Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Meet me Down in Rio...

...that's a song, right?

Anyway, we have our itinerary for the blogger meetup in Rio on July 16th. If you want to meet me and Alexandre (and everyone else, of course! Though you may have met them already), if you want to speak English, if you want to spend a fun day in Rio, come join us!

Details here on Jim's blog.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sao Paulo with Bianca

Hello everyone -- so this blog entry is a lesson in how if you are nice and interesting and share common interests with me and read my blog, and if you decide to go out on a limb and send me an email offering friendship, and if you live somewhere close by like Sao Paulo, how I just might make a day trip out of going to meet you!

That's what happened between me and Bianca, a reader-turned-friend who found me through my blog. The times they are a'changin'!

After a few weeks of fun emails and texts, Bianca and I decided to meet up. She showed me a great day around Sao Paulo! You know, because I didn't love the city enough already.

First, we went to Ibirapuera Park. I've been there a couple of times before, but never for as long as the park deserves. So we just walked around exploring until we got hungry. Bianca got a taste of my gnat-like attention span when I kept interrupting her to look for and point out different birds.

We saw a brightly-colored cardinal, but I'm not sure which one of these it was (I was looking toward the sun and my picture didn't come out):

a red-crested cardinal 


the red-cowled cardinal

It seems like the only difference between them is the first little guy's mohawk. But statistics suggest it was the second one, which has many more recorded sightings in Sao Paulo.

See what I mean about the attention span? Back to Bianca! 

After walking around the park, we went and had a deliiiiiicious sushi lunch (perhaps Bianca can tell us the name in the comments). It was one of those "fusion" sushi places (read: not very traditional), but those can be awesome in their own right (which it was). We spent a long time there because we're gluttons because we were having such a great conversation.

After lunch, we stopped by Bianca's apartment to drop off the car, and I got to meet Tony, her pet hedgehog!!

The poor little guy was so disoriented after being woken up in the middle of the day, and he was scared to death of my new and foreign smell. So he rolled himself up into a little ball of fear!

After I got my cute animal fix for the day, we made our way back out into the city. We'd planned to go to the gay pride parade to show our support, but I'd gotten the day wrong. Whoops.

So instead, we walked around downtown to burn off the sushi calories while Bianca gave me her very helpful "historical tour." We were hoping to see the monks in action at the São Bento Monastery, but they apparently weren't singing for mass that day. I'll see them one day, I just know it!

We compensated by getting some vinho quente from a tiny Festa Junina party -- not sure if you could even call it a party -- it was just a church selling a couple of typical Festa Junina foods outside and leaving its doors open to beckon you in. But the wine was there, so that was the important part (joke's on you, street corner church!).

Then we went over to the Teatro Municipal, which is being renovated:
It's like before and after views combined into one shot!

Beautiful place. They apparently have a lot of free performances, so if you're in Sao Paulo, I encourage you to check it out (like, the part on the inside).

It started to get dark, and I had a bus to catch in a couple of hours, so Bianca and I decided to spend the last part of our day together at Bar Brahma, which is famous not necessarily for its beer or anything, but for its location:

This intersection was made famous by Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso in his song about Sao Paulo, called Sampa (lyrics are there, too). This song will hopefully inspire some nostalgia and romanticism in blogger Alex (not my Alex), which may, in turn, inspire him to choose Sao Paulo for his Brazilian destination. :)

Anyway, the bar was cool because of the company (that's you, Bianca!), and because of the stuff around it, and because they had Brahma Black on tap, but the fellow patrons were kind of annoying (like the guys in line in front of us who kept calling a pregnant waitress "fatty" to get her to bring them more beers while they waited in line). Speaking of the line to pay, it's long, but the employees wait a while to tell you that it's only for customers paying in cash. If you can pay with a card, you don't have to wait in line-- you can just go up to the snack bar and pay. (Take heed!) So I guess the fact that the people in line were the type of people who were getting drunk before dinner and who didn't have access to any kind of bank card would perhaps explain their behavior.

Anyway, Bianca is totally great, her fluency in English, her life experience, and her intellectual genius are impressive, and I'm so happy I went! Didn't know it was possible to love Sao Paulo even more than I already did! And I made a new friend to boot. Be prepared for more of our adventures!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Goodbye Moths, Hello...

holy hell!

