Sunday, May 29, 2011

Food, Thankful

So my score at the farmer's market on Friday and my subsequent cooking spree (as evident on the cooking blog) has led me to lots of reflectin' on my relationship with food and cooking.

Today, I was talking to a friend online who was saying that they wanted to cook more but didn't know where to start. I realized how much I've learned about food and cooking since moving to Brazil.

This may sound silly to older readers, but I moved here when I was 22. Combine that age with a working class family that wasn't big on cooking or vegetables, and with a college life that required lots of hours working, and with general food ignorance in American culture, and the result was that I knew basically nothing about the basics of food prep.

For this friend, I typed up an email with a list of kitchen staple ingredients that are good to have on hand, and then I typed up simple tips on cooking on the cheap at home. I learned ALL of it living in Brazil. I realized while writing the email that I didn't know how to describe meat cuts in English. I think that's a basic thing people (well, non-vegetarians) need to know -- how to choose beef, what different cuts are good for, etc.

I credit Brazilian culture for being so much more health-conscious, and for putting more of an emphasis on making time for healthy eating, for being more resistant to restaurant marketing, for celebrating things with barbecues and home-cooked meals rather than at restaurants. I mean, I credit myself for looking into it so much, too, for taking the time to learn stuff-- but my environment definitely gave me a push. I feel so lucky to be here, to have gotten this new perspective.

My own research and math showed that food prices aren't actually that different between the countries if you're buying the right stuff. So a healthy diet is doable in the US, if you can try not to give in to the social pressure of eating out all.the.time. I read this ridiculous article in Newsweek about something they're calling "food insecurity" in the US (because they can't be pretentious enough to call it hunger-- that'd be an insult to people who are actually starving). They basically argue that lots of Americans are going hungry, going without basic nutrition. Despite the poorest 5% of the nation that they mention, I think this lack of nutrition is almost entirely a result of a lack of priorities (why invest in nice food for your kids when you can have a Wii and a brand new TV?!), and a lack of education on food and cooking basics.

Come on, America! Be better! I'm trying not to judge. It's a huge complicated situation, and I'd still be just as mixed up in it if I was still living there. I'm just hoping I can get through to at least one person or two.

I feel like I still have a lot to learn. I learn something new with every meal I cook, things that some people may consider obvious. But if you feel just as lost as I once did and want me to send you the email I typed up with the staples and the tips, email me at the cooking blog email address ( and I'll pass it on to you.

What do you think everyone should know about food and cooking? What ingredients are staples in your kitchen?

EDIT: Fellow blogger Laurel just put up a really nice post on how to shop organic in the US. Enjoy!

Friday, May 27, 2011

The New Farmer's Market: Not Your Small-Town Feira

All right. You may remember back when I first moved to Caipirópolis and I was super excited about our dinky little farmer's market in the neighborhood. I didn't know any better, so I thought it was fantastic. I mean, it was good in its own right, but I had no idea of farmer's market POTENTIAL.

Now we're in the new beach town, and I'm embarrassed to admit that today was the first Friday morning that I crawled out of bed early enough to make it over to the farmer's market down the street. (OK, some days I was awake, but I would've had to walk to the bank to get cash, first, and that required too much work.) But today I had cash, and Alexandre's coming home and I want to make him a nice lunch, so I decided to go check it out.


The thing went on for at least 10 blocks (my arms got tired and I ran out of money, so I didn't see everything). And it was intense! People yelling out sale prices, old ladies jostling for the best head of lettuce, and so many different things! There was fresh fish! I don't know anything about buying fish, because I'm a bit wary of it when it's not in sushi form (I know, I know; please don't start), but I'm excited to go with Alexandre so he can teach me how to choose and possibly eat some of it. There were also people who made up their own spice combinations and gave them names (I bought one called "festival de hervas finas," if that's how you spell it). Even though it was a bit chaotic, everyone was in good spirits.

Of course, I had to stop and eat a pastel. Chicken with catupiry, thank you.

One of the best parts was that it was much cheaper than the overpriced supermarkets in the neighborhood. I'd been wondering where the normal people were buying their produce. This is it.

As you can see, I went a little crazy:

But look at all the good stuff I found! Mandioquinha for super cheap! Fresh peas in their pods! An artichoke! (If only my aunts and grandma were here with me... I'll just have to eat it with butter all by myself.) I also bought some strawberries for Alexandre (they're his favorite) and I decided to try caqui, which I think is a type of persimmon, though I got kind of confused, because the guy had two types of caqui-- one looked like a traditional persimmon to me, and the other was bigger and darker. He said the darker one was sweeter, so that's what I ended up buying. I just ate one, and it was delicious, but not a persimmon that I'm used to. I'm not sure what's going on -- all I know is that it tasted great. 

Anyway, I'm gonna see what recipes this bounty inspires this week! Some fresh juices are definitely in order. Oh, and we're gonna have to try some new stews, with this cold rainy weather and all.

What would you make with the stuff on the table? :D

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Day Trip Itinerary for Sao Paulo

So Diego from the always helpful blog Inside São Paulo wrote a guest article for mTrip Travel Guides with a day trip that he planned out for someone visiting the city.

OK, so I know I'm a little biased, because I helped him with it, but it was all his idea and he deserves some serious credit for taking the time to make up the itinerary. I'm trying to encourage him to make more itineraries, but for now, check out his ideas for what to do for a day in São Paulo. Even if you're not planning on going to São Paulo anytime soon, it's just fun to read. He wrote it in such a way that it sounds like you're already there experiencing everything.

Link Review: 

Inside São Paulo - Diego's site with general tips about the city, including hotel reviews and articles about upcoming cultural events 

mTrip Travel Guides - a blog about traveling around the world

A Day trip in São Paulo - Diego's awesome itinerary


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Haves and the Have-Nots

I would argue that one of the hardest things about living in Brazil is its lack of a strong middle class and the overwhelming disparities between the shockingly poor and everyone else. It sucks for everyone involved.

Alexandre and I lead a rich life in Brazil: rich by most of the world's standards, in fact. We each received a good education, while many of the people we encounter in our day-to-day exchanges barely know how to read. We probably spend more on groceries and restaurants that many of our neighbors make in a month. We have most of the latest electronics, while people just around the corner feel lucky to have a fridge and a TV.

Most people get angry at the other side for this situation: the rich have a strong distaste for the poor, and the poor feel the same about the rich. The rich create ways to separate themselves from the poor as much as they can: country clubs, private beaches, gated communities, and security everywhere. The poor see this obvious avoidance, see the way they're being pushed out, and lose any remorse they might have harbored when trying to steal from or take advantage of or make a quick buck off of the rich.

The weather outside is gorgeous today, so I decided to procrastinate on my translation and spend some time at the beach after lunch. My student (who's also Alexandre's surfing instructor) insisted that it's safe for me to bring my Kindle out, so I did.

I already stand out enough as it is, with my height and my very white skin and my short, lightly-colored hair. I can try to make myself look a little more humble with a simple dress and Havaianas, but I'm pretty sure my efforts are futile. I also have a fancy pair of prescription sunglasses, a gift from my ophthalmologist father-in-law. (I could choose not to wear them, but then I'd be wearing a fancy pair of prescription eyeglasses, so it doesn't make much of a difference.) I find myself more conscious of myself than I ever have been, have ever had to be.

I made a point to sit where other people were sitting so I wouldn't be isolated (at least not physically). But it didn't seem to work. About 20 minutes in, two skinny preteen boys wearing only scraggly shorts (with no shoes, no shirts, no towels, etc) were suddenly blocking the sunlight hitting my Kindle screen. I was lying down, so I sat up quickly and turned around to face them.

"Hello," I said simply, in Portuguese.

"Hi," one of the boys said. He dragged out the dipthong a little. If he'd been ten years older and sheltered, I would've thought he was flirting.

They circled around a bit. I looked at them directly, but not with scorn or fear. They looked at each other quickly, and back to me.

One sat down next to me. He mumbled something like, "I'm just gonna sit here for a minute." The other joined him. They stared out at the water nonchalantly.    

Two boys behind us were kicking a soccer ball around. They were about the same age as these boys, though slightly better dressed and probably more well-fed.

"You guys seem pretty bored," I said to the boys next to me. "It seems like a great day for soccer. Maybe you could ask those boys if you could join them."

This forced them to look back at the boys behind them, and at the people around us. After exchanging glances with his partner, the talkative of the two looked at me one more time.

"Vamos na agua," he said, an ambiguous grammar that could've been directed toward me ("we're going in the water") or toward his friend ("let's go in the water"). Then, with the same languidness with which he had sat down, he was up again, his friend scrambling up soon after. They made their way down to the shore. They entered the water slowly. They glanced back only twice.

When I looked around again, I saw that the small family on my left had disappeared, and the boys behind me had gone to sit on a bench close to the boardwalk and off of the sand.

My afternoon on the beach had suddenly lost its luster, so I packed up my things and went home.

The whole thing made me sad. I'll never know if the boys were actually trying to steal something from me, or if they were just innocent and curious about what new machine I had. I'm doing my best not to judge them, especially because they're young, but also because they're hungry, and desperate, and that is all they know. They certainly don't know enough about how the economy works to know that I have the right to possess the things I have just as much as they would if they had them -- basically, that I'm not "the bad guy," in the same way they are not "the bad guys."

There is, unfortunately, always a risk that I'll get robbed here, because the people robbing often have so little, and the things they would take from me (a cell phone, an MP3 player, a watch) can garner them so much. I think I would be most upset if my Kindle were stolen because it wouldn't even have value for the person who stole it -- even if they knew what it was, or found someone to buy it, they wouldn't know how to get past the password, or even how to use it (or likely how to read books on it). If someone stole it, it would just be a frenzied, knee-jerk attempt at Having.

I don't think the solution is to keep myself cooped up in my house; nor is the solution not to buy, use, and enjoy the things I want and that I can afford. Many people think that the problem is that some people have so much, when the real problem is that not everyone has the opportunity to have what they want, let alone to have basic things. Basically, it's not wrong for me to have a cell phone -- it's wrong that the other guy and I live in the same neighborhood, but he can't afford one.

We don't make enough to join an ever-popular country club, though I don't know that I'd want to, even if we did, because I don't know if seclusion and exclusivity is the solution for me, either (though it's a logical reaction, especially for people with kids).

For now, my working solution is to try to maintain my routine as much as possible, but to try not to look like a deer in headlights or a hamster hoarding her food while doing it, and, if faced with situations like the one I was in today, to be steady but respectful (rather than rude or skiddish) in an attempt to diffuse the tension. But I don't know what the real, big-picture solution is, and until the gap between the Haves and the Have-Nots gets a little more narrow, I don't know if I'll ever feel completely comfortable.

PS: Thanks to everyone for all of their advice on the schools. Some things are in the works, so I will have updates for you sometime next week. :)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

To Return or not to Return

So last night Alexandre and I talked about my general malaise that I wrote about in my losing my mojo post yesterday. He sees that I always start to get depressed and that I lose all my momentum when I spend too much idle time at home.

Alexandre is encouraging me to go back to working at an English school. My knee-jerk reaction is to recoil in dread and disgust at the mere thought of it. I had so, so many bad experiences working at schools back in Hicktown. (Yes, all of those links are separate posts about said bad experiences.) Then there was that ridiculous interview at one of the technical schools / English schools here in the new beach town where the director didn't even speak English and wanted to pay me 3 reais an hour.

If I were to sum up my problems with working in English schools, they would be the resentment, insults, and general bad treatment from the bosses and the other teachers who really did just seem to resent me for screwing with the status quo (i.e. for doing my job well and for going beyond the horrible standards for teaching English in Brazilian private English schools). Related to this first problem set is the feeling of isolation that I had among my colleagues. A couple of teachers had some experience living abroad for a few months, but the vast majority had never even left Hicktown. They had studied English at the schools and were advanced students and got hired, or they were studying letras at the small private college in town that the boss had gone to. They didn't treat me like a colleague. They asked a ton of ridiculous questions and made me feel like some kind of show horse being examined.

I'm not trying to be arrogant. It's just how it is. I just didn't blend in. We weren't on equal footing. I'm a native English speaker, and they're not. I have experience teaching English, and most of them don't. I have a degree in Linguistics and a half-completed Master's in teaching ESL, and most of them have only a few months in the US working as a nanny, if that. Oh, and I'd married into a wealthy Brazilian family, while many of them had come from humble beginnings (of course, because I'm American, there's no way my beginnings could have also been humble.) I think these differences were what caused their nasty comments, my boss saying things like, "I've given you to a new group, but your former students are complaining about the new teacher. What'd you do in there? Did you talk badly about the other teachers? Did you give them unfairly good grades?", or teachers telling me on payday that I had to buy them all drinks because I was "the rich one," or a teacher telling me, "you only know elitist Brazil! Alexandre is making you a snobby Brazilian!" because I didn't want to go to a Carnaval street party being held in town. Oh yeah, and there was the one who told me that I wasn't even a good teacher, that I was only successful with private students because I'm American... I could go on.

But one thing I did like about working at schools was, of course, the teaching. Even when the books were bad (which they almost always were), I could usually make the most of it, and my students left happy and better at English. I felt like I accomplished something. I enjoy the challenge of having to explain something in a different way when a student doesn't understand, or negotiating with students until everyone's clear on how to say something or why they have to say it the way they do.  I miss teaching.

On the whole, I also enjoyed the students at the schools. There was, of course, the occasional jackass, but I had very few problems with students overall.  I think they treated me better because they saw me in a different light. They saw me as someone on their side, someone who sincerely cared about their learning, someone who didn't get caught up in the school's bullcrap of using the right colored marker for a given activity and insisting that they go to all the social outings. They saw me teach and were usually happy with the service I was providing them. Most of the other teachers, on the other hand, saw me as a threat, as a foil, and eventually probably saw me as closed off and snobby because I started to avoid them. I went into teaching at the schools with a ton of enthusiasm, imagining I'd make friends with the teachers and find the real idea of colleague and all that, not realizing how toxic the environment was. I eventually became the "cold" American they had thought I'd be. But I was surprised about the friendships I ended up forming with students. Almost all of my friendships in Hicktown can be traced back to my students at the schools -- either the students themselves, or friends or family of students that I ended up teaching privately or meeting at social outings.

Alexandre's overall argument is that I don't have anything to lose. He says if the schools here are bad too, I can just quit.

So my going back to a school would be to have all those good feelings I get from teaching, to get out of the house, to meet the townsfolk and get to know this region better through them, to be part of society again, and lastly, to get a little bit of extra spending money (though that isn't really the point). I just have to decide if those benefits are worth the crap I will probably have to put up with from my bosses and colleagues. I mean, there's a chance things here will be a bit better, since people in this town seem to be a little more accustomed to foreigners, but I think my lack of optimism in that respect is understandable.

So? What do you guys think? Please, share your honest opinions! You've heard all the stories, the good and the bad, and many of you know me and have heard even more. And of course, a lot of you have personal experience with the situation and can tell me what you'd do.

There's also a Fisk, a CNA, and a Wizard in town. If you think my going back to a school is a good idea, which is the lesser of three evils?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Losing my Mojo

So Fiona wrote about this a while back and called it the Doldrums. I'm going to call it losing my mojo. As you may have noticed, the blog entries have tapered off a bit. I guess it's just because I'm not doing anything new or worth writing about. Blah.

I finally finished that horrid translation, only to discover that the book was a "cliffhanger" (i.e. she didn't explain 80% of the things she presented).  So now I have the dilemma of whether or not to accept the next book she will inevitably write. I'm leaning toward no, unless I need money at the time she offers me the translation job. (However, there's a big possibility that she'll realize what a waste her investment was when no one buys her translated book because it's being sold on a Brazilian website that English speakers don't know about and because it's nonsense.)

Now I'm working on the next translation, but I have a few weeks to finish it, and I don't have anything planned after it. That means the sense of urgency to complete it has not even come close to setting in.

I've just kind of fallen into this funk with no motivation for anything. A sort of existential laziness. I'm uninspired. Living by the beach is great in a lot of ways, but this particular town is pretty poor, which makes it hard to find friends and impossible to find students. I think it's interesting how the economy here is much, much weaker than in Hicktown, despite the size of the population of the Baixada Santista (the collection of beach cities) and the proximity to Sao Paulo. I guess it's because so many of the jobs depend on either tourism or the port, neither of which require much skilled labor.  For example, I went to the little grocery store in the neighborhood this week and saw a long line of people outside the door: easily over 100. Most of them were poorly dressed young people -- in their early twenties. I wondered what it was for, so I asked the clerk. She said the grocery store was opening a couple of cashier positions, and those were all people turning in resumes. (There was apparently a set time to turn in resumes.) So you can see what kind of demand for jobs there is.

I think another factor is that we're staying less than a year, and 5 of those 11 months have already passed. So I don't feel that invested in trying to like, get integrated here, or trying harder to find students. Students usually lead to friends, so that leaves me without either. I feel like I was finally getting settled in Hicktown friendship-wise, and I just dread starting over again. I was all for moving and I still think we made the right decision, but this is just a hard part.

Then there's the fact that Alexandre is working allllll the time. It's good because he enjoys it, he's excited to be a part of the workforce as opposed to being a student, he gets good feedback from the hospitals where he works, and he's making good money. But that means a lot of time for me at home, alone. And then this week he has to go to another state for this military thing for 6 days. :(

I know there are things I COULD be doing here, like finding more jobs online through things like oDesk, or getting myself over to Santos and exploring the museums and things like that, but all of that is so much less fun without someone to share it with. So I default to just screwing around on my computer all day.

A common mental battle that I have is the guilt for procrastinating on my work, and then deciding that if I'm not going to work, I have to at least save money, and going out and doing things would mean I wouldn't be working AND I would be spending money, so then I don't go out. It doesn't help that my work (translating these self-published books) feels pretty useless and inconsequential.

A highlight of my routine is that I have been going to the gym (though I gave up on those step aerobics classes), and I made friends with the trainer girl (she's luckily nothing like Gym Girl). She also teaches surfing, which Alexandre has really been wanting to learn. So we've set up a three-way trade, in which I give her English classes, she gives Alexandre surfing lessons, and Alexandre buys me sushi. (I'm too scared of the deep ocean to surf!) Well, she and I are slowly becoming friends (we even had lunch together once) so that's a start. 

I'm not usually this defeatist. I'll snap out of it eventually. I think lots of people go through phases like this, especially after a big change. But for now, things are pretty blah.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Plants: Potted and Otherwise

So apparently a bean or two got into the laundry room sink. You know how these things are; I mean, at least I hope you do. All I can guess is that they were stuck to the bottom of the trash can, which I clean in the laundry room sink.

I don't use the laundry room sink every day. I think it'd been two or three days since I last used it. When I went out there this morning, what did I see in the sink but a bean sprout GROWING out of the drain!

I don't know how to feel! Amazed at the bounty and plenty of Brazil? Embarrassed that I have plants growing wild in my apartment? Inspired to add beans to my collection of potted herbs and vegetables?

So far, I've got little peppers, green onions, and mint. Don't give me too much credit: they were already sprouted when I bought them -- I've just kept them watered and changed their pots and soil once they got bigger. But now they all need bigger pots, and I don't really have the space.  

Either way, the bean growing in the sink is a wonderful excuse to put up a Joanna Newsom song on the blog.

Have you had any mysterious/embarrassing things growing in your home? I sure hope I'm not the only one.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Jornal Sensacionalista

I am so happy right now. I just discovered a TV show here in Brazil called Jornal Sensacionalista. It's like The Onion in TV form and in Brazil: a mock news show making fun of Brazilian news (which can be as ridiculous as American news, especially local news channels in the US) and Brazilian culture.

It's great for me because it's news Portuguese, which I understand really well after being forced by a certain someone to watch Globo News and Globo Sport almost every day at lunch time. Jornal Sensacionalista is also good because it doesn't rely on too many super specific cultural and political things the way a similar show, CQC, does. So maybe that makes it less funny for smarter Brazilian viewers, but it makes it easier for me!

It's just nice to finally be able to use comedy to reaffirm my understanding of Brazilian culture.

Here, a clip:

Reports include a protest to legalize marijuana that the organizers forgot to show up to, homeless people that accept credit cards, a law proposed to color code taxis based on the type of music they play and how much they talk, and PMS welfare for women to spend that time of the month shopping instead of working, proposed by the female Brazilian president.

It's on on Mondays at 9:30pm on Multishow.

Do you think it's funny? Or have I just had too much wine?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Santos Wins

Today in the world of Brazilian soccer, championship games were held in each state to determine the best teams of the land.

We live in the state of Sao Paulo, and we live very close to the city of Santos. Santos was one of the 2 finalists in the Sao Paulo state championship. People here have been going nuts all week, with street vendors selling giant flags, bars taking reservations for good seats, and bored young men performing random acts of hooliganism. 

So Santos just won. I just put the camera up to the window and recorded for a few seconds. This is what the neighborhood sounds like after a big win:


I think it's funny how, for 90% of the year, residents of our town bitch and moan about Santos, about how driving there sucks, about how the people who live there are snobby (and how our town is so much more down to earth), about how everything is overpriced, etc, but when it comes to soccer, these same people would give their right arm (or, in most cases, their liver) for the city and its team.

Poor Alexandre was rooting for the other team. He is sooooo sad.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Bilingualism and Language Etiquitte

When Alexandre and I meet new people, they love to ask us what language we speak at home. My "cute" answer is always to roll my hands around on each other and say "It's a mess!". That's because we mix the two languages all the time. There's always a whole lotta code-switching going on, though I will say that I think Portuguese is dominant. I guess it's because we live here, not in the US, and everyone else around us is speaking Portuguese, so it just sinks in more. Also, Alexandre hasn't spent as much time in the US as some of the other bloggers' partners, so I think some of your partners may have more fluent English.

Sometimes, I have weird language etiquette issues, and maybe some of you readers can relate. For example, sometimes, I end up making plans with students to go out outside of class. We speak English in class, but what are we supposed to speak at the bar? I think some of them are hoping I'll speak English so they can (a) get more practice or (b) look cool and worldly, but they're too embarrassed to initiate it. But then I know there are some that don't like the mental fatigue that comes with speaking a foreign language for long periods of time, and they prefer Portuguese. But I never know who's who!

Then there's the situation of when I meet people who tell me things like, "Oh, I lived in New Zealand for two years." So their English is probably really strong, but they're still talking to me in Portuguese. Should I try speaking to them in English? Will they be excited to show their stuff, or will they feel pressured to speak perfectly?

I usually just default to Portuguese because, well, we're in Brazil.

I've been in a couple of other weird language situations. When I went back to California in February, I met up with friends Rita and Thiago, a couple who were my students and who Alexandre and I ended up becoming really close to. Coincidentally, they're studying and working at a university really close to my grandma's house, so we went out one day. What did we speak? Portuguese! Of course, we had a lot of English words mixed in that they'd picked up (terms like "landlord" and "toll road"), but my logic was that it was 2 against 1 and that they were probably tired from having to speak English all the time.

But I think the biggest language mindf*%^ was when Lizbeth, her husband, and their friend came to visit us here at the beach town. Lizbeth is Mexican and lives in Texas, but she lived here in Brazil with her husband for a while. Her husband is Brazilian. So we had the three languages to choose from. The more alcohol we drank, the more of a mess it became, though we defaulted to Spanish to help out Lizbeth's Mexican friend.

I miss you, Lizbeth!

I'm kind of babbling, but I want to know what you guys do! I know a lot of readers are in relationships with people with whom they do not share the same native language. Have you learned your partner's native language? Which one do you speak more? Do you mix them constantly, or are we the only weird ones?

And what about the kids? If we ever have any, I will groom them to be perfectly bilingual. Sometimes I want kids solely for that reason. But I want to know how readers with different language situations are raising their kids. What do you speak with them? What do they speak at school? Do your kids mix up the languages? (FYI: If they do, let them! Please don't listen to the Brazilian news reports that say not to teach your kids a second language!!! They'll grow out of the mixing and will be better for it!)

In other news, I'm running out of things to write about in this here blog. So ask me some questions, and maybe I'll answer them.

See? So many comment options for you! Get to typin'!

Friday, May 6, 2011


First of all, thanks to everyone for their tips on the crazy translation. I think to say the woman is on drugs is to give her too much credit!  But anyway. I've found a happy medium with my laziness and my responsibility called Google Translator Toolkit. It's a relatively new program that Google has to help you translate and edit documents. I LOVE IT. I can't seem to paste a general link without pasting a link to my account, so...just google* it!

*Do we agree that, when google is used as a verb, it isn't capitalized? Thoughts?

Anyway, I'm here today to muse over the concept of neighbors. In our old apartment in Caipirópolis, our neighbor situation was pretty good. Some good friends lived below us and they played guitar really well. The building next to us was an annoying-ass daycare that closed down (Jesus must have decided that we did something good to deserve that). So then the annoying-ass daycare turned into a dilapitated building with an old man taking care of it, and our neighbors changed from screaming children to moths and birds. But in terms of noise level and privacy and all that, we had it really good.

Now, we have, like, NEIGHBORS neighbors, all around us. Like, I-can-see-what-you're-cooking-on-your-stove neighbors. Like, I-can-hear-every-TV-show-every-other-apartment-is-watching neighbors. I guess you can chalk it up to everyone having the same good idea: Let's live 3 blocks away from the beach without spending all of our salaries on rent! So now there are a bunch of us crammed into a very small space. It's like the ghettos, except it's clean and we have the ocean and human rights.

views from our windows (into everyone else's)

One drawback of the super closeness is the fact that you have to think twice before walking around your apartment without any clothes on. There are certain angles of the house that I've dubbed "safe zones" (such as the 5 steps from the bathroom to the bedroom, but not the bedroom itself) and other angles that can give the guy across the alley quite the view if you're not careful.

I try to be very careful about this, but my conclusion is that the other neighbors have been living in close quarters for too long to care about it anymore, because boy, do we get an eyeful sometimes. All right, it's not that risqué. Mostly just people in their underwear. Alexandre insists that he saw a know, having some "me time" with his laptop and a tissue box, but I think he just made that up for a good story because I had had a bad day on the night he told me and he wanted to give me a laugh. But we're certainly close enough for it to be POSSIBLE.

Luckily, our apartment has some really nice curtains that the owner left in. They're light enough to let lots of light in during the day, but dark enough to give you privacy and to make it a bit darker at night. Also, they keep the cat from discovering the precarious window sills.

Some other drawbacks are people's annoying-ass habits, like the middle-aged housewife who insists on singing Brazilian Christian songs off-key while she cleans every morning, and the OBNOXIOUS couple living below us who chain smoke in their window (under ours) and whose dogs bark wildly ALL.THE.TIME. They also apparently throw trash out their windows onto the clothes racks below them (because walking down two flights of stairs is just far too taxing). Luckily, our building has 1.5 live-in building managers (the current manager and the old manager who still manages to retain some power). They're nazis who are easily susceptible to Groupthink, and everyone's complaining. So I have a feeling these neighbors (or at least their inconsiderate nature) won't last long. (Signs have been put up!) Unfortunately, Church Choir Wannabee is in the building across the alley, and I can't do much about her except maybe yell "shut up!", but who has the heart to do that to a woman who's happily singing hymns?

We've got neighbors that you might know all too well: The Diehard Soccer Fan, The Crying Baby, The Whining Toddler, The 80s American Rock Fan with the Good Speaker System (no more Ozzie, please!), The Cockatiel, and The Old Lady who Watches Globo on Full Blast All Day, but I'll bet that there's one we have that you don't: The mystery person who just bought a typewriter and ticks away on it in the afternoons. WHAT YEAR IS THIS?! Ugh.

One benefit of the proximity is the smell of DELICIOUS FOOD being cooked all day. All I need to do is make friends with said old ladies and housewives so I can get me some of that (somma dat? ;). I wave at them every time we see each other across the way. I think that's a good start.

I've tried to imagine what the neighbors think of Alexandre and me. I've concluded that they probably think we're in a cult. We keep the curtains closed all the time, argue in some crazy pidgin language, and listen to scary and nonsensical music that must be about people dying.

But aside from the particularly bad people below us with the dogs and the cigarettes and the trash, most stuff going on is pretty harmless, and everyone's general attitude seems to be "live and let live, but keep it down at night."

Do you have any interesting neighbors? Do share!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Translation Torture

I've realized that the woman who wrote the book I'm translating is absolutely insane. It's as if some mental patient was taken off the street and given a pen, and that I have to translate everything she says, as if it should be taken seriously. Ah, the perils of self-publication!

I thought I'd share just one paragraph to give you guys an idea of what gibberish it is. She's some religious crackpot with more money than sense. I can just imagine her at her computer, typing away, and telling her husband, "Please! Read it!" and him skimming it and saying, "it's great, honey!" Because her spending hours a day in front of the computer gives him a chance to watch the game in peace. 

Just imagine 400 pages of this: 

Você é puro desassossego, com diferentes roupagens, voltando sempre ao ponto um: qual o sentido da vida? Já lhe dissemos: é o viver. Não busque sentido. Viva. Você fica incomodado ao ouvir isso. O que há de se fazer? Abra sua consciência e seu coração, menino. O viver é transcender. Transcender é estar com “Aquele que é”, é ver que vocês são iguais e um só, um só que é múltiplo, pois você é você, eu sou eu e “Aquele que é” somos nós e é “Aquele que é”. Somos seres múltiplos. A célula é célula e múltipla. Olhe, qualquer analogia será inadequada. Não falo de partes. Falo de todos que são o Todo. Falo de inteiros.

And here's another particularly  fun paragraph: 
De quem a Grande Mãe foi filha? – Madalena sorri. – Direi mais adiante, e não falo das mães terrenas. Mas de uma mãe de outra morada que é inspiradora e guia desta Terra. Mãe de todas as mães da Terra que abraçaram a ideia da Grande Mãe. Houve a Grande Mãe na Terra, cuja mãe é uma das Grandes Mães Divinas. Porque souberam das Grandes Mães Divinas, criaram a noção das Madonas Negras. Grandes Mães Negras. Veja, na Terra, houve uma Grande Mãe, que na linguagem terrena é arquetípica, simbólica, para que vocês compartilhem da energia que ela trouxe. Não há palavras para traduzir essa realidade. Mas é como um símbolo, a Grande Mãe encerra uma qualidade energética que se fazia necessária aportar à Terra. Foi feito. Porém, hoje está difícil acessá-la, pois “vocês” estão em outro padrão vibratório. Há muita desarmonia a impedir o contato com essa energia. Todavia, alegre-se, as coisas estão se modificando e mais e mais pessoas voltam a “relembrar” essa energia e realidade. É algo ainda muito difuso. Há confusão e é preciso que seja esclarecida muita coisa antes que se possa novamente usufruir em plenitude desse consolo. Não duvide. – Madalena para. – Como vê, empolguei-me.

If you don't speak Portuguese, you're not missing anything. It's just nonsensical pseudo-religious banter. The plot of the story is that these characters are having visions of Mary Magdalene, who is slowly revealing to them their past lives and their religious destinies. Something like that.

I am so over this book it's not even funny. I'm trying to think of the best way to get out of actually doing this translation. It's too late to back out because I've done more than half and because she has already paid me 1/3 of the payment, and I don't want to return it. But I don't think it makes a difference if I actually make it good. If she even gets it to an editor and everything, it'll end up on this Brazilian self-publishing website with only the book in English, and the rest of the page in Portuguese.  

So what's the best way to get through this? Just throw the thing in Google translate and take whatever comes out, because no one's going to read it anyway? I've already stopped looking most things up; I'm just doing a loose translation based on context because, as you can see above, my word choice isn't exactly important. 

Do you guys have any other ideas? 

My big life lesson: Spend a day actually reading what someone asks you to translate before you accept it. You have to know what you're getting yourself into.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Translation and Correction

Well. The month of April was super fun for me. Lots of time at the beach, lots of sleeping in with the cat, lots of TV shows watched online. But now I am PAYING THE PRICE. I put off this big translation I'm doing for way too long. That means 10-12 hour days in front of this godforsaken computer until I get it done!

A few people have been asking me about translation work since I've started mentioning it more on the blog. I thought I'd tell you what I actually do, since a lot of people reading are also native English speakers living in Brazil.

This particular big project I'm doing IS true translation, but most of what I actually get asked to do is to correct people's scientific articles. It started when two students (a couple) who were doing their PhDs at a local university asked me to correct some articles they'd written for a scientific journal. They were already written in English, but had been rejected for publication because the English had too many errors. So I cleaned it up, and they got published. Then they told all their friends, who told all their friends, and now I have a nice little group of clients, most of whom I've never actually met in person.

They send you the article as a Word document. You fix it. It's important to show what you changed (like use the strikethrough feature to cross out the wrong bits and put the right bits in another color), because you might have misunderstood.

