!).

In it, there was a wonderfully-written article about Obama and the way he has to handle the economic crisis psychologically, as well as a poignant and very exact article that explains the good and bad of California's green energy policies (basically totally dissing the pseudo-liberal yuppies that support impractical green laws that prevent middle class growth and are too expensive to expect everyone to adhere to). If you only read one, read the California one. Especially if your name is Elena. Thenks!

That's it for now. Life is great when I don't have to spend all my free time preparing classes from scratch for the stupid job. More blog entries for you!


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Survey Results, Corn Mystery Solved, Pics

Hi everyone!

So here are the results from the survey to see if Americans have a collective conscience. I didn't include the answers to the Spanish phrase because no one put the same thing as anyone else... what does that say about the way Americans learn Spanish vs. the way Brazilians learn English?

The numbers are estimates because I rounded and because I realized at the end that I miscounted someone but I was too lazy to start over. Also, Viv Pilot left his comments right after I did all the math, and his answers were different from everyone else's (so you can imagine that each number is a little lower than it really is.... however, Viv Pilot, you didn't grow up in the US, which make account for the difference in your answers! I should ask my students the same Qs in English and see if their answers are like yours! How interesting!). I don't care enough about this survey being exact... you'll get the idea:

A famous American author:
Twain 29%

Fitzgerald 12%
Poe 12%
King 12%
Hemingway 12%

Steinbeck 6%
Stevenson 6%
Deveraux (she is American, Auntie Tammy!) 6%
Updike 6%

there/their 28%

no/know 17%

when/win (haha...maybe “when” can be added to the hick slang.... or would it be “win”?): 11%
fair/fare 11%

pale/pail 5.5%
here/hear 5.5%
write/right 5.5%
bat/bat 5.5%
bale/bail (who uses the word “bale?!”) 5.5%
read/reed 5.5%

A word that reveals a hick accent:
ya'll 65%

wash (warsh): 12%

crick (?) 6%
howdy 6%
partner (pardner) 6%
yonder 6%

A typical American food:
burger: 53%

fried chicken: 12%
french fries: 12%
pizza: 12%

mac & cheese 6%
hot dog 6%
That was fun! If I think of any other topics that render worthy survey-taking, I'll certainly put it up! Until then, keep the comments coming. :)

In other news, I discovered the story behind the mysterious corn statue by our apartment. It turns out that it's a (not very effective as it includes no words) way to promote the upcoming corn festival in the region. From what I understood on the news (subject to non-native speaker error), it's local corn farmers working with a big rehab clinic the next town over to sell corn-related foods and other products to raise money for the clinic. (I think the clinic is run by a church, because they were interviewing a real-life friar on the news!) The patients have helped to prepare the products, recipes, and foods. We're totally gonna go next weekend! Pictures to come!
After we ate up all of my grandma's beef stew leftovers, I made us a much more Brazilian lunch on Friday:
It's beef, mandioquinha, and Brazilian broccoli. So healthy and colorful!

We're at Alexanre's parents' house, and a baby bem-te-vi got trapped inside the entryway. I got some pictures before it figured out how to get back outside:
And here's an entertaining license plate:
And I'll leave you with another picture of gatinha, who's evidently tired of having her picture taken:
Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Collective Conscience

Hi everyone,

Do me a favor and help me figure something out. Before reading the rest of the entry, and before reading the comments on this entry, write down the first thing you think of when I ask for the following words (don't try to be witty or cute or cheeky-- just write the first thing you think of):

1. A famous American author
2. A homonym in English (2 words that have the same sound but different meaning)
3. A word that hicks always use that reveals a "hick accent"
4. A phrase in Spanish (if you studied Spanish)
5. A typical American food

If you speak Portuguese, you can do the same thing with this list:
1. Um/a autor/a brasilero/a
2. 2 palavras com o mesmo som mas significados diferentes
3. Uma palavra que mostra o sotaque caipira
4. Uma frase em inglês
5. Comida tipica brasilera

Why am I asking? Well, I've found that Brazilians almost always give the exact same answers to these questions!

Here are the answers that Brazilians almost always give:
1. A famous Brazilian author = Machado de Assis
2. A homonym in English (2 words that have the same sound but different meaning) =manga
3. A word that hicks always use that reveals the accent of "the interior" = porta
4. A phrase in English = The book is on the table
5. A typical food = rice and beans

I don't get these answers from people in the same fashion... I don't quiz my students or anything. It's when these topics come up in my class, and the students are comparing an English word or term to something in Brazil/Portuguese. Or sometimes, the textbook will ask questions like "talk about an author from your country" or "tell us about a typical food from your country." But everyone ALWAYS SAYS THE SAME THING!

Why?? Is it just that the educational system is that standardized (doubtful)? Is it just that people hear these examples from each other and copy them? Is there some other reason I'm missing?

I'm trying to see if Americans (or people fluent enough in English to read my blog) do the same thing.
So if you wrote answers to the questions above, leave them as a comment, okay? We'll compare the comments and see if we can make any conclusions! You can also leave any reasons that this may happen.

In other news, my friend Ana's sister lives in the US, and she mailed some Bisquick to Ana, who was sooo generous and shared with it me! I used them for pancakes the other morning, and I successfully cooked my grandmother's beef stew tonight! I am oh-so proud of myself, I must say. I promised my grandma I'd put up some pictures, so here they are...

