Thursday, July 23, 2009

Hickfest and Casserole Success

I have a letter I'd like to write to my city of HICKS in light of their "festa do peão" (literally translates to cowboy festival-- I call it HICKFEST. It's a night of rodeos, excessive drinking, cow competitions, and the worst part: country music duos singing about how women are like meat and how they have to get the right "filet" Barretos was also a festa do peão).

Here it is:

Dear Hickfestgoers,

Did you know that yesterday was a Wednesday? And that today is a Thursday? Did you know that some people in this city have jobs that actually require effort and brainpower, or, at the very least, an a.m. schedule?

You did? Really?

Then why did you think it would be okay to host your godforsaken festa do peão hickfest in the middle of the city in the middle of the workweek? I mean, it'd be bad enough on the weekend, having to listen to the repetitive base and cheesy guitar rifts and even cheesier/more offensive lyrics that SOMEHOW find a way to travel across quite a few miles and shake my apartment windows on a night that I didn't have to wake up early, but no. You all (should I say "ya'll?") decided it was a better idea to completely disregard everyone else and START YOUR 4-DAY-LONG FESTIVITIES AT MIDNIGHT, and continue until 4:00am. (Did I mention it was a Wednesday-Thursday night?)

An equally grouchy Alexandre made a good point for you. "If I decided to have a party that loud, the police would come. Well, maybe. But why is it okay for this company to have a party that loud? Their hickfest is adversely affecting far more people than any party I could have would. Who did they pay?"

I have some other points, coming from a civilized society. In a civilized society, people have an idea of community. People think about their neighbors when planning hickfests. It's not that people from my country don't have their share of hickfests. They just follow laws about sound rules. Laws mean something in a civilized society! You should try it out! You don't even have to cross any oceans to see what it's like. Just try leaving your tiny hick bubble and visiting a bigger city here in your own country.

But it's alright. Everyone knows that God loves Americans the best, and God is smiting you all. The sky is ominous with impending rain. The read earth is being lifted into the sky. In your words, "a storm's a'comin'!"

May the storm clouds drown out the sound of your bass, and may the wind overturn all of your stage sets, and may the rain short-circut all of your speaker systems, rendering your tickets useless!



In happier news, aside from this horrible party going on, my grandparents sent us Bisquick for my birthday (best present ever), so we've been trying to find different ways to use it. Today, we invented a delicous lunch. Well, we took an casserole idea from the Bisquick website and modified it/Brazilianified it.

It came out like this:


Poor Alexandre decided last night while I was at work that he wanted to make pancakes. I usually make them for us, so he wasn't exactly sure about what to do. But then he realized that the box has directions. However, to his dismay, the directions use the American measuring system of cups and halfcups!

(We do actually own a measuring cup that has both cups and mL on it, but he didn't know.)

So what did my very genius man do? Transfer the measurements into metric units! And write it on the box so he wouldn't have to do it again!

Cracked me up.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Makin' the Big Bucks

I got the job!
Whoo hoo!

What job? This job. My new schedule is going to be amazing. I'm going to work from 11am-7:30pm every day. Starting in August, I'm only going to have 1 class at the school because this new job, combined with my private classes and translations, is plenty of work and money. :D

Too bad Alexandre has his overnight shift tonight. We'll have to celebrate tomorrow... with sushi and caipirinhas. What else?

Happy dance happy dance

...which for me, is just kinda moving in my chair a bit. Not a big dancer. My forró teacher quit on me, remember?

I knew I was going to have good luck this week, because while I was walking to work on Saturday (blech... woohoo! no more Saturday classes!), a bird that was sitting on a telephone wire pooped and it landed RIGHT next to me, but not on me! Brazilians think that getting pooped on is good luck (as Kristin knows very well from her visit, poor thing), but I think that was a much more logical sign of good fortune.

I hope you are all having as good of a week as I am!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Another Night at the Theatre

So we had tickets for 2 more shows at the theatre festival this weekend. Though we were a bit disheartened after our first experience at the theatre, we were optimistic about the second two (at least I was, because they were the two that I chose. Haha.)