In almost every article I get, there are always a few parts that I can't figure out. There's a mistake, but I don't know what they're trying to say, or it has more than one possible interpretation. So before I give them the completed article, I always send them my questions in a separate document (or if there are only a couple of lines or words, I just ask straight in the email). As a courtesy to them, all of the emailing, negotiating, and questioning is done in Portuguese.

When I determine my price, I consider the difficulty of the topic (people writing about DNA and microbiology have to pay a little more, because that stuff is confusing), the length of the article (don't consider references, but do consider charts, because you have to fix those, too), and how much time I have to correct it (If they tell me they need it back within a couple of days, they'll pay more). I charge about R$150.00 - R$200.00 per article (most are about 20 pages long). In the beginning, I was still getting used to it, and so I made only about R$30.00 an hour. But now that I've gotten the hang of it, gotten used to people's mistakes and topics of research, I'm faster, so I make about R$50.00 - R$60.00 an hour. The clients still think that my price is a good deal, and I think I'm making good money for the amount of work. Everybody wins!

Quite a few of my clients have told me that they were paying Brazilian English teachers that they knew more than they're paying me, and that the articles still got rejected, and then some of these teachers had the nerve to try to charge for a second correction! So here's my advice, for anyone thinking about doing this:

1. Your English grammar has to be flawless. These articles are technical and specific. They're also cited in future articles. You can't write something that can be misinterpreted. You also need to know MLA. You have to know your stuff. If you know your grammar is kind of bad, don't do a disservice to your clients. Just don't do this. What's going to happen? Their articles will still get rejected. You'll have to do it again for free, and they won't recommend you.

2. Your Portuguese has to be strong, too. Like I said, you want to do all the business part in Portuguese as a courtesy to your clients. Sure, they can write enough English for their articles, but it's a very specific English. Don't torture them by making them try to understand your emails or write emails to you in English, too.  But more importantly, your Portuguese has to be good because you have to understand their mistakes in the articles. In many cases, they'll use an English word that seems OK on the surface, but if you know which mistakes are common and what they're thinking in Portuguese, you'll know to check that sentence twice (common words that fit into this category are observe and besides, as well as during, as, and other prepositions).

3. You have to know how to use Google correctly. Sure, you probably don't know much about the reproductive DNA of frogs. That's OK. You just have to know how to use Google to figure out how to talk about their topics. The clients do the hard part of searching for terms, but you'll need to double check them. You'll also need to check if they're using the terms correctly in the sentence. If you're deciding between two words (Example: do you say "higher levels of x" or "higher rates of x"?), you can but both phrases into Google with quotation marks and see which one has more hits. Google Scholar is also your friend. You need to really open the related articles, read a bit, and make sure the grammar is consistent in the article you're correcting. Also, make sure any article you use as a reference is from a NATIVE SPEAKER. Check the country where the article was published. Make sure it was from a university in an English-speaking country. Just because an article is published online, it doesn't mean it's reliable. (You'll learn that Brazilians tend to just copy parts from articles by other Brazilians and continue the cycle of bad English in articles.) Oh, and also, almost all of my clients use a site called PubMed ( for references. This site is a good starting point for them, but not for you. PubMed is not a journal. It's essentially just a search engine. If you do a search, it comes up with a lot of articles published in other countries with bad English.

4. It's OK to reject an article. Some people who don't want to pay for translation think they're clever and try to put an article into Google translate, and then they ask you to correct it. Either that, or their English might just be terrible. If someone sends you an article that seems like gibberish, it's OK to say, "I'm sorry. I'm not confident that I can correct this article well enough for it to be published. If you'd like to send me the Portuguese version, I'll gladly translate it for you for such-and-such a fee." You certainly don't want their article to get rejected, and then have the author blame you and tell all his friends. (You may remember me complaining about this once before. I ended up refusing to do the correction, and later, another client/student who worked with her told me that everyone knew what she did, and no one took her seriously. Yay.)

5. You don't have to explain all of your corrections. This is rarely a problem, but once in a while, you'll get a client who wants you to tell them exactly why you made each change that you made. This is not traditionally included in the price. You do show them what you changed with the strikethrough system, but you don't have to say anything like "Oh, I did this because, in English, infinitives that function as the subject of a sentence have to be in the gerund form." I tell them that I'd love to explain it, but unfortunately, I don't have time to do it all by email. If they'd like to pay for a one-time English class, I'd be glad to sit down with them and explain everything so they can know for the future. One client actually did take me up on this, but most the other couple who have asked just realize they're pushing it a bit and let it go.

Yay! This has been sufficient procrastination for today. Do other readers correct people's articles? Do you agree or disagree with any of these tips? Do you do anything differently? Is your price similar? How do you find clients? Are you one of those people who just HATES correcting things in English?

Share the knowledge!
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