Monday, May 31, 2010

New Bird Visitor + Mystery Bird

I heard/saw these for the first time today:

It's a yellow-winged blackbird (aka sargento). Pretty yellow wings!

I'm also hoping someone can help me identify the bird that you'll hear in this video. I think it/they have built a nest in a tree close to my house, but I can never actually see them!

EDIT: I FINALLY saw the bird. I'm about 75% sure that it's a creamy-bellied thrush (sabiá-poca), but it might be a pale-breasted thrush (sabiá-do-barranco). I couldn't get a good picture because it was on a roof. But here's a picture.


Hiking Adventure!

All right.  So last week, Alexandre said, "Bruna invited us to go hiking with her. Wanna go?"

Before I got any information, my answer was "Yeah I wanna go!"
I didn't know much about it. Dear Buddy Bruna and another friend, Tomas, were planning everything. Alexandre is much more go-with-the-flow than I am, and he didn't ask many questions.

The hiking trip was some kind of trail event being planned by a gym in a neighboring town. (When I say town, I mean "practically just a village made almost entirely of government housing and open land that miraculously happens to have a gym".) People had to register in teams. Bruna forwarded Alexandre the gym's email about the event. It had some generic pictures of smiling people hiking. I pointed out that the pictures were totally not from Brazil, and were from Utah or somewhere in that region, and probably didn't reflect what we'd be doing because the gym had just copied them from the internet. But the description on the site said something like "a day for everyone, from kids to seniors!" So we imagined it'd be kind of light.

(Spoiler Alert: Oh, how wrong we were.)

Tomas and Bruna picked us up bright and early on Sunday morning. In the car, Bruna mentioned that a guy from the organizing committee had called her to ask her to submit a team name. She couldn't think of anything, so she just said "Students from [their university]". We joked about how silly it was that there were team names, and wouldn't it have been funny if we had made team shirts or something?


When we pulled up, we saw all the other teams milling around. Almost EVERY team had team shirts made up.
What the hell was this hiking event, anyway??

Oh, and I clearly didn't get the memo about what pants I was supposed to wear, as a woman:

Seriously. There were about 200 people there, and I was one of like, four women not wearing black tight leggings (that girl in the jeans in the picture, too. Except hers were still tight and knee-length). It was comical.

Yes. So. We signed in and gave our food donation. (Part of the registration process was donating food to the local community living in said government housing. I thought it was a nice part.) Then we we served ourselves some bread and coffee cake that they had available.  Then we waited.  I took some pictures.

The organizers gave a little presentation to the participants. They explained the process: Every team would receive a list of directions. The directions said things like "turn left at the fence" and "follow the river until you get to the bamboo tree and then cross the river." To add in an extra level of difficulty, each step in the directions had a time next to it. It was supposed to take the team that much time to get from one step to another. Random places along the trail would have event organizers stationed. The organizers would check the time that our team got to the given location. For every minute that we were early or late to that location, we'd get a point. The goal was to have no points. The team closest to zero points at the end was the winner. I think that's about right.

Each team started at a different time so people couldn't just follow each other. That meant we had to wait about 45 minutes for our turn to start. We were still kind of in the dark, but excited!

Our team was called up. The organizers gave us our maps. Then they watched their watches (English fun), counted down from 5, and sent us off!

It took us about 35 seconds to figure out that this "trail" was totally going to be off the beaten path, most literally. Because the hand-drawn arrows and trail-less terrain weren't enough, the people who wrote the directions decided to intentionally send us in circles, or through abandoned buildings, or in circles inside of abandoned buildings (like in the first step).

The boys each had a copy of the directions. The boys disagreed at first.
"No, you're wrong. That way sends us right through the tall grass. There's a road right here."
"No, but the next step says to follow the river, and the road goes away from the river. I'm telling you, we're supposed to go through the tall grass."

That's right. Most of our trail included tall grass that we walked through. And rivers. And big gatherings of trees.

At first, I was irritated. This shit was destroying my good tennis shoes. If I'd known, I would've worn my heavy waterproof hiking books. I thought we were supposed to be on a trail good for kids and seniors alike, not a possibly-snake-infested mato! Oh, and the cockamamie instructions were really a testament to how Brazilians just don't know how to give directions. I'd like to think that I'm just generalizing, except I get lost every time people give me directions in Portuguese. (And I don't get lost in the US.)  And when my students study my chapter on directions, they have a really hard time, because they always want to skip important parts ("turn left, now turn left later on, and you're there!")  So I think it's partly cultural (not all Brazilians get lost), but I'm not completely convinced.