Haha, don't have a heart attack. The ones here aren't THAT big. But here in the beach town, I'm lucky enough to be spared of the moths I battled back in Caipirópolis. (If you somehow missed out on the moth saga, check out my "Good Posts" page for the links.) Our new nightly winged friend is the bat.

In an attempt to wake myself up while falling asleep in front of my translation, I decided to research exactly which bat species it is we're seeing around here. That was actually hard to figure out! Based on its urban popularity and its gynormous size, my best guess is that it's the great fruit-eating bat:

They're huge! 

But for some reason, while I cry in fear when a giant moth comes in to my apartment, I just think these little guys are so cute:

How can you resist those little faces?!

Over a year ago, I saw a special on Fantástico (a Brazilian news show) about a bat refuge in Australia, and the baby bats had little surgery cones!! It was precious. I found the article, but the video's not on the site anymore, and all of my internet searching for it was in vain.

I don't know if I'll feel the same if a bat ever comes into my apartment, or if Gatinha brings one into my bed, but for now, I'm on team bat.

What do you think? Which one freaks you out? Moths or bats? Or neither? Or both?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cultural Lessons from Professor Alexandre

So you may remember back in March when I canceled evil Telefónica's internet service that wasn't and got NET instead.

Well, if you were surprised that I was able to end ties with Telefónica that easily, then you were right to feel that way. Of course, no one has actually canceled our account. Every month, we get a bill for internet that we never had, for a modem we never received. Every month, I call and explain that we canceled the request for service because there was never any service; so therefore I'd like to cancel the bill and make sure there's no open account in our name. And every month we get another bill. And the cycle repeats!

In an attempt to stop the cycle, Alexandre and I went to the physical Telefónica store. When I went in there originally, they had told me that they don't do anything with sales; and they don't deal with customer service for their internet service (so what do they do there, exactly?). But Professor Alexandre, intent on giving me a cultural lesson so I won't have to depend on him for these things anymore, told me that we would go over there anyway.

My cultural lesson from watching Alexandre's exchange with the Telefónica robots was that, when someone tells you "No, I can't do that," or "No, I can't help you," or "No, that won't work," you're supposed to just blatantly ignore them, not take no for an answer, and ask again nicely as if you hadn't heard them. So when the girl says, "I can't call the central branch for you; in this store, we don't do anything with accounts that are only internet," I'm apparently supposed to say, "OK, so can you please call the central branch? Thanks!" And just keep going in that circle until she short-circuits and makes the call.

Sometimes, the robots pick up on your technique, and try making up excuses, like, "My phone doesn't work," or "the lady at the central office says her internet is down, and will be for the next 30 minutes." So the second part of my cultural lesson was that, apparently, you're supposed to play along, not call them on their obvious lie, and insist that you'll just sit right there at her desk and wait until things work again.

So apparently, when these people are at their place of work, it's common and acceptable for them to insist that they are unable to do a job that they are, in fact, able to do, and paid to do.

The problem is hopefully solved. We ended up getting sent over to a slightly more alert Telefónica drone, who Alexandre sweet-talked until she got on the phone with the central office (she had a different, secret phone number that suddenly appeared), and they said they had canceled the account for real this time. We're supposed to go back on Monday (it was only 48 hours, which would mean we would go back tomorrow, but, you know, people need another 4-day weekend, because the one a couple of months ago wasn't enough), and on Monday, this same Telefónica drone will apparently be able to tell us if the account is canceled or not.

To entertain myself during the ordeal (which wasted about 2 hours of our afternoon, all told), I imagined other alternative scenarios. My favorite daydream was an image of me running around the store in a fit, screaming and turning in circles and breaking and smashing everything in sight. Once spent, I would run to the door, holding on to the frame for support, heaving in rage, and I would shout, "AND THE WORD IS PRONOUNCED SPEEEE-DEEEE!!!!!!!!!"  and then I would make my grand exit.

Hopefully the account was actually canceled, and things won't have to come to that.

I've been trying to apply this cultural lesson to another problem I've having in the world of translations. A client whose book I finished back in MARCH still owes me 1,000 reais for the translation. He is the king of enrolação, which I translate as avoidance/slacking off/putting off/dawdling/dragging things out (you pick one!). He thinks that if he just avoids me enough, moves the payment date one more week, that I'll eventually give up. Sorry Mister, but 1000 reais is a lot of freaking money, and you're not going to get out of paying me that easily. He teaches at a small university, so a quick internet search revealed the phone number of his boss, the dean of the school. I changed up the story just a little, played dumb, and used Alexandre's sweet-talking techniques. I said things like "I'm just so confused, because he asked for this translation of a book from the university; so I found a phone number to the university in his email signature and got bounced around to you; I'm so sorry to bother you, sir, I know this wasn't your doing, but do you have any ideas on how I could solve this problem?" The man was super receptive and clearly took the situation seriously, so hopefully he'll be able to embarrass Mr. Enrolação into paying. If not, rest assured that his name, the name of his book, and the name of their university will be on this blog, along with the sites where he's trying to sell the book in Portuguese so you guys can all log in and leave bad reviews. In this fantasy, his boss shares my values for principles, and for going by your word, and will threaten to fire him if he doesn't pay me.

Fighting for justice, one daydream at a time!!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ribeirão Preto

Yay! A happy post!

This weekend, Alexandre and his father had a medical conference in Ribeirão Preto, a city a few hours inland from Sao Paulo, so Alexandre's mother and I decided to tag along to have an excuse to see the city and stay in a hotel. (For those of you who thought that Caipirópolis was Ribeirão Preto, neh neh! Try again!)

We drove to the in-laws' house on Thursday night, and Alexandre's mom gave me the most awesomely awesome belated birthday present:

A set of fancy dinner plates with BIRDS on them!!!! She knows me so well.
I think they call for a change in the cooking blog's toucan napkin holder mascot.

Then we woke up at an ungodly hour on Friday morning to get on the road to get to the conference on time (of course we were still late-- you know how group road trips are).

Our reservation was in a hotel that I will name so that you do NOT stay there: The Taiwan Hotel of Ribeirão Preto. Really bad! We had a discount because of the conference, but the price on the wall was something like R$380 a night for 2 people! (Their site says it's R$195, but that's not what the wall said). It was pretty darn crappy, especially for a price that exorbitant. On the front door of the hotel, they had a little sign that said in Portuguese, "This hotel has been rated a 5-Star LUXURY Hotel by such and such Magazine", but instead of stars, they'd typed 5 little asterisks: *****.  So we had the running joke over the weekend that it was the 5-asterisk hotel. Its only redeeming quality was its amazing hot chocolate at breakfast.

Anyway. Alexandre's mom and I went into the conference with the men to steal some free food and drinks make sure they could check in OK and everything. Then we went out to explore the city.

Ribeirão Preto seems like a really nice place-- it's interior in culture, with lots of country-style bars and bad drivers all that, but it's a big city, and it seems really well-established, with lots of big companies and small stores alike. It apparently has 3 medical schools, which bring in a lot of people and money. While the MIL and I were walking around, something just felt so strange and different. For a few hours, I couldn't put my finger on it, but then suddenly it came to me: There were hardly any motorcycles!!! Imagine! It's worth visiting for that reason alone.

The MIL's definition of a good time is hours and hours of window shopping, so despite my suggestions that we check out the zoo, that's pretty much all we did. But she's good company, so it was fun. We checked out the mall close to the hotel, which had a Contem 1g store.

All right. Everyone has their "thing," right? The one consumerist thing that they just can't resist and therefore must avoid exposing themselves to? For some people, it's shoes. For others, it's purses. For others, it may be kitchen utensils, or fancy soaps, or well-intentioned sports equipment (I do not know or live with anyone who fits into this last category). My "thing" is Contem 1g, the best makeup line I've ever used, and the best makeup store I've ever been to, in Brazil or the US. The only problem is that I spend 15 minutes in there and spend 2 weeks' salary. It's like a vortex. You get sucked in and then spit out with a face covered in high-quality makeup, an empty wallet, and a little black bag full of said high-quality makeup: product ideas that you didn't know existed and suddenly realized you couldn't live without. But thanks to me, Alexandre's mother is a new Contem 1g convert (it's read "Contem um grama," by the way).

After our shopping spree in the makeup store, the MIL and I walked around Tok & Stock (Shout out to Ray and Gil! It was my first time in there! It's the store where dreams are made). Then we had lunch at the mall, and after that, we went back to the hotel for naps (we'd woken up at 5am, after all). By the time I'd woken up, Alexandre and his father were on their way back from the conference. We caught up on our days and then went out for some yummy Italian food (It was a place called Nelson's-- Amazing food, horrible service! Though it might have just been bad waiter luck on our part).

The next morning, we met up for breakfast (where I experienced the aforementioned hot chocolate of the gods). Then the gentlemen went off for a morning of classes, and the MIL and I got back to our exploring. We soon ran into a nice older man selling his own paintings in a plaza. I just LOVED them. You know how some art just comes at you, and suddenly makes itself at home in your heart? This guy's art did that for me.

click to see a bigger version of the pic

I know this kind of style is typical to the point of being trite in some parts of Brazil, especially in the northeast, but I thought it represented our life in the interior with a peaceful magnificence.  The top picture is the exact type of landscape you see outside the city; the middle left is a Festa Junina party at a church, the middle right is a bustling feira (complete with the old women with their pull-carts), and the bottom is a family working on their sítio. I love the way the people are sharply and colorfully painted (though without faces), while the backgrounds are softer and less defined. As you can see by the links, the paintings gave me lots of things to remember fondly and relate to. They were certainly a far cry from the rest of the street art for sale, which largely consisted of affected images of children seeing Jesus in the clouds and crap like that.

If you liked the guy's work as much as I did, his name is Ademir Melo, and his phone numbers are (16) 3617-1956 and (16) 9114-3948. Trying to do my part to promote local arts and culture!

The MIL and I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Ribeirão's downtown areas and plazas. If you do not want to be heckled by various types of salesmen / evangelical Christians / political activists / penniless hippies peddling homemade CDs and jewelry, I do not recommend sitting on a bench to rest in one of these plazas on a Saturday morning. I tried to help out both the MIL and myself by utilizing my "Now faw-lou porchugueis" schtick, but she just couldn't resist hearing what the people actually had to say. Sigh.

Luckily, Alexandre and his father called to inform us that they were tired of conference shmoozing and wanted to call it a day, so we made our way out of the busy plaza and back to the hotel to check out.

We ate at an amazing churrascaria on our way out of town called Coxilha dos Pampas, and I think I put on like 15 pounds (or maybe the belly afterward was just that baby that the girl at the gym was referring to). So...much...delicious...lamb...(hey, lamb's a baby).

Hooray for Ribeirão Preto! Hooray for quick weekend get-aways! I could totally get used to this medical-conference-turned-vacation-for-me-and-the-MIL thing, especially when the in-laws pay for everything (except for the makeup-- I'll be feeling that later). No, but seriously. They're good company. :)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Body Issues Much?

Ok, Brazilian women. Here it is. This is the last time I'm telling you these things, so stop asking:

*Yes, I know I'm tall. Height, however, is only partly genetic. It also results from how well you ate as a kid. I got all my nutrients. Did you? Also, news flash: definitions of "short" and "tall" are relative.

*Yes, this is really my hair color. And yes, my hair really is this thin. No, there's not much I can do about it. Yes, I like having it this short.

*Yes, my eyes are light. Yes, Alexandre and I are going to have white kids with light eyes. Aren't genetics amazing??

*Yes, these breasts are mine. If you don't believe me, take a look at my Mom, and my Grandma, and probably my Great Grandma. Again, the wonders of genetics!

*Yup, I'm white. I already know I need sunblock, thank you. I also know that I burn easily. That's not something you need to remind me of. I've had this skin my whole life. And No, I will not turn "morena" now that I live at the beach.

*No, I'm not pregnant. This is just the way the fat distributes itself on my body: When I gain weight, I get a potbelly, not a huge ass or thighs.

Obviously, it was getting this last question today that was the tip of the iceberg that inspired this blog post.

Here in this region, we've got a different bunch of people genetically than we had back in Caipirópolis. The immigrant populations are different. The genetic influence of indigenous people is more prevalent here. The result is that I stand out more. I'm usually the tallest and whitest person wherever we are. But even people who I would consider "white" (also of western European descent) seem to think that I am much, much whiter than they are.

These differences, combined with Latin American Honesty, a dash of ignorance, and a simple lack of tact that you can be unlucky enough to find anywhere, make people say stupid shit, especially young women, who like to ask questions that warrant the answers above. They make me much more aware of myself and my physical makeup than I want to be or need to be. And it also doesn't make sense that these same girls watch the novelas (where lots of people look like me) and movies (again, genes similar to mine) and read magazines (no short women there), and then they act like, shocked that I look the way I do, and in a pretty negative way, like I am fundamentally different just because I am different from them.

And screw you, random girl at the gym with no social skills. I do not look pregnant.

EDIT: This person said it way better than I did. Thanks to Fiona for sharing.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Ser Babá nos EUA? Chique? I Don't Know...

So as many of you may know, a "cool" thing for young Brazilian girls to do is to move to the US for a year to work as a nanny or au pair (babá in Portuguese) for a rich American family. The girls live with the family, earn a small salary (to the tune of 200-400 dollars a month), but get room and board provided. They take care of the kids, and in exchange, they learn English, get to see (one tiny portion of) American culture, and get to put "a job in America" on their resumes.

Anyway. In the English school industry in Brazil, there is a high percentage of girls who worked as nannies in the US and then came back to Brazil to teach English (you know, because the two jobs are totally related). So I've talked to quite a few girls who have had this job, and the majority of them had horror stories about it. I've also met Brazilian girls on airplanes and at airports who are on their way to be nannies or who have been in the past and made some kind of ties to the US (like a boyfriend who they're going back to visit). But the general consensus that I got from these girls was that, as a foreign nanny in the US, it's very easy to be taken advantage of. 

Lots of my students ask me about their options for going to the US that aren't nanny positions. Basically, their options are to go as tourists, to go to private English schools (like the one I worked at where I met Alexandre), or to go to American university English extension programs. They can’t work legally in the US with these options, so they have to save up enough money for classes, rent, and life before they go, or they need someone in Brazil to be sending them money. One of my students did also did a work-exchange program for Brazilian college students. He had to take a year off from school to work for 4 months, he worked at McDonald's, and he lived in Massachusetts in the winter. People have to be in college to participate in this program.

So with these options, you can see why girls would choose to work as a nanny, especially if they don’t have money and if they’re not college students. The nanny option is appealing because it's relatively cheap, and because it gives the girls a chance to work in the US and have a bit of money while they're there (though I don't think they realize just how low their salaries are). 

A girl who works at the gym has been asking me a lot about her options to live and work in the, every time I go. My answers never seem to please her, because they all involve money. Sure, I get it that it sucks that it's expensive. But what she doesn't seem to realize that she's not the only one with this idea of "I want to go to the US for free and make money while I'm there." It's not just Brazilians, either. So realistically, the US can't open its borders and work visas for the whole world, in the same way Brazil can't, or any country can't.

Anyway. I didn't tell her about the nanny option, because (a) she's a little bit older - 30 and (b) I've heard many more bad things about it than good things. These are some of the stories I've heard: 

*Girls are told that they don't have to clean, that their only job will be to take care of the kids, but when most of them arrive, they're the nannies and the maids, too. And who are they going to argue with? 

*One girl worked for a family with a young baby, and the mom made her get up at night to give the baby his bottle, and she still had to take care of the kids all day, obviously. 

*The girl above included, many of these girls said that their "40-hour workweek" was almost nonexistent: because they live in the house, the parents often take advantage, making them stay home to babysit at night (their "free time") while the parents go out to dinner, or leaving the girls with the kids for the weekends while they go on trips. One girl told me that she only received 2 Sundays off a month, and she worked every other day.
*Another girl told me that they lived in a rural area, but she was only allowed to use the car for work-related things. So how the heck was she supposed to get around in her free time? The result was that she didn't-- she spent most of her free time in her room, and got out only when she could bum a ride from one of the parents who were going into town, and then she'd wait an hour or two for a bus to take her back.

*Almost all of the teachers and fellow travelers I talked to were unanimous in the fact that the kids were spoiled brat monsters with serious issues after having absent parents and a new nanny every year.

*One girl's experience was so bad that she ended up breaking her contract and paying for her own flight home.

I met a girl who was sitting next to me on the plane on a trip back to the US once. She told me she was on her way to the US to work as a Nanny, and she was very excited. She was from somewhere in the northeast of Brazil. She had paid for her own flight. At some point in the conversation, it came up that she had been given an F1 visa. When I asked her why, she said it was so she could take college classes if she wanted to. The whole thing seemed very fishy to me. Why would the nanny agency give her an F1 visa? Why did she pay for her flight? I told her to make sure to tell the customs agent that she was taking community college classes, NOT that she would be working as a nanny. I also gave her my email and phone numbers in case anything happened.

So anyway, someone else told the girl at the gym about this nanny option. She came to me with the words “au pair” written on a piece of paper.

“Have you heard about this? Can I go to to the US with this?” she said, showing me the paper.