The first play was originally written by a British playwright, and had been translated into Portuguese (a compromise, I thought). It was about a South African woman who lived in a sort of convent/cult place and at the end of her life decided to abandon her religion and become an artist. The majority of the play was this old frail woman trying to jostle some independence between the strict local bishop that wanted her to be put into an old folks' home and her young sprightly city friend that wanted her to stand up to the bishop and keep up with her art despite the cult's disapproval.

It was hard for me to understand, mostly because we got there late and so we had to sit in the back row, and I couldn't understand old woman Portuguese, especially from 30 or so feet away. And on top of it the ending was totally abstract and metaphorical and with the language barrier, I lost it. Did she get sent the retirement home after all? Did she stay in her house and keep sculpting? Did she kill herself? Not even Alexandre was sure.

Our second play was being held 20 minutes later in a lecture hall at one of the local private (read: small, expensive, and poor quality) universities, so we had to book it. We stopped at AMPM for a fast, unhealthy dinner (old habits die hard) and drove over there.

While in line to get our seats, we picked up a little flyer that supposedly explained the play. The play was called "O sliêncio dos amantes," which can be translated to "The Silence of Lovers," except "amantes" can take many meanings-- lovers in an affair, lovers in a relationship, etc. The description had vague phrases like "we are all fallen angels" and "the idea of a box represents life and how we are enclosed in it, unable to express the conflicts we feel in our roles as parents, children, husbands, and wives."

I was still hungry after my microwaved gas station dinner, and I was grouchy and annoyed. "But what is it ABOUT?" I complained to Alexandre while we waited in line. "What kind of description is this? I want to know the plot. Like, 'Miguel works at a bank, and he has such and such a problem with his family.' Sei lá. This'd better not be like last night." I grumbled and made wisecracks until the lights dimmed.

Imagine that you had just read that description and then watched this opening of the play:

watch it!

I wasn't getting my hopes up. "If this hasn't changed in 15 minutes, we're goin' for barbecue," I whispered.

But the play changed. Oh, did it change.

That flyer didn't have a plot description, because there wasn't a plot, per se. It was a set of 4 monologues. Those 4 people in the dirty angel costumes took turns taking off their masks, changing into real clothes, coming out of the giant box, and giving incredible, moving performances. Each one told a heartbreaking story about someone/some event in their family.

One guy was a midget (he was only halfway out of the box, and had his head placed on a midget doll's body. Hard to visualize, I know) whose father rejected him and whose mother treated him like an infant even though he was older, and whose mother also believed that he would one day eventually grow to a normal size.

The second monologue was by a girl whose husband killed himself. She scorned herself for not realizing how unhappy he was. She was both angry at him for being so selfish and angry at herself for being so naive.

The third monologue was a man whose mother had been an alcoholic, and how much it had messed him up. This one was particularly moving. While he gave his monologue, talking about how he never knew which mother to expect (because one minute she could be a raving bitch and the other a doting caregiver), about how he was embarrassed to invite people over, about how his father ignored the problem and blamed him and his brother for stressing her out, he walked along the tops of turned over cups that had been put all over the box on stage. He had to balance himself on top of these cups the whole time he talked. (Think of the image of walking eggshells, except they were tumblers.) At the end of his monologue, he methodically cleaned up all the cups.

The fourth woman told her story of her son who disappeared. She didn't know if he had died or run away and it haunted her forever.

While each person gave their monologue, the other actors stayed in their "fallen angel" costumes on stage and listened attentively, sometimes offering gifts of condolence and sometimes just giving understanding looks.

The whole thing was really heavy and depressing, but beautifully written and portrayed. It was the perfect balance of abstract and concrete. I think the point was that everyone functions in their daily life more or less normally (i.e, the masks), but everyone has a story to tell. Everyone has hurt and regret that they keep inside. I think the idea of the other "angels" on the stage was suggesting that we should all be more considerate and understanding with each other. The whole thing just made me want to hug everyone.

Lucky you! One of the actresses from the play has a youtube site, and she put up a video that shows a little of each monologue. Enjoy:

Turns out the author of the play is moderately famous here in Brazil. Her name is Lya Luft. She's a linguist and a playwright. :) This particular play is relatively new and hasn't been translated to English yet, but she has another one that has. The English name of her translated play is Losses and Gains (Perdas e Ganhos). Today, she writes for Veja (a Brazilia magazine similar to Newsweek).