(I wish I could add music to different blog entries as a sort of soundtrack. The song playing through my head all day was "In California" by Joanna Newsom. If you'd like a soundtrack, you can click on this):

Anyway, when I got over my initial shock (and when we got out of the scary tall grass), I felt better. I decided that my shoes (and my legs) would be destroyed no matter what, so I could either spend the entire tiring day grumbling, or I could make the most of it.  At the parts where I wasn't balancing precariously on a muddy river bank or shimmying under a barbed-wire fence, I got some great pictures:

weeeeee're standing in a river oohhhh my god pleasenofishpleasenofish oop, picture!

Yup, we all had to go through that.

Super happy Alexandre

All the land was so wide open and colorful. The brightest green grasses, and the bluest sky, and the reddest mud. Even the dead winter stalks were a brilliant gold. And even with all the other teams, it was actually really quiet and calm. (I was the anxious part of the ordeal, jumping around in the tall grass like a pony, convinced that something was going to stop my nervous system with a deadly bite. Did you know that the world's deadliest spiders live here, in this region?!) 

We saw giant mutant Land Before Time ants. And awesome flowers that looked like honeycomb. And a lot of horses and cows. And baby chickens. And so much land. Oh, and some brown sheep! (?). They were brown with black heads. Totally didn't know that they existed. And the rock in the rivers was ancient.

We passed a few little quaint waterfalls that dribbled into babbling brooks.  

Oh yeah, and it took us about 6 minutes to lose complete interest in the arbitrary points system. We knew we weren't going to win, and we cared more about (a) not getting hurt (b) enjoying the trail and the scenery (c) not walking in useless circles and (d) avoiding crossing rivers whenever possible. However, other people were way too serious about it. We did inevitably run into other teams: people who'd taken wrong turns or who'd just gone faster or slower than we had. I actually snapped sarcastically at some dumb girls (their team shirts said "Equipe Salto Alto": Team High Heels") who actually tried to push past us on this tiny high ledge that had a river on one side and a barbed wire fence on the other. 

What I actually said in Portuguese was, "Wow, that's a pretty bitchy thing to do. Would you guys like us to fall into the river, or would you prefer to push us into the fence?" And one actually tried to say "Oh, well, um... we have to push past you so that WE don't fall in the river." and I said "oh, really?"  and then when we got onto more solid ground and they ran past us, I called, "good luck with your points!" 

Super pleased that my Portuguese is good now.

At one point, there was a sort of clearing, and the organizers had set up a resting point with free bananas and ice-cold water. Best bananas and water I've ever had in my life.

The directions also led us through the town.
It was simple, but stable. The residents sat in front of their houses and watched the passersby, amused (confused?). A lot of little kids said "hi" to us.

Then we had to cross under a bridge and through some more brush, and we got to a lake. From the lake, we could see the finish line. We could either follow the roundabout directions for another 3km, or we could cross a bridge and be done. We'd already been hiking through all this for about 3 hours at that point, and most restaurants back in town would be closing soon.

It was a pretty fast consensus to cross that bridge and be done with our adventure. We were pooped!

Me with my totally out-of-style shorts (not to mention the sock situation)

So we headed back to the finish line, turned in our jersey thing, and checked out, content with our adventure.

I had mixed feelings during the hike, but in the end I'm glad we did it, and glad we followed the wacko directions. Chalk it up to basic psychology, but I wouldn't have ever crossed through rivers or tall grass on my own accord, and if I hadn't, I wouldn't have been able to see all the memorable sights.

I'm really sore now and my legs are all scratched up, but I have zero bug bites, and it was totally worth it! 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


The cooking blog lives!

I put up a recipe for pineapple and mint juice: a delicious and popular treat here in Brazil.

Check it out here!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Types of Private Students

First, if you haven't logged into the actual blog for awhile (one of you Google Reader people), open the blog to check out Michelle's handiwork in the HTML and title images! :D Thanks, friend.

So I thought I'd write up the various types of private students that I have and the pros and cons of them. Sometimes people would warrant more money per hour, but I decide against it based on other factors that make the money not worth it.

Type 1: The doctor
Obviously, a lot of my private students are medical students, residents, and doctors. (If it's not obvious to you, it's because Alexandre is in medical school and because we live so close to the hospital.)

The Pros: Doctors are great private students because they are usually fast learners (i.e. they know how to learn and study after being students for so long!). They're also more motivated than some other students because they actually DO use English at work, whether it's to read articles or to go to conferences.  Also, they usually have money, so they don't harass me to try to lower my already decent price.

The Cons: Schedule schedule schedule. Doctor students often want super late-night classes, and they have to cancel all the time. (I also suspect that, even when their job isn't the reason that they're canceling, they can conveniently use an unexpected surgery as an excuse.)  I'm very careful about which doctors I accept because of the scheduling problems.

Type 2: The rich housewife
Rich housewives are hit or miss as students. Sometimes, they are so happy to finally have something to do that they throw themselves into studying English. That makes them super motivated and dedicated.  But sometimes, because they're just taking English classes as a hobby and they don't really need it for anything in particular, they're not as motivated. So they cancel on a whim and are super flaky.

The Pros: They never complain about the price, because it's not their money anyway, and their rich husbands have plenty to throw around. They also recommend you to all of their rich housewife friends.

The Cons: See the hit-or-miss situation above.

Type 3: The business executive

The Pros: They too are pretty accepting of whatever price I ask. They also seem to think that the more money they throw at me, the more likely I'll be able to discover a way to just inject English into their arms or something. So they buy whatever books, dictionaries, or material that I recommend (including the ones that I've made and sell!).

The Cons: You'd think that these guys (and yes, they're always men) would be the most motivated-- business English is a huge need, right? They're the ones who are most likely to need English on a day-to-day basis. However, they didn't get to where they are by putting anything before their jobs.  So English class gets pushed aside all the time. These guys almost never do their homework, and they always cancel class, and it's never their fault and their lives are so hard.

Also, surprisingly, these guys aren't good STUDENTS. They don't know how to learn or study.  I guess it's just a different type of intelligence, but I have yet to have had a high-up businessman who's a fast learner and who doesn't need me to repeat things 50 times.

Additionally, almost all of my Mr. Man business owners are totally machismo. Not speculating as to why-- just reporting what I experience.

Type 4: The high school student

The Pros: High school students, at least in this small town, think I'm super strange and interesting-- usually because I'm the first foreigner they've met. (Fellow Californians, just think about it-- can you imagine not meeting a foreigner until you're 16 or 17 years old?!)  So they're usually really curious and ask a lot of questions about whether or not the things they see in American movies really happen.  They also can compare what they're learning in their English class at school to what they learn in my class. The result is that they usually become the cool kid in English class at school because they know a bunch of extra slang, vocab, and cultural things from their cool American teacher.

Also, they're super reliable, because they don't have jobs or kids, and because their parents drive them to class and won't let them cancel.

The Cons: The success of a private high school student is whether they WANT to take classes or whether their parents are making them do it. Obviously, when their parents are making them do it, they're much less involved. (As a rule, I just don't even accept students anymore who are younger than 16. It usually prevents this problem.)

But the biggest frustration with high school students speaking a second language is the same frustration of trying to talk to a high school student in their first language: They often have no opinions, and they know only like, 4 words: cool, fine, good, and bad. So getting them to talk in class can sometimes be like pulling teeth.

In terms of payments, the parents almost always try to negotiate to get a lower price, but I imagine it's because they're also paying for a bunch of other stuff for their kids. So I'm patient and polite, but I don't go any lower.


Type 5: The young couple

Sometimes, young couples decide to take English classes together instead of like, learning how to dance or getting a dog or something.

The Pros: They want classes together, which is possible if they have the same level. You've automatically got a small group class. They also do homework together and practice together outside of class, and can usually keep each other motivated.

The Cons: Depending on the couple's dynamic, one person is always really dominating in the class (here, it's usually the boyfriend/husband), and the other is really embarrassed to speak English in front of their significant other (usually the girlfriend/wife). So that's kind of frustrating to try to juggle.


Type 6: The flight attendant

The Pros: Flight attendants have a lot more real-life experience with English, because they've been to so many other countries and they've had to speak English with people from many countries-- not just Americans. So they usually have a higher sociolinguistic competence than some other types of students. It's also easy to make activities for them because they use English so often in a variety of concrete situations.

The Cons: Scheduling and Study skills. TAM flight attendants work 1 week on, 1 week off, and have some standby shifts mixed in. So they never want fixed schedules, and when they've spent all their money on Victoria's Secret in a given week, they make up for it by not scheduling an English class the following week. I actually don't accept any more flight attendant students because of this.

Also, they're flight attendants, meaning they most likely didn't go to college and have been out of school for a while. So they're not always super quick at picking things up and sometimes they don't remember how to take notes or study.


