Friday, December 30, 2011

Beach Madness

This is a picture from the newspaper of our city today, the Friday before New Year's.

I'm so thankful the in-laws live inland!

Happy Holidays! More blog entries to come.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Class Classifications

So Rachel started an interesting discussion on her blog about income classes and their relative definitions in Brazil and the US.  Feel free to read it here before you read my entry.

I decided to put in my two cents in my own blog, 'cause, you know, I can do that. Here's my take on all this class stuff: it's far too subjective and relative for us to put these labels on people, labels like "upper middle class" or "Class B" or whatever. Individual people's definitions of "rich" and "poor" are very different and depend a lot on what they've grown up with. Different countries define their own wealth and the wealth of others in different ways. There are different theories on how to define social classes, how to divide incomes, how to compare incomes and wealth between countries, etc.

Then, of course, all of these class discussions get clouded by judgement. Both "rich" and "poor" get treated as dirty words; people place judgement on whether others "deserve" to have the income they have and to use it the way they do. Some judge the poor for being poor; some judge the rich for being rich. Income and social class starts to turn into a question of character, but in many cases, it's only because those who are being judged feel the need to defend themselves.

It all just feels so useless to me. I think each country needs to define its own poverty line and offer social services according to it, and I think that can be pretty much the only concrete data we have.

As a foreigner from the "first world" living in the "developing world," it's almost certain that I'm "richer" than many people in my new country. But I'd like to share how I define rich: in my opinion, someone who is "rich" is able to live their life according to their own values. There are many people who have relatively high incomes in their society (or compared to other societies) but who may not know what their values are or who, for whatever reason, are unable to live by their values.

I'm being very general. What I'm trying to say is that I've had to really grapple with thoughts like these this year, because I'm living in a place where I am "richer" than most of the community. I mean that Alexandre and I have an income that's higher than that of most of our neighbors', but I'm also sticking to my definition in that we're able to live our lives according to our values. We're "rich" because we have choices. We're able to choose to do/buy things that make us happy (or to choose not to do or buy things). Sometimes, it's because we have the financial means to do so, but other times, it's because we're lucky enough to have the education and life experience to know what we want and what's good for us, personally. I used some important words in that sentence: luck, education, and life experience. I believe all of those things also define someone as "rich".

If you realize that you don't value the things that people with more money than you value, then you won't feel bitter toward them for having the financial means to acquire things that you don't have the means to acquire. I'm not saying people necessarily need to lower their standards. I'm saying they need to truly evaluate their priorities. If you're one of those people leaving nasty, bitter comments on Rachel's blog because she and her husband choose to pay for a maid or have their groceries delivered, you need to sit back and ask yourself what it has to do with you, what the alternative is, what you really want for you, and how you can get it.

I know people (most of them, here in Brazil) whose salaries are 4-5 times what Alexandre and I bring in together, but whom I don't consider rich because they are so lost in terms of values and priorities. They're so busy chasing what they think they're supposed to want that they don't even stop to question whether they do want it or to what extent these things will improve their lives. I know people who are "poor" because they're unhappy and can't figure out how to fix it, and this definition of "poverty" is true for people with high salaries or low salaries (also relative terms). I don't like to be around these kinds of people. It's painful to see.

I know people with these same high salaries who are completely satisfied with their lives and their life choices, even if they've chosen things that I wouldn't have necessarily chosen.

I know people who have much less money than I have who are happier than I am at this stage in my life. I consider them "richer" because they have access to things I currently don't have access to: friends in town, a rewarding job that fills their time, and kinship and camaraderie in their day-to-day exchanges with people. But I have the perspective to see that these are things I value and that these things, not more money, will make me happier.

I also think I'm "rich" because I have the perspective to know that things could be a lot worse: they have been, and I feel grateful and lucky every day for coming as far as I have in my life. I don't judge others who may have faced obstacles similar to mine and who didn't get past these obstacles, because there's no way for me to know what held them back and not me. It always comes back to luck in my mind -- luck that I had resources and that I recognized them as such when they came to me.