I have a bit of free time tomorrow, so I'm gonna go to the bookstore and try to find the play we watched in print. (It's on the bookstore's website.) I think I'd be able to appreciate it even more if I could read it instead of giving 110% concentration to Rio de Janeiro accents. :oP

Turns out small-town theatre isn't so bad after all!

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Night at the Theatre

There's a theatre festival going here on right now. Being so far away from a big city, our options are somewhat limited. This is also the one theatre event (really one of the only cultural events) that occurs here every year, so the tickets sell out really fast.

Luckily, Alexandre had a friend that got in line really early last weekend and got a bunch of tickets for us, himself, and his girlfriend. Our play tonight was from a Spanish company, and so it was in Spanish.

The artwork inside of the local theatre

I was looking forward to hearing Spanish again (it's so comforting... for lots of reasons! But especially because my comprehension shoots up from about 75% to 95%, not to mention the direct objects), but unfortunately, the play didn't have much talking.

You know the kind of "new age" theatre that is always just made fun of? It's made fun of so much that you start to think that maybe no plays that ...out there... really exist.

They do.

Luckily, our program had a description in English. Without it, I wouldn't have known that the two men on stage were alter egos of each other. They were representing the same person, two sides of the conscience, the angel and the devil on the shoulder without the shoulder, I suppose.

It opened with about 8 minutes of silence. The two actors wandered around the sparse stage, rearranging things. You eventually figured out that one "self" liked things neat and orderly, and the other liked things all messed up.

The caipiras (hicks) of our city were thrown for a loop. A few people were laughing nervously. Someone whispered, "mais o que é isso?" ("What IS this?").

Then they had a 15-minute fight scene with loud rambunctious home-made techno music.

Throughout the show, the two actors playing the one "self" shared cigarettes. Oh yeah, and they smoked real cigarettes in the small, 300-seat theatre. Smart!

Once the techno fight scene ended and they talked a bit more, and once you got used to the idea that you were like, watching the inside of someone's mind (someone who couldn't decide which instincts and impluses to give into), it was pretty decent. Some parts were even funny. To show the love-hate relationship between the two parts of the "self," the actors had a... kissing fight. Blowing kisses at each other and responding as if they were bullets to dodge. At least that's how I interpreted it. (That makes it art, right? When you don't know if you're understanding it correctly...?)

Some of the metaphors were understandable. They had a present that they kept giving to each other, insisting that the other one opened it. In the end they learned it was a knife. Self 1 insisted that Self 2 ask him (self 1) to kill him (self 2). Then they switched. And neither one could bring himself to do it. Because.... they need each other? The two sides balance each other out?

Some parts were completely lost on me. They had a huge trash can (the Waste Management kind) on the corner of the stage, and they periodically took turns running over to it, opening it up, and splashing water on themselves. Sometimes they just ran over and opened it or closed it violently. They also each had similar silk shirts and fur coats that they took on and put off, took on and put off. Oh yeah, and then there was the stopwatch. They had a stopwatch. They kept kissing it and trading it back and forth. The whole thing had a slight air of homoerotica.

Then there was the ending. One "self" picked up the other one and carried him on his back. Good so far, right? But then he stuck him into the trash can full of water. And I guess we were supposed to understand that he "drowned." Because he climbed out of the trash can and walked off stage. And the other guy went back to the only table on the stage and got stuck in a broken-record style questioning, imagining that he was talking to the other self. He kept repeating in Spanish, "you're there, right? Okay, go. Wait, wait! Okay. You're there, right?"

And then it ended because the ushers opened the doors and turned on the back lights while the guy was still talking in circles. I'm about 80% sure that that was the planned ending.

So what does 5 reais and the only theatre within a 3-hour radius buy you?


I think the original idea was good. But I think they could've portrayed it in a more literal way (like, with a real plot). I don't think you can call your work art if you're the only one who understands it for sure. I think that's kind of a cop-out. Anyone can paint a bunch of circles on a canvas or run around on stage dumping their heads in trash cans full of water and insist that it means something. "It has a deeper meaning! But I'm not going to even give you a CLUE as to what it is! It's a secret. If you can't figure it out, it's because you're a country bumpkin who doesn't understand art!" I think people who make "art" like this are too lazy to meet their audience halfway (or don't really have anything to say, or don't know how to express their art more effectively). Alexandre doesn't agree. He thinks art is successful as long as it makes the audience think. He thinks art is better if people are able to make their own conclusions about its meaning.

I'll leave you with a video that I snuck in of the play at the end of the kissing fight. My camera has sound-- there just wasn't any.

Oh, and also-- theatre or theater? Mozilla says I'm wrong. I say I'm old-fashioned. Or British. Or right.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

More Tips for Teaching (Including Private Classes)

So one frustrated October day, I wrote a blog entry with all of the lessons I'd learned in my 6 months of working and teaching English in Brazil. I didn't know it would become a popular search result on Google, and by far my most popular entry! (I personally think I have some better ones, but I can see why this one would be accessed so often.)

Anyway, I wrote that a long time ago. So I've decided to write some more tips and things that I've learned. I hope I can help more.

1. Re: "The hiring season." Many people have asked about this concept here in Brazil, and I've also read about it in other blogs, but I haven't felt like there's any kind of hiring season at all. Yes, it's true that many Brazilians choose to take their vacation(s) during July and/or December-January, but in the end, I don't think this affects the chances of you getting hired or not. Teachers come and go constantly, mostly because students come and go. There is a high turnover of both. Some schools choose to close for all or part of these vacation months, and some don't. Some schools close for the week of Carnival, and others don't. Classes with kids tend to have longer breaks. In my personal experience, I say to be wary of schools that close for big chunks in the year. That usually means the owner himself is lazy (or an evil manipulative bastard, but I digress). It's really bad for business to close for more than a week or two. People don't come back!

So the point is, come when you want to. There will always be work.

2. Re: Degrees that you need to teach. Again, I don't own a school, so I don't know if they have any rules about the types of degrees that applicants need. However, I'm almost positive that most schools will be more flexible because you're a native speaker.

Out of the 5 schools I've applied to (and received a call back from), 3 required an English test, and only 1 of these tests included questions about teaching theories and complicated grammar terms. The other tests were just questions like: "which is correct? a) I didn't went b) I didn't go c) I no went d) I no goed."

You usually don't need to speak Portuguese to teach, but it'll improve your chances of getting hired, and it'll make you a better teacher. Same goes for teaching experience.

In the end, schools are going to want to use you to their advantage. For example, if you don't speak Portuguese, they may not ask you to teach basic classes, but you could still be helpful in advanced conversation classes.

In this blog, I have always been a big proponent of teacher hopefuls getting some kind of training first (via an Oxford teaching certificate, at least). That's just because I think that if you do a job, you should do it well. But unfortunately, you'll see that most of the schools here have very low standards for their teachers, whether they're Brazilian or American/British. Teachers here teach the wrong things. Constantly. They lie when they don't know the right answer. They're too lazy to look things up that they don't know. They avoid answering students' questions and sometimes blatantly ignore the student (usually because THEY themselves don't know the answer). Students end up speaking a Portuguese English that you'll have to spend hours un-teaching. IT IS SO FRUSTRATING, but it works in your favor if you're not trained. In your interview, just play up the not-completely-correct but all-too-common belief that, just because you're a native speaker, you are a FAR superior teacher.

(I do welcome any comments on this debate, because I can't make up my mind. Is someone a better teacher of a language just because they are a native speaker?)


I had really bad experiences with private classes in the beginning, but I've gotten a lot better. So much better, in fact, that I'm going to be down to only 1 or 2 classes at the school in the coming semester. :)

But it took a lot of mistakes to get to that point. Here's what I learned...

1. If you give Brazilians an inch, they take a mile. (Or, as they say in Portuguese, if you offer a hand, they want the whole arm. Or something.) This is not to say that Americans are perfectly respectful and fair in business and that Brazilians are evil and cutthroat. (Though some days, it feels like that.) I'm trying to say that you have to offer only exactly what you want to give, and nothing else. Stick to your guns. Brazilians really love to bargain and haggle, so if you're not good at it (like me), try to get better. Don't make exceptions for people. It's just the Brazilian way of business. Brazilians are proud to call themselves "opportunistic." (Yes, I've heard this word used many times.)