Type 8: The fellow English teacher

Yes, fellow teachers sometimes want classes with me.

The Pros: They already know a lot about English, including technical grammar terms. So I don't have to worry about my explanations being too complicated. They also know how to study and learn a foreign language. Plus, teaching really advanced students is always a fun challenge.

Oh, and they don't cancel, because they know how sucky it is to be canceled on.

The Cons:  You have to tread lightly in your corrections and critiques. Some teachers get defensive because, when you correct them, a small part of them realizes that they've been doing something wrong at work all this time. You're also challenging what they've learned and what they have been teaching for a while.

Also, it sucks, but you have to be careful about which activities you share with them. Remember, you're still teaching your competition, so you don't want to give away all your good stuff just to have them use it with THEIR students. You have to "differentiate yourself", as the expression goes in Portuguese.


Type 9: The college student

College students are my first choice in students overall.

The Pros: They're already students. So they just consider English homework as part of any other homework. They also know how to study, take notes, learn, and think critically. Also, they see and use English almost every day-- at school, in articles and textbooks, and in their down time, in movies and music. They also have flexible schedules because they have only part-time jobs (if they work at all) and their classes are spread out. Additionally, if they're a Brazilian who made it to a public university, their parents probably have a decent amount of money. So they don't mind paying and they don't pester me to let them make up classes that they miss (because they just tell their parents that they went!).

Oh, and one more thing: It wasn't too long ago that I was in college, and because of the cursinho/vestibular situation in Brazil, we're often the same age. So it makes it easier for us to relate.

The Cons: In my case, the closest big public university (not Alexandre's school) is kind of far (about 30 mins) away, so that discourages some students from driving or taking the bus all the way to my house for classes.  They also disappear during finals week and school vacations.  But in general, they're the best kind of student.

Have you guys experienced similar students, or had different experiences with these types of students? Also, are there any types that I'm forgetting? Come on, this is your chance to shine! (Or just to rant, if necessary!)

EDIT: Fellow blogger Rachel made a list of common types of students that she's experienced. You can check out her entertaining list here.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Look at this Stuff; Isn't it Neat?

It's always nice to have visitors here in Brazil because it's nice to have new eyes for things that are becoming second nature to me. Having Elena here also made me realize how much more I've been "Brazilified" and how much I really love about where I'm at.

During Elena's visit, she, Alexandre and I hopped around the south/southeast of Brazil a bit: we spent a weekend in São Paulo (which I still just love to pieces, and where I finally mastered the Metro/bus system... totally ready to move there now); we came back and hung out in Caipirópolis (aka where I live), and then we headed down to Foz do Iguaçu (this time just me and Elena; Alexandre couldn't miss that many days of work).

Even though it was my second time at Foz do Iguaçu, it was still a memorable, unique experience. It's just a great city for vacation because you can do unforgettable nature-y activities all day and then relax in a nice, fairly-priced hotel at night.  My Portuguese is like, 500 times better than when Kristin and I went, so that made everything easier and clearer. I also went to the Argentinian side this time, which was like, 500 times better than the Brazilian side! The pinnacle of my Brazilification was the following metonymic event:

When you go to Foz do Iguaçu, there are 2 prices to get into the national park: 1 price for Brazilians and 1 price for foreigners. When I went last year, I had the same stamp in my visa that says that I'm married but that I haven't received any IDs yet. I know I'm not Brazilian, but the idea I think is to make it more affordable for people who live in Brazil (and pay taxes in Brazil) to visit. But last year, when I explained my visa situation to the travel agent, she said, "nope, you pay the foreigner's price." So I didn't push it.

This year, however, I came equipped with the same visa but with a better understanding of the jeitinho brasilieiro. If you don't speak Portuguese, that means that I knew better this time around to ask 5 different people, "but don't you think my marriage stamp in my passport means I can pay the Brazilian price?" and even when they all say no, I knew better to still ask the girls at the counter very nicely until I got my way. (I suppose a decent translation of jeitinho brasilieiro would be "not taking no for an answer." It can have a negative connotation, but I'm being optimistic here.)

So yes, I was proud of myself for having built up the confidence and haggling skills necessary to get the discounted ticket price!

But the real highlight of this Iguaçu trip was going to the Argentinian side, which Kristin and I didn't get a chance to go to last year. Because of some passport problems, Elena wasn't able to go into Argentina, but gave me her blessing to go on without her. So I went with our CVC tour group, which included 3 husband-wife couples. One of the couples was a Brazilian man and his wife from Singapore (they live together in England). She only spoke English (very well, I might add) and they were kind of weird at first but ended up being super friendly.

But... Okay. I'm not going to be able to explain what I saw and experienced on the Argentinian side of the falls, and specifically at the Garganta del Diablo-- the Devil's Throat Falls. But I'll tell you what we did, and then I'll tell you how I felt after:

First we took the tour van across the border and into the national park. I got an Argentina stamp in my passport. I thought that was gonna be the exciting part, because I had no idea what I was in for. I was just following the tour guide.

We walked into the park a bit and our CVC guide took us on a trail that I think was some kind of shortcut because we were the only ones on it.

This trail on land led us to a train.

We took the train to the bank of the Iguaçu River.

Then we walked across a bridge. And walked. And walked. The bridge crossed the river (bank to the falls) and took almost 20 minutes to cross. I knew the bridge led us to some kind of viewing area. That's how I imagined it at that point: "Some kind of viewing area."  Oh yeah, and I'd heard someone mention that it was 7 times fuller than normal in terms of water flow.

When the river water started getting louder and stronger, and when I started to hear the distant roar of the waterfalls, I started to get more excited. I thought to myself, What was I walking toward, after all?

And then I started to see the mist coming off the river. It looked like the world was flat and I was at the edge of it.  I was a bit confused as to where the bridge would end. A bridge to the end of the world?

And then, suddenly, there it was. La Garganta del Diablo. The Devil's Throat.

(I took these pics)

These pictures don't do it justice. My explanation doesn't do it justice. You just have to go there. You know how people say, "you just had to be there?" That's not what I mean. Usually when people say that, they're just not explaining it well enough. You didn't REALLY have to be there. But here, you do.

So like I said I would, I told you how I got there, and now I'll tell you how I felt when I saw it. It was the biggest source of power I'd ever seen in my life. It made me feel small and wonderfully insignificant. It made me feel like the luckiest person in the world. It made me so thankful for Alexandre for opening up this continent to me. It made me love the world and everyone in it.

I only cried a little.

La Garganta del Diablo is hands-down the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. I thought the train ride in Curitiba was until I saw this. It's definitely on my list of top 5 Most Beautiful Things I've Ever Seen, which I didn't develop until I realized I had to evaluate La Garganta del Diablo against the Curitiba train and against the many other beautiful things I've seen. So this is my newly-developed list:

Top 5 Most Beautiful Things I've Ever Seen (list subject to expansion):
1. La Garganta del Diablo
2. The Train Ride in Curitiba (I know you can't see a train ride; I'm referring to the rainforest that the train goes through)
3. La Catedral de Guadalajara (The big Cathedral in Guadalajara)
4. The view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Bay from the AC Transit bus line #7
5. The view of the Coachella Valley from the Desert Museum trail at sunrise on New Year's Day

I haven't traveled much compared to some people, so the range of my list is pretty limited. But I still feel super lucky to have seen those things, and lots of other things.

And I feel lucky for the life I've made for myself here in Brazil. I suppose it's not luck if I made it myself (this level of beauty has made me more libertarian), but it's good to be grateful nonetheless.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Foz do Iguaçu!

After only a little bit of drama, Elena and I are finally back from Foz do Iguaçu!

Some of the pics are up!

It's hard to find time to blog when friends are in town. Details next week.

For now, the first round of pics are up on my Flickr account:


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Naming of Things

Elena's here! Posts and pictures coming soon!

But I just have 4 questions, and I'm hoping you guys can help me out:

1. We're going to Foz do Iguaçu tomorrow, and I'm venturing into the bird park again. I'd like to buy a book on Brazilian birds (preferably something that has pictures so I can recognize them and name them). Any suggestions?

2. What bird is this? It's some kind of woodpecker:

Sorry, the zoom on my camera kind of sucks. But it has a yellow face with a black throat and a black spot on its head. So pretty!

EDIT: I found this one!

3. And what about this fruit? It's kind of a generic-looking fruit here, but its beautiful flower should be of some help:

4. Lastly, we heard a bird that makes a sound somewhere between a pig grunting and a door creaking open. It makes that sound first, then it cries in a way similar to a seagull. It was hard to see the birds because they were far away, but they are big and black (maybe some kind of goose-related thing?) and have long thin beaks (presumably for catching things in the water). I made a video so you can hear its crazy loud pig sound. Thanks for your help, everyone!

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