So in general, I feel very rich here. I feel rich because I have had so many amazing experiences in my life and because I'm able to recognize that; I feel rich because I have the education necessary to solve most of the problems in my life (and also to prevent many others); I feel rich because I know myself and the concrete things I value.  I feel guilty when this "wealth" isolates me and when I consider that even giving all of my salary away and living with less financially would not really make anyone else's life better in the long run.

None of us are going to single-handedly change the income gap in Brazil; we're probably not going to see much of a change in our lifetimes, either. If this disparity bothers you, you can do what makes you feel better about it, whether that's voting for social programs for the poor, or volunteering, or donating your own money, or buying less, or working less, or working more, or hiring poorer people to work for you, or not hiring poorer people to work for you. You have to sit down and think about it by yourself.

But I just don't think there's any productive space for judgement in this discussion. (For some of us, that means we can't judge ourselves, either.)  But there's no point in criticizing people for minutiae, like whether they send their kids to private school or not, whether they have a maid or not, or what neighborhood they live in. There's no need for us, when dealing with each other on a daily basis, to try to fit ourselves or each other into class classifications. I think all we can really do is try to be nice to people and be patient with each other.

Feel free to continue the commenting on Rachel's blog rather than mine.

Monday, December 19, 2011

New Apartment!

Yay! This weekend was a big weekend.

We went to the city we're moving to to find an apartment. We had much more time to look for one than we did when we moved to this beach town, so we used that time to our advantage. Last month, we drove around our potential neighborhoods and talked to people at leasing offices. (That's the way to go in Brazil -- from what I understand, renting directly from the owner, Craigslist style, is usually reserved for the poorest people here.) Anyway, the leasing office people gave us tips on what to look for and what neighborhoods would be good for us. Luckily, most of the offices in this city have websites where they post the details about apartments that are available for rent. So all month, we've been checking those websites and calling the agents if we saw an apartment that we liked. There was one posted online that was extra, extra great and it became our first choice. Of course, we had to see if the pictures were too good to be true.

We made appointments with some agents to see the most promising apartments on Saturday. The in-laws live kind of close to the new city, so we stayed at their house on Friday night and then got up bright and early Saturday morning to drive on over.

We gave up on the house idea, mostly for budget and maintenance reasons. So our big debate was deciding whether to go for "centrally located but small and noisy" VS "away from the hustle-bustle part of town and quiet but a bit harder to get around". This is a quintessential housing decision for a Californian, so I sat back and evaluated my various housing experiences in my adult life and whether I'm happy being "in the middle of it all" or a bit farther off. I realized that I've been consistently happier being a bit farther off if I can come home to somewhere nicer and quieter and relaxing.

So we saw two apartments that were really close to Alexandre's hospital, with restaurants, stores, and a main avenue close by, but the apartments themselves were old and not in great condition, parking was a challenge, and it was noisy. We saw one that was within biking distance to the hospital and the building itself was really fancy (gym, pool, etc), but the neighborhood around it was kind of shady and there were no buses and not much was in walking distance.

Buuuuuuut we saw our first-choice apartment, which turned out to be a little farther away (Alexandre will need to drive to work). However, it's in a gorgeous new apartment complex in a much quieter, safer, cleaner neighborhood, with a lot more nature around (nice trails to run and walk on). The apartment itself is beautiful. The current owners haven't lived there long, but they're moving for the husband's job and are renting it out. They've kept it in great condition.

So yes, our first-choice apartment worked out, and we signed papers on Saturday! We get the keys the first week of January, but we won't be moving until later in the month (still no exact date... thanks, Brazilian military!). I'm so relieved and excited and optimistic. There isn't much within walking distance, but there are 3 different buses that pass by the complex, and then it's just a 10-minute walk to a big supermarket (hipermercado!) that is accessed by a whole bunch of buses. (It also has a bakery, a pharmacy, and a place to pay bills, which covers most of my basic day-to-day errands.) Since I don't even have students in the new city yet and since I'll probably have students in different places around town, it was impossible for us to try to find something that will be close to my job. But I think this bus situation will be totally doable. (Of course, Alexandre and I will also have the option of alternating bus/car days, depending on our schedules, and I'll have the option of inviting students to have class at our apartment for a cheaper rate.)