The meat to be chopped up and dropped in the stew (in Portuguese, it's called "contra filet"... not sure what part of the cow)

And here is the dumpling mix, plus the picture that I promised to Nanny of our little at-home barbecue (notice that our milk comes in a cardboard box and isn't refrigerated at the store)

Here are the monster dumplings, because I forgot to account for their expansion...

And.... the final product!:
It was almost as good as the original.... but I don't think I'll ever master Nanny's perfect touch!

That's all for today. Don't forget to leave your answers to the questions above. I'll leave you with a picture of a giant corn statue that was recently erected on the main road close to our house... I'm still trying to figure out why.

Have a good night!

O Centro

Ugh! It's 90 degrees in our apartment at 1:30am! I miss central aaaaiiiirrrr...

I went on a little adventure downtown today. I stopped in the "big" used book store and picked up 3 books in English. 2 were hard cover and one was Updike, and it was less than 30 reais! What a steal.

I particularly enjoy walking around our downtown area because it has all these random knick-knack shops. There's one I found before I went home for Christmas, but it's really hard to find parking close to it. But today I was on my way over to it anyway (probably about half a mile from the bookstore, but I didn't want to hassle trying to move the car) when I found an even BETTER awesome knick-knack store!

It totally filled my cravings for Big Lots-style shopping. I don't know how these little stores are able to offer products are reasonable prices when most other places don't. I've heard that some illegally import the stuff from Paraguay, but almost everything I bought today had the "industria brasilera" sticker. I'll try to figure it out and get back to you.

So, at the store (it had a name, but I don't remember it, so I'll call it The House of Plastics), I picked up some wonderful household luxuries:
1. Ice trays for the freezer
2. A napkin holder for the dining room table
3. A new broom, dust pan, and hand scrub brush since we destroyed ours with the tile-cleaning process
4. A cute little tray thing that goes by the kitchen sink and holds our soap and sponges. These are actually really common here, but this one is special because it's raised and has holes to prevent mold.
5. Hangers
6. A new spatula (since we left ours in the oil while frying coxinhas and destroyed it... whoops)

All that for only 23 reais! I know it sounds kind of silly that I'm so excited to have found that kind of stuff for so cheap, but those are the types of little things that make living more convenient, and also that make the apartment feel a bit more permanent. It's been very frustrating to know that this kind of household bric-a-brac is so cheap to make, and yet we have to pay unrealistic prices in other stores for it. (For example, a new broom at the bigger stores here is usually around 15-20 reais. In this store, it was 4.50!)

So all in all, it was pretty satisfying.

Another one of my old students from the Stupid Job scheduled and started private classes with me at home. (I'm up to 3 now. I feel no guilt from stealing away so many students! Crazy boss can suck it.) Anyhoo, she wants 4 classes a week! My private class setup is actually taking off this time. (These 3, plus 2 people that are friends of other students.) I guess the last time was just a stroke of bad news bears who didn't follow through, because people are actually sticking to their schedules and paying up this time around. (Chalk it up to post-Carnaval resolutions!)

I guess that's it. I didn't know this was possible, but people wrote other captions for one of the lolcat pictures I posted of Gatinha in the last entry. Some are really good. You can check them out here if you want a good chuckle:

That's it for now. Ya know, I'm kind of running out of ideas of things to tell you guys about. Any questions or requests?

Have a good week. :)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Happy Floors and Fun with the Cat

Yay! After spending hours (dramatization) scouring the internet for ideas on how to fix our floor, I got frustrated and took the most American route possible: I drove over to Wal-Mart to look for a chemical.

Brazilian small-business/pay-someone-to-do-it-for-you be damned! I found a 9-real bottle of a product called "remover cera" (wax remover) whose label claimed it could also remove sealant. I didn't know what "cera" meant, so I went over to the dictionary section of the store and looked it up. Wal-Mart is like Google incarnate.

I took it home, tested it behind a door to make sure it didn't blow up the apartment, and it was a go! Hardly any scrubbing involved. It takes all of the sealant (aka sealer) off of the slate.
Of course, we'll need about 10 bottles for the entire apartment, but 90 reais is better than the 400 we'd have to pay some poor shmucks to do it for us. And I realized how ingrained my American idea of "why pay someone to do it when you can do it yourself?" really is.

The project is tedious, but satisfying! Here's some before and after pictures of our tile:

BEFORE (gross!)

AFTER (yay!)

And here's some fun sealant sludge:

Thanks for all the helpful comments and ideas! I hope someone else will find my blog in the future and it can help them.

In other, equally unimportant news, I've submitted a picture of gatinha, our cat, for LOL cats!

please vote for her here so she can be featured on the LOLcats homepage! If you didn't understand that the green word was a link, go here:

Click the little cheeseburgers to vote! (5 is the best!)

I made another one, but I don't want people to vote on it until next week, so as not to divide up gatinha's votes between two competing pictures:
So I'll put up a link next week so people can vote for that one!
The whole thing was Alexandre's idea. He said, "send that picture to the lol cats! IMAGINE, if our Gatinha was lol cat?!" His sincerity to see his baby girl make it big was too adorable and hilarious to resist.

And speaking of pictures, I put up some fun pictures of all the rain/rain clouds on my Flickr. They're at the end of this set.

Job stuff is great, my schedule is dandy, without crazy job, I'm making more while working less, driving less, and working early only 2 days a week (and at 9am at that!). Yay! Quitting that job was the best move I could've made, job-wise.


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