1. If you give a discounted price for one student who really begs you for it, he'll still ask you for it to be 5 reais cheaper. And then he'll tell his friends what your discounted price is. And when they come to you for classes, they'll demand the discounted price. So decide the price for your classes, and stick to it.
2. A student has class at 4:00pm. He arrives at 4:15. You try to be nice and allow the class to go to 5:15. From that day on, the student will come at whatever time he wants and expect class to be one hour long.
3. You schedule a class with a student from 6:00-8:00pm. You write it down. He doesn't. He shows up at 7:00 and insists that you said 7:00-9:00. You try to be nice and allow the class to be from 7:00-9:00, just this once. Again, from that day on, the student will be totally inconsistent and unfair with his schedule and will put your word against his. So watch the students write down the time. And then confirm it with them. Or, better yet....

2. Make a contract. My contract was, by far, the turning point in terms of the success of my private classes. I'm convinced that it's 50% psychological. But it also protects you... again, not so much legally, but psychologically!

In my opinion, the 2 most important parts of the contract are:
1. The students have to pay you up front.
2. The students have to give you 24 hours to cancel a class.

3. Don't let students pay later. I know this can be harsh. A student comes to class and insists that he forgot his cash and wants to just pay you for both classes next week. Don't allow it. A student asks if he can pay you for all of the classes at the end of the month. Don't allow it. My very first private student asked that. "Can I pay at the end of the month?" I said "sure" because, well, because I'm me. And what happened at the end of the month? He disappeared.

After that, I was strict about getting paid for a class before I taught it. I had one girl who was paying month by month. She was my student for 6 months, and always paid at the beginning. Then she told me that she would be moving away and that the 7th month would be her last. She said how she was so busy and her money situation was so complicated with the move and could she pay at the end of the month? I figured, "well, she's paid on time for 6 months, we've gotten to know each other pretty well, we've built a nice rapport, I can trust her." So I said "okay." And.... you guessed it. She didn't come to her last 2 classes. And then she moved away. (See what I mean about giving an inch?)

4. Charge what you're worth. The price of your classes really depends on the city you're in. But call schools and get an idea of their prices. (Call a few... They vary! In my city, the schools charge between 60 and 500 reais a month.) Ask teachers at your school what they charge for private classes. Ask friends what they think is an honestly good price for your region. If you go to the students' house (i.e., they don't come to you), charge more. If the student is asking for really specific lessons (e.g. vocabulary for his pilot training course and test), charge more. You're going to have to spend a lot of time preparing all that.

Like I said, it's common to haggle here. As a result, people usually ask a higher price because they're expecting you to haggle. My personal strategy is to offer exactly what I want to charge, and then tell them to take it or leave it. I charge a really fair price and I know that they're not going to get my quality of classes for a cheaper prices. So I start off on an honest and direct foot, and also, I don't have to haggle. I do offer a discount if 2 students want class at the same time, but I make sure they're the same level!

Another issue that you can decide on is whether or not to charge different prices for different people. This is SO common here. Every school has some kind of coordinator/marketing person who meets with the students for the first time. They don't say a price until they know the student's job. If the student has a well-paying job, they ALWAYS charge more. I personally think that's ridiculous, but it's the norm here. Doctors pay more for English classes than their secretaries do, even though they're receiving the same service. You decide your own take on that.

5. Prepare material that you can use with other students. Even if you have a book to use, you'll inevitably spend time making your own stuff (worksheets, activities, conversation questions, etc). Make the topics and directions general enough that you can use them with any student and with both group or individual classes. It'll save you time in the future. Reduce reuse recycle!

Also, book-wise, my favorite book to teach with is Cambridge's Touchstone series. (It's on Amazon, plus the Cambridge website.) I recommend buying one teacher version and one student version, and then 2 copies of the workbook. And then you lend out the student version and a workbook for students to copy. (Yeah, I know, copyright laws, blahblahblah, this is Brazil, remember?) I don't do this, of course... I'm just saying that you could...ahem.

6. Be patient. Your biggest number of clients will come by word of mouth. And you look desperate if you always ask your students to recommend you to their friends. Your classes have to speak for themselves. If a student likes your classes, he'll tell his friend. And they'll tell their friends. Etc. It takes time to build up a solid group of students.

I guess that's it for now. If you're teaching here in Brazil, please leave your thoughts as comments! :)

Good luck!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Slackin' Off

This week has been madness.

I have 8 private students now, and 3 more starting next week.
I picked up a private student at the school who's doing an intensive program of 7 hours a week.
I have my translation work w/ one of the universities here.
I have my regular classes at the school every night.

And now, I'm almost done with a quite lengthy application/interview process for an American company. They develop ESL material for online teaching programs. I can do it here in Brazil, but get paid on dollars! If it works out (which I'm pretty sure it will, since I'm on the last step: making part of a lesson plan using their methodology), I can quit all of my classes at the school (except for 1, in order to keep my foot in the door) and have almost complete control of my schedule. And be earning a salary that would be good in the US, therefore giving me a much easier life here in Brazil!

Thank you soooooo much to Robyn from Lovely Dharma for recommending it to me! Everybody read her blog and leave her comments and click on her ads. :op Maybe you can convince her to start writing again! :)

So anyway, Alexandre and I had plans this weekend. Big plans! One of his friends here from the hospital is having a big birthday party today at her parents' house 3 hours away. She invited about 10 of us for a free weekend of food and drinks and fun at her parents' large property.

We were totally planning to go. I asked for the day off work and everything. We had plans to carpool with another couple, who wanted to leave at 8:00am.

But when our alarm clock went off this morning, our plans changed. It was cold and rainy. The cat was cuddled up between us. The sink was still full of dishes from last night's dinner, and we still hadn't packed. I had had classes at the school on a Friday night because Thursday was a holiday and the classes got bumped. I had stayed up until 2:00am working on my lesson plan for the possible new job. Alexandre had had his own busy week. Waking up at 6:30am on a Saturday morning to drive 3 hours to a party and have to be awake and chipper until 2am seemed like the least fun thing in the world.

So Alexandre texted the other couple to say that the cat was sick (100% his idea) and that we were worried about leaving her alone. (His move was totally baby whiner, but I was tired and wasn't complaining.) I could've called my boss and offered to teach my Saturday class.

But instead I slept in until 12:30. It's 1:30 now, and raining. Alexandre still hasn't made his way out of the bedroom. I'm still in my pajamas, eating cereal and enjoying one of the first episodes of Sex and the City (with subtitles, of course).

I think I'm going to wake him up and suggest a big churrascaria lunch, and maybe some used furniture shopping. We still have only 1 table that I move back and forth from the dining room to my classroom. Now that I have so many private students, it requires 3 moves a day. ANNOOYYYIINNGGG.

So this is my slack off Saturday. Life is good.

Here's a video of what I've been listening to lately. It calms me down. Her name is Mariee Sioux. She's a friend of Joanna Newsom. It's about the hippiest thing I listen to. But if you're not a Joanna fan, you still may like her. Her voice is so nice. (No, really. It is.)

Clicky click:

If she's just too hippie for you, then may I recommend Horse Feathers? Still folk, with a wonderful soothing singer. More down-home and minus the hippie-ness. Plus violins and cellos.

I'll write when I know the results of my application process for the new job. :)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

São Paulo, Then and Now

My lovely internet friend "Ray Adkins" sent me a really interesting video made by the American government in 1943 to talk up São Paulo and Brazil to Americans. It's long, but worth watching. I think my favorite part was the awkward English words they used for a lack of a good translation, like "the interior of the country" and the "rector of the university." Oh, and their nice translation of serra to "precipitous escarpment."

Also, I find it interesting that there's vurtually no mention of the military regime, just a few images that happen to say "militar" on boxes and stuff.

Check it out here (it's grandparent friendly!):

To get a more modern idea of São Paulo, I recommend Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations episode on Brazil in general and the city in specific. It's witty and thoughtful without being too naive or Americanized.

If you're too cheap for cable, like me, you can watch it here on YouTube in 5 parts, starting with part 1 here:

Thanks Michelle!


PS: Does anyone know how I can change the size of the YouTube videos so they don't take over my side bar? I tried to use the customize feature on youtube itself, but it doesn't cooperate.
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