I wanted to say, “With that paper? No.” But I knew what she was getting at. So I said, “au pair means babá. Do you want to work in the US as a nanny?”

"Well that'd be great, right? My friend told me about it. They pay for your flight, you don't have to pay bills, you can work..."

"It's an option," I said, "but I've heard a lot of bad things about it. The nannies are usually treated really badly, and you don't have any kind of boss to complain to, or a company to protect you. And besides, you already went to college in Brazil and everything. Why would you want to go down so drastically in your job? You'd never work as a nanny in Brazil."

Dissatisfied, this girl apparently went back to her friend to tell him what I said. Then she came to me the next day in a huff.

"My friend says that YOU are mistaken. He says these nanny programs are great. He says he'd send his daughter to one. His neighbor told him that her friend's daughter worked as a nanny in the US, and the family paid for her to go to college there! So now what?"

At that point, I started to get annoyed, and a little offended.

"Look, I don't benefit in lying to you," I told her. "I'm telling you the experiences that nannies told me they had. This guy is telling you what his neighbor's friend's daughter said. You can believe who you want, and do what you want. Maybe that girl had a good experience, but does that story even make sense to you? Why would a family pay for college for someone they barely know? Do yo know how much colleges cost in the US? And how did she get accepted into an American university so easily? I doubt all of the families who sign up for Brazilian nannies are evil slave drivers who want to take advantage of you. But I just think it's a job that has a lot more risk for that to happen, and I wouldn't do it."

The girl gave me lots of "but! But!"s, so I just kept telling her to do what she wanted and saying "você que sabe" until she shut up about it.

So now I'm even more annoyed about this nanny thing, and the fact that these kinds of rumors spread. I guess it’s the naivete that bothers me. The US is not the land of milk and honey where money goes on trees and every family is super rich and hoping to take in some young Brazilian girl and offer her the world, that they're going to meet rich American men to be their husbands, that they're going to get degrees from American colleges, just because they work as a nanny (don't they see how little nannies earn in Brazil? Do they have no sense of how economies work?). 

It bothers me that the girls are treated so badly, and don't expect to be. Hello! They're going into an environment in which they're 100% dependent on their employers and where they have very little protection or support. Obviously, the US has labor laws! But the most of these girls are totally uninformed, and wouldn't know how to go about defending themselves. Plus, their salaries are ridiculous, even with room and board provided. 

It bothers me that these girls see only one tiny fraction of American culture: the small percentage of the upper class that has money for a live-in nanny. In this article that I found (which propagates all the pipe dreams that I just mentioned), a girl they interviewed went to work as a nanny, met an Irish guy with a green card at a Thanksgiving dinner party, and fell in love with him. She got knocked up with his baby, so they got married and now she lives with him in Ireland. Her conclusion about nanny work was: 

Nos Estados Unidos, os pais deixam de estar presentes, falam com os filhos apenas na hora em que estão dormindo. É só 'good night'. Eles esperam que a au pair seja pai e mãe das crianças", 

She said, "In the US, parents aren't present. They only talk to their kids when they're going to bed. And they just say 'good night.' They expect the au pair to be father and mother to their kids."

Right. ALL American parents are like that, not just the family you lived with. That is a fabulous conclusion. She clearly learned a lot about American culture during her time there.

So my opinion's pretty clear, but now it's your turn. What have you heard about or experienced with these nannies or nanny programs? Are they as fantastic as the girl at the gym thinks? Are they as risky and useless as I think? Or somewhere in between?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Rio Blogger Meetup!

That's right! As Jim just told you, Alexandre and I are taking a little weekend trip to Rio next month!

If you're in Rio, come on out on the 16th to meet us. Bring your kids, or don't! I know a lot of you fellow bloggers are out there... now we'll actually be in your town. Mark your calendars.

We just don't know where to go for the meetup. Check out some of Jim's ideas and weigh in.

Jim's post on the meetup is here.


Being a Tourist in the Baixada: Days 2 and 3

So Karine stayed for the rest of the weekend, and more adventures ensued. On Saturday, we got rained out (in? on?), so more beach meandering was out. We decided to head over to Santos to do some museum hopping!

We tried to go to the zoo/botanical garden/orchard park. It was closed! Booo.

So then we went to the Santos Aquarium. There's apparently also an aquarium in Guarujá, but it's 25 reais, and the Santos one is only 5 reais. I haven't been to the Guarujá Aquarium, but in the case of the Santos one, you get what you pay for. I think it took us about 6 minutes to walk through the whole thing. A lot of the tanks were empty, and all of the tanks were dirty and dingy. They did have a cute penguin area, though, with the penguins I saw in Argentina.
These poor sharks had a tiny tank. You can see my skepticism.

After the slightly disappointing aquarium visit, we ran across the street in the rain to go to the closest restaurant, which was a cute little esfiha place. If you've been to the aquarium, you might know which place I'm talking about. I'm not a big fan of mass-produced, two-real esfihas slathered in fake cheddar, but I got a pastel and it was amaaaaazziiingggg.  One of the best pasteis I've ever had. Weird, right? A soft, salty pastel with fresh (not dried) chicken and perfect dough, at an esfiha place? Yum yum.

Thennnn we braved the rain to drive to the Museu do Mar, or the Museum of the Sea.

Oh man.

From the front, it just looks like a little house. Very unassuming and quaint. And when you walk in, it isn't much bigger.

The big hit of the Museu do Mar was the owner/host, who suddenly walked into the one-room museum while we and another family were there and started giving us a tour. The man was hilarious! He clearly has a ton of questionably useful information on oceanography stored in his brain that he is just bursting with excitement to tell people. He was very pleased that there was a little boy on the impromptu tour, because he was hoping to get a child-like enthusiasm out of the audience, and it could only be guaranteed from a 7-year-old.

He was also very proud of his collection of stuffed and dried marine animals: 30 of the 100 Brazilian shark species, all of the 5 Brazilian sea turtle species, a "pregnant" male seahorse (a concept simplified in the presentation, I think on account of the kid), and an aged taxidermied albatross.

He also was the proud owner of a fish tank with live, colorful tropical fish that he'd named, including real-life versions of the fish from Finding Nemo. (Apparently, the Dory-type fish are impressively hard to acquire and even more expensive to buy.)

Another display at the museum was something I dubbed, "My 1995 Trip to Florida":
Don't you love the cheesy gift from a real estate office?  

And 5 awesome points for anyone who can find the Joanna Newsom reference:

And here's Karine, being a good sport for the enthusiastic owner/host who insisted that we take a picture with the whale jaw (or was it a shark jaw? the whole thing's kind of a blur):

And here was a framed American magazine article from 1975 (the fun didn't stop at this place!):
Notice the taxidermy extravaganza behind me

Oh yes. O Museu do Mar. Ya know, I did actually learn stuff, like the fact that there are only 7 kinds of sea turtles in the world, and 5 of them call the waters around Brazil their home. I guess I do recommend the place if you're doing a day trip in Santos. It's always refreshing to see someone who's passionate about their job.

That night, we got all dressed up and went to a bar with a view of the ocean:
the green jacket lives!

more aerial views! Fabulous
The next morning, Karine and I decided to go for a walk along the beach. A few minutes into it, I tripped and fell while crossing the street, because I'm awesome like that. My right leg was all bruised and scraped, but it was my foot that was killing me. We headed home. Alexandre was just leaving for work, but was convinced my toe was broken.

So Karine and I spent Sunday in the apartment, and I tried not to walk too much. When Alexandre got home from work, he took me for X-rays. To everyone's surprise, it was not broken, just horribly bruised and swollen and sensitive:

So that put a damper on Karine's last day. I felt bad that she had to spend part of her vacation waiting around the hospital with me. At least it's not broken. Today, Thursday, it's already a lot better.

But all in all, the weekend was a hit! Doesn't it make you all just want to come visit me?! I promise I won't fall anymore. My friend Mary is coming from the US in October, which will be great because it'll be warmer, so she'll get more actual beach time.

Hooray for beaches and birthdays, and food and friends. As Jim says, it's Qualidade de Vida!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Being a Tourist in the Baixada: Day 1

So as I mentioned in the last post, this last Friday was my birthday, and my friend Karine from Caipirópolis came to visit. I finally had someone to go to all the tourist-y things with me around the different beach towns!

I thought I had a lot of energy, but my friend Karine really threw me for a loop. I'm getting old! The girl sat on an overnight bus for a bajillion hours, got into town at 7am, and was rearin' to go!

We went right down to the beach, and she saw the ocean for the first time!
What a moment!

Then we farmer's marketed it up, and made a chicken and vegetable lunch and fresh juice with our bounty.
that juice (or what's left of it) is fresh orange, mango, and lime. Yum.

After that, we went into the city of São Vicente to go on their teleférico, which is like a ski lift on the beach that goes from the shore to a mountain top. We've driven by it quite a few times, but I've never been able to convince Alexandre to try it out with me. Of course, Karine loved the idea.
a little more precarious than you might imagine, but we escaped unscathed
On the way up, we saw a Brazilian tanager, but it flew by too fast for us to get a picture. 

From the top of the mountain, at the end of the ski lift thing, you can see all of Santos:
I love aerial views

All of that sitting in a chair made us hungry. So we went for some beach corn:

And then we went for some fresh, cold, açai:
this place gives you the option of adding things like Leite Ninho, honey, and maracujá mousse to your açai; you know, because it doesn't have enough calories on its own.

After that, we went home to rest for a couple of hours before...well, before eating, of course. We went to sushi (another "of course"):

Hey, there's Alexandre!

And then Karine finally started to get tired. I, of course, was pooped, at my new old age and all.

That was just day 1! More tomorrow!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Things are Lookin' Up

All right. After lots of conversations and lots of thinking, I've decided what to do about the teaching situation.

I was seriously considering one of the schools here in town after I met a guy at the gym who was a student there and who had a cousin on the staff. He said good things about it, and also said that the other schools in town are very unprofessional. But then I found out that the school would require me to live in Sao Paulo for a month for training (!), and that when I came back, I wouldn't be allowed to just have a couple of classes here and there. So it sounds like a great school for someone who's just starting out in teaching and trying to make a career out of teaching in schools, but that's not what I'm looking for at all.

Most everyone in the comments told me to try it out, to try going back to the schools again, but I've found myself clinging on to the very few commenters (Jim, and Bianca via email) who have warned me against it.

What it comes down to is that I don't want to make a commitment to a school, to lose my nights and weekends for what may be the last year that Alexandre will have most nights and weekends free for the next few years. (He does work a lot of Saturdays, but we do get a lot of time together, mostly because he doesn't have to spend every free moment studying like he did last year.) I'm feeling less stressed about getting out and meeting new people because (a) Alexandre got back from his work trip and is home again and (b) I've been going out with my trainer-turned-student-turned-friend from the gym. Also, Alexandre and I have lots of weekend trips planned, including a trip to Rio (Helllloooooo blogger meetup!). The point is, I've worked at enough schools to know that if I walk into a school as a new employee and say, "Hello. I'll work for you, but only mornings and/or Tuesday and Thursday nights," that I'll probably get turned down, because teachers have to earn the right to the schedule that they want. Even if the bosses did decide to give it to me, the other teachers would resent me for just showing up and being given a good schedule.

Plus... Working at English schools freakin' sucks, in my not-so-humble opinion. I just can't convince myself to do it when I'm not broke.

But something good has been happening. Two of my former students from Caipirópolis emailed me, asking if we could try out classes over Skype. So we did. It went well, and I got over my inexplicable fear of Skype classes. So I emailed my former students that I thought would go for it (not emailing the flaky ones), and the response has been great. I'm estimating that it'll get to about 10 hours a week doing that, which I think will be a nice balance with the translation work.

The job itself doesn't get me out of the house, but I'll be teaching again (and they're students who I already know and have a rapport with, who already have their material, and who won't give me any issues with canceling or payments), and I'll have some nice spare change in my pocket (much more than the school would provide). That money will allow me to do more stuff with my free time (day trips to Sao Paulo? a photography class with a local teacher I found?). So I think it's a good compromise, and certainly better than the confines of a school.

So thanks to everyone for their advice and input, and sorry for not doing what almost any of you said. Haha.

Once I get more into the groove of the Skype classes, I'll put up a post with tips on how to do it, in true Danielle fashion. :)

HOWEVER. None of this work nonsense is going to start until Tuesday. That's because tomorrow is my birthday, and my friend Karine is coming to visit from Caipirópolis, and she's never seen the ocean (!), so I think experiencing that with her will be the best present I could've asked for -- except maybe for my twin sister coming to visit so we can have a birthday together again.

So the weekend will be extended and full of beach walks and sushi and celebrating and shots of tequila (courtesy of Lizbeth!) that will allow us to brave the freezing winter ocean.  You can expect lots of great posts next week!

Have a good weekend!
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