So I know you're dying to see it, right? I stole some pictures off of the leasing office's website. The apartment is furnished in the pics but it won't be when we move in. Have a gander, and try not to drool or squeal in jealousy:

Isn't it adorable? It's a little on the small side, but it's organized in such a way that it doesn't feel small and the space is useful. As you can see in the picture, it has a good-sized balcony. What you can't see is that the balcony has its own little built-in barbecue, plus enough room for a table and/or a hammock (you can see them if you look really closely in the second picture!). Then, of course, there's the hardwood floors and the brand new tiles in the kitchen and bathroom, along with a door separating the kitchen and the laundry room so your clothes don't smell like fried meat (no, that doesn't happen to us in our current apartment, all the time...). 

Then there's also the apartment complex itself. It has a pool/barbecue party area, a soccer ...court? It's a fake field that doubles as a basketball court. You won't see the 24-hour doorman or the electric gate or our own individual parking spot (so no more neighbors calling us at 2am to move our car out of the shared one, and no more people blocking our car and then leaving on foot!). You also won't see the signs posted on the doors of each building that said "RESPECT SILENCE LAWS, ORDINANCE § 95636589" and had a list of annoying sound-related things that neighbors can't do. FANTASTIC. 

Yaaaaaayyyyy! I'm sure we'll eventually discover some minor annoyances, but I don't think things can get any worse than they are where we're living now. Heck, I don't think things will even come close to this current craphole. (I'd go out and take pictures for you to compare if I weren't afraid of some crack addict stealing my camera.)

But hooray! We're movin' on up. 
So!? Who's gonna come visit?? :D

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Drinks and Snacks

So here's a little cause and effect list about my life for you all:

1. I work very little. Therefore;
2. I'm bored; Therefore;
3. I go to the gym a lot. Therefore;
4. I'm hungry all the time.


I don't go to the gym enough to alleviate my boredom. That means I'm hungry and bored a lot. THIS IS NOT A GOOD COMBINATION. It totally undoes all of the time spent at the gym.

Though I've been in Brazil for almost four years now, I still haven't really mastered the art of Brazilian snacks. What can I say? You can take the girl out of Taco-Bell-infested California, but you can't take Taco-Bell-infested California out of the girl. The point is, I crave over-processed bean burritos all the time, but I clearly need to find some other substitute. Neither brigadeiro nor coxinhas is a good idea. (Hell, neither is Taco Bell, but that is beside the point.) Today has reminded me that snacks from beach stands aren't a good idea, either. That's because beach stand waitresses (never the waiters! They're too enamored) see me alone and hear me talk and decide to super overcharge me with the gringa price for my snacks. Sorry, bitchy beach waitress: just because I have an accent, it doesn't mean I ordered or ate a chicken dinner for four people. I ordered the tiny appetizer porção, and you can charge me for that or you can charge me nothing. That's right, I caught that on the receipt. Eighteen reais is a far cry from 48 reais, and no, just because my fancy-looking book-reading machine makes you think I'm rich, it doesn't mean that I don't look at receipts. You and your cook can play dumb ("Yeah, that was a plate for 4 people!") but I'm not paying for it. That's right. Slap down that ATM machine in irritation. I win. It's called having a brain. You should try it sometime.

Anyway. Knowing what I shouldn't do about snacks doesn't tell me what I should do. What's a healthy but filling Brazilian snack? How do I not have an answer to that yet?

FYI, alcohol is not a good idea for a snack, either. The biggest problem is that it makes it impossible to go to the gym. The second biggest problem is that it makes it impossible to deal with people. See my graph for reference:

So, as you can see, I'm in a couple of different small predicaments. High metabolism; no creative ideas for snacks. Desire to be out on the beach; disdain for my fellow man. Desire to drink more to ignore all the Crap; displeased with the effects of too much alcohol.

I'm listening to an audio book right now called "Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way." In it, the author talks about research that proves that a big obstacle to happiness is living in a place with huge social inequality and income gaps. Many research studies prove that the wider the gap between the rich and the poor, the greater the lack of a middle class, the more unhappy a community tends to be.  
Duh. I could've told him that.

In the meantime, I'd like to maintain my weight loss from the gym without fighting with my newfound metabolism levels all the time. Any ideas?

If there is a lack of comments, I'm just gonna stop going to the gym. PROBLEM SOLVED.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Danielle's Reading List 2011

So one benefit of this year here in the crappy town with exorbitant amounts of "alone time" is that I've been able to read a LOT of books. (This ability is mostly thanks to having a Kindle, which seriously saved me this year, but it's also thanks to fun friend Bianca, who lent me paper copies of books to read on the beach.) Quite a few of these books were recommended by my friend Kristin (you may remember her from such posts as the one when a bird attacked me in Foz do Iguaçu, and our trip to Ushuaia, where we saw penguins up close. Heck, she's in all kinds of posts!) Almost all of the books I read were new to me, but I re-read a couple of old favorites with older eyes. I took advantage of Amazon's free and cheap classics for the Kindle when I could. The list is heavy on historical fiction, because books I most enjoy tend to be from that genre. Since we're coming up on the end of the year, I thought I'd share with you just how many books I've read, and which ones I'd recommend.

Danielle's Completed Reading List 2011
More or Less in Order of Favorite to Least Favorite

Beneath the Lion's Gaze - Maaza Mengiste
An absolutely gorgeous book about the rise and fall of the dictator in Ethiopia in the 1970s. I cannot explain the shocking beauty of this book. I think it's important for people living in Brazil to read it. It reveals a lot about the horrors that happen under a dictator and also how people think and react, as humans, and as families.

Good quote: "Hope can never come from doing nothing."

Island Beneath the Sea - Isabel Allende
Another historical fiction novel about the slave uprising in Haiti. The different characters' perspectives are enlightening, and the beauty of the story is the focus on the almost saint-like humanity of the slave protagonist.

Good quote: "Zacharie and I now have a history; we can look to the past and count the days we've been together, add up our sorrows and joys, that's the way love grows, no hurry at all, day after day. I love him as I always have, but I feel more comfortable with him than I once did."

How to Be a Woman - Caitlin Moran
Hands-down the best book available on modern Feminism. It's funny and accessible but still critical and informative. Moran discusses and defends The Big Ideas very intelligently. Humor and academic arguments are well mixed, here.

Good quote: "When I hear women talking about how their wedding is going to be / was the best day of their life, I can't help but think, You just haven't taken enough MDMA in a field at 3am, love."

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet - David Mitchell
More historical fiction! It took me a little while to get into this book, but I'm glad I waited out the slightly confusing beginning. (It was mostly confusing because of my lack of historical knowledge.) A story about the eighteenth-century presence of the Dutch East India Company in Java and Japan, it was engaging and had lots of focus on the life of a Dutch scribe-turned-translator and his linguistic, romantic, and political challenges. The book was written by a young linguist who went to teach English in Japan and married a Japanese woman. If he can do it, I can do it! (On a smaller scale, of course.)

Good quote: "The purest believers are the truest monsters."

Freedom - Jonathan Franzen
This book is, in general, about the rocky life of an American family from the 80s to present-day. The plot doesn't get much past the general: the point of this book seems to have been a way for Franzen to go to town with some serious character development. If deep and detailed character analysis is your thing, then this book is perfect for you. It typically isn't my cup of tea, but I really enjoyed this book. (Oh, also, the main character works with birds. So that's nice.)

Good quote: "She now sorely regretted the hard time she'd given him about his crusades for other species; she saw that she'd done it out of envy - envy of his birds for being so purely lovable to him, and envy of Walter himself for his capacity to love them. She wished she could go to him now, while he was still alive, and say to him plainly: I adore you for your goodness."

All the Pretty Horses - Cormac McCarthy
It's Cormac McCarthy. (If that isn't self-explanatory for you, then it's a book about the lives of men set in the American/Mexican deserts in the 1800s. The writing is amazing and life-changing. I did write about this book once already in the blog. The good quote is there.)

Gang Leader for a Day - Sudhir Venkatesh
This non-fiction, first-person report is about the experience a grad student sociologist has when he integrates himself into the culture of an American housing project in Chicago. I highly recommend it for those of you living in Brazil and trying to make sense of the jeitinho culture. He analyzes the decisions that people make in the absence of resources and government support/protection, and he does it in an open-minded and non-judgmental way. I saw a lot of parallels between the housing project he works in and Brazilian favelas. I learned some helpful and insightful takes on this situation.

I didn't take note of any good quotes in this one, sorry! It's worth reading, though, I promise.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simonson
Such a lovely book. It's about a sweet old man in England who's trying to come to terms with his wife's and brother's deaths and the speed at which the world is changing. I read it right after my grandfather died, and it made me feel more peaceful. That description makes the book sound cheesy, but it's not. I'd describe it as delicate but steady.

Good quote: "He was conscious of tightness around his head and a slight burn in the throat. This was the dull ache of grief in the real world; more dyspepsia than passion."

Summer - Edith Wharton
It's Edith Wharton. (OK. I'll stop doing that.) It's a well-written dose of subtle and old-fashioned feminist commentary through the story of a young girl in a small Midwestern town in the 1920s or 30s (not sure). The girl meets a young man and "becomes a woman" (you know what that means), and then subsequently gets screwed over, because that's what happened to young women all too often at that time. The Kindle version is only 2 bucks on Amazon, which I think gives this book the best cost-benefit value on this list.

Good, Wharton-esque quote: "She felt instinctively that the gulf between them was too deep, and that the bridge their passion had flung across it was as insubstantial as a rainbow."

Bossypants - Tina Fey 
Did you know that Tina Fey wrote a book? It's exactly what you'd expect: a hilarious report of important events in her life. It reads like an episode of 30 Rock. It's just as self-deprecating, except it's peppered with more girl power.

Good quote: "Once I moved to New York in 1997, I discovered the joys of the quickie Korean manicure...You enter, smile, and nod at the manager.
'Pick color,' she chirps back in her Korean accent. You pick out a couple of the three hundred shades of off-white.
'This for manicure. This feet. Magazine okay?' Why are you talking like that?
Now that you've racially embarrassed yourself, you are ready to squeeze into a seat at a tiny table and basically hold hands with a stranger for twenty minutes. That really is the craziest thing the first few times you go, getting used to passively flopping your hands into another woman's hands. It's like something the'd make you do at summer camp as a trust-building exercise, I assume."

Poor Economics: A Radial Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty- Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo
I thought this book would also give me some insight into how to think about poverty here in Brazil. It was helpful and I even wrote some sort of academic essays for myself while reading it (because I wanted to organize my thoughts and because I'm nerdy like that), but overall it's a really technical book and it's slow-going if you're not an economist. (I was also annoyed that I coughed up like, 16 bucks for it on Amazon and the charts and graphs were still messed up in the Kindle version.) I thought it was also kind of a cop-out of them to not to commit to any definite, concrete solutions to world poverty. The ending was basically like, "yup, poverty IS complicated! Lots of things work and don't work!" But I will say that their research seems to really get to the heart of the way poor people make decisions with their money, like the psychological aspects of those decisions. Oh, and they really, really criticize the corrupt governments of poor countries and put a lot of blame on corruption to explain world poverty today. Bravo.

Good quote: "We are often inclined to see the world of the poor as a land of missed opportunities and to wonder why they don't put these purchases on hold and invest in what would really make their lives better. The poor, on the other hand, may well be more skeptical about supposed opportunities and the possibility of any radical change in their lives. They often behave as if they think that any change that is significant enough to be worth sacrificing for will simply take too long."

Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
Better than how I remembered it. Fun to re-read after having lived in the tropics. Also, did you know that Conrad was not a native speaker of English, and he still managed to write that well? Jealous.

Good quote: "Going up that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were lost your way on that river as you would in a desert...till you thought yourself bewitched and cut off forever from everything you had known once -- somewhere -- far away -- in another existence perhaps."

Zieitoun - Dave Eggers
Not my favorite Dave Eggers book, though that's not saying much, since his other books are so monumentally spectacular. It's about a Syrian immigrant in the US who survives hurricane Katrina and stays in town to help his community, only to be unconstitutionally arrested and held in inhumane conditions without a trial, all because of a misunderstanding in the chaos after the hurricane. I guess the only reason I didn't like it that much was because the first half read like his other books, but then the second half was just long and painful non-fiction criticizing the war on terror. I just wasn't expecting that. But since you are, now, maybe you'll like it more than I did.

Good quote: "Usually you needn't risk so much to right a wrong. It's not so complicated. It's the opposite of complicated."

The Other Side of the Story - Marian Keyes
Marian Keyes -- my guilty pleasure! Her stories are like book versions of Sex and the City (and Irish). Slightly stereotypical and very predictable, but super cute and entertaining. Oh, it also gave me a lot of insight into the publishing industry.

Death of a Salesman - Arthur Miller
Not as good as I remembered it! I was surprised! But we can still value it in the context in which it was written.

Kitchen Confidential - Anthony Bourdain
Lots of this book is like, "Anthony Bordain's Wild Ride". Ya know, written for shock value. But some parts are funny. I guess I just expected it to be more well written because his narration on his show is so well written. But if you're interested in the restaurant industry or in being a chef, I think it'd definitely be a good read for you.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk - David Sedaris
I loooooove David Sedaris, but this one was a little disappointing! So short! Cute and tongue-in-cheek, but it kind of felt like he was just churning something out to meet the book requirement for his publishing contract.

In Defense of Food - Michael Pollan
This book was really popular this year (and maybe last year, too? I don't know). I'm glad I read it to know what people are referring to, but I don't really agree with the guy. He has some helpful rules on how to choose healthier food in the grocery store, but his focus is on conspiracy theories and his conclusion is that Americans just start growing all their own food in their front yards and on their window sills and, you know, get back to the land or something. If his goal is to get busy, working-class, 21st-century city dwellers to eat healthier, I don't think these ideas are very practical or convincing.

The Brightest Star in the Sky - Marian Keyes
More Marian Keys! See above.

Talk of the Town - Lisa Wingate
This was the free featured Kindle book of the week on Amazon the week I got my Kindle. It's a Christian allegory wolf in chick lit's clothing. Barf. OK, I'm being harsh. It wasn't actually that bad. I read the whole thing and I was entertained. I didn't realize it was a religious-themed book until the end. Cousin Ashleigh, you would love it.

The Heart is Not a Size - Beth Kephart
I read this to help my teenage cousin with her homework. It's for teenagers. It's touches on some heavy issues, like anorexia and poverty in Mexico and volunteerism, so good book for teenagers. But it's still for teenagers.

Here Comes Trouble - Michael Moore
I was skeptical when I saw that Michael Moore had written memoirs already. But I tend to agree with Michael Moore. Then I read reviews of this book and it seemed like it would be about ways in which Michael Moore stood up to small injustices. The week I read the review, that sounded appealing, and I hoped I'd be inspired. Instead, it was pages and pages of Michael Moore talking about how awesome he is, even though he reveals that he essentially chooses to do things that will (a) piss his enemies off, just to be difficult; (b) bring him attention; or (c) make him rich. The few phrases he throws in to feign modesty are actually a bit insulting. The only reason I finished reading it was because I'd shelled out the full, new-release price for it.

The Old Testament
That's right. I had to slowly sit down and read the entire Old Testament for a translation that I did. (It was a translation of a "modernized and snarky version of the Old Testament.") The Michael Moore book was actually worse. I'm putting the Bible at the bottom of the list just to be spiteful. I'm actually glad I read it. I got to see just how ridiculous some of the ideas are when applied to modern times. I guess I can see how someone can be trained to read this from birth and be convinced that bigger moral ideas are at play and applicable, but reading it as an adult, it just kind of reminds me of those American Indian folktales we read as American public school children. You know, those ones that are like, "How the wolf got its tail", the ones that totally insult and simplify Native American religions while trying to insist that they're just silly stories, while the Christian Bible is truth.

No, but all meanness aside, I'm also glad I read the Old Testament because it was very interesting from a historical linguistics perspective. It gave me a deeper understanding of Middle English and the changes between it and Modern English (you know, an understanding that I'm sure you're all dying to have). It also helped me understand a lot of Cormac McCarthy and Joanna Newsom references and vocabulary choices. Worth it? I think so.

EDIT: I forgot one! The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet. It was lovely! It deserves to be up toward the top. Thanks so much to Stephanie for recommending it.

Phew! What a long list!

Your turn! What have you read this year? What do you recommend? What do you recommend that we avoid! Share, share!

Bianca and I are going on a self-imposed 100-book challenge. We want to each read 100 books between now and the end of 2012. (We're giving ourselves a head start to take advantage of valuable reading time during our vacations.) So I'm not sure if I'll type out a long list like this next year. :) But do join us on our challenge, and give us some ideas of what to read.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Some Good Points

My last posts have been so blah and I need something to look forward to, so here are some more positive updates:

*We're currently apartment hunting (via leasing office websites) in our new city. We've seen sooooo many nice apartments, and they're cheaper than what we'd budgeted for. We've been emailing and talking on the phone with agents to get more details about certain places, and we're going there next weekend to hopefully pick one out.

*I found a Facebook group from the new city. There are a lot of foreigners in it! The page is used to announce cultural events, meetups at bars, day trips, etc. It seems really promising. There are so many more interesting people our age.

*There seems to be such a bigger market for English classes in the new city! It's night and day from where we live now. Also, the going rate for private teachers is SO high! It's going to be nice to live next to a teaching hospital again, with students who care about their classes.

*We're not going to go to the US for Christmas. :( It's due to problems with my permanent residency card here in Brazil. I know some of you are curious, but it's such a long and ridiculous Murphy's law kind of story and typing it all out will just make me more annoyed. But the long story short is that we can't go to the US until February. I'm sad to miss Christmas with my American family AGAIN, but the benefit is that we can stay longer in February. More importantly, the Christmas holidays won't be as stressful; we won't be squeezing in a trip to the US in between my students, Alexandre's work schedule, planning a move, and sorting out my visa crap. Now, the fun part is deciding what to do for the few days Alexandre has off between Christmas and New Year's. We might go to Paraty, or to Ubatuba, or we might just relax at the in-laws' beach house with a wonderful couple that we're friends with. It will be a MUCH-NEEDED break away from this craphole.

*I'm going to go to the in-laws' house without Alexandre for Christmas because the military only allows one holiday off, and he got New Year's. But the upside is that I was able to invite my friend Karine and she'll be hanging out there with me. :) Also, because my in-laws celebrate Christmas on the night of the 24th, that means I can head home on Christmas day and still have Christmas dinner on the 25th with Alexandre. :)

*We're going to spend New Year's Eve with Alexandre's parents, like last year. I like that New Year's is a more family-oriented holiday here.

What are you looking forward to?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sick of Standing Out

I wrote a very similar post last week. You guys don't have to bother commenting.

So I've mentioned before that I often stand out in crowds here in our poor beach town because I'm tall and white (and also, I think, because my clothes don't show my ass). Typically I wouldn't really think about this kind of thing, ya know, ethnic diversity, blahblahblah, but it's much more tiring when it's accompanied by such huge class disparities. My physical differences make me a magnet for homeless people and beggars. An example:

I waited in line at the post office for 40 minutes at lunch time just to mail a regular-sized envelope. I spent that 40 minutes stewing over the inefficiency of it all, fantasizing about President Dilma hiring me as Brazil's efficiency minister and allowing me to go into places like the post office and Banco do Brasil to clean things up a bit.  Anyway, after that long wait, I decided to reward myself with a milkshake. There's a little milkshake stand close to the post office. The "shop" is the size of a closet, but they've assembled some nice benches outside where people can sit, wait for their orders, and drink their milkshakes. When long, the line to order the milkshakes will run in between the benches.

Anyway, so I'm in line for my (what I considered) well-deserved milkshake (it's the little things! I try to give myself little pleasures in exchange for little annoyances). There's one person ahead of me, two behind, and a handful of people on the benches. A tiny homeless guy comes up, bypasses all the (who he apparently dubs "normal") people on the benches, and makes a beeline straight for me, the tall and obviously gringa woman whose purse must be filled with lots of money for him. He proceeds to poke me in the ribs (akin to the little kids who beg for money). When I turn to look at him, he cocks his head to the side and makes the saddest face possible and puts his hand out, then utters some unintelligible sounds that I'm supposed to interpret as "Can you spare any change?" (apparently he's so destitute that he can't even form complete words).

I look around and I'm convinced that people are looking at me expectantly, but I don't really know if they are. I look back to the man and say "No, sir, I'm sorry," and turn back to the line. He lingers for a bit next to me, I guess hoping I'll change my mind, and then walks off without asking ANYONE ELSE for money.

Then I feel all lame and guilty, like I'm sitting here buying a milkshake when that guy doesn't have money for food. But I feel anger, too. I mean, everyone else there was buying milkshakes, but none of them are expected to give beggars money. But then I wonder if the other people think I'm "expected" to do that, of it's just some complex I've built up in my mind. I mean, what's richer ENOUGH, ya know? How much lower would my salary have to be for the beggars to decide, "ah, OK, well, you clearly deserve to keep your spare change and buy yourself some treats once in a while..."?

I'm not trying to come off as like "poor me, my life is harder than that of the homeless guy, I'm suffering, too." It's obvious to me and you that I'm better off than he is, and even though the exchange was disquieting, I still got my milkshake and I still went home to my comfortable life.  But I guess it's the simplicity in thinking that annoys me, it's his assuming, just by seeing the color of my skin, that I'm the one who should give him a handout. It's my having to wonder if the people around me were judging me for not giving him anything, which would be easy for them to do as bystanders who were not asked in front of a group of they wanted to be generous. It'd be easy for them to think, self-righteously "oh, well I would have given him some change," when they weren't actually put to the test.

I don't want to go as far as saying that, ya know, he had as many opportunities as I did and he must have made mistakes and all that. There's no way I can know that and it's not my place to judge (also, I'm a Democrat). But I can't help but feel a little bit defensive.

Another quick example is that on Sunday afternoon, I was walking down to the beach to meet up with Alexandre after the big soccer game. (He was there watching it with a friend and there was going to be an unrelated and live blues show afterwards.) On my way there, I passed a homeless man who was setting up a little bed for himself on a closed storefront.

     As I passed, he called out, "good afternoon, moça. Do you have 1 real for me?" He was really tall and big and seemed either drunk or mentally ill, so I just mumbled, "no, sorry," and kept walking.

     "Well, I SAID 'good afternoon'! At least say 'good afternoon,' DAMNIT!" he shouted, much more aggressive this time.

      "I said 'good afternoon!'" I lied. I made sure to reply in a strong, 'Don't try giving me any of your crap' voice. It seemed to work.

     "Well, all right then,"  was all he said in response. Luckily he seemed to have lost interest and he didn't try to follow me or anything.

I guess at the end of it all I just feel crappy for being singled out, for feeling isolated, for being reminded that I'm different, for having to question myself and whether I "deserve" to use the money that I earn on things that I want, even though there are others in the world who have less. I've obviously spent a lot of time thinking about this, and I think I've mentioned before that I don't give change on principle (because I don't think it will solve the bigger problems, and the economic problems in this city and country are much bigger than even my entire salary could solve).

But no one likes feeling guilty. I think we all feel like we try to be good people and try to do our part to help others.

It's also the aggression that bothers me. It makes me feel unsafe. It's the hostility and anger that people give me (like when I gave change to the girl and she threw it in my face because it was only 10 cents). These beggars must think they're the only homeless people in town, and must also believe that they were the only ones smart enough to try asking the pretty white lady for some money. Of course they don't think about the possibility that they're the 4th or 5th person that day to tell me a sob story and ask for help.

I agree that their situations suck and I want to have sympathy, but I think I'm allowed to say that living around here isn't exactly peachy keen for me, either.

Sorry for all the negative posts. (Check back in six weeks if you're tired of them.) I hope I got my point across and this didn't come off as "poor little rich girl." I'm just burnt out.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Typewriter Mystery

So the evil wretched neighbor below us who is, for some ungodly reason, STILL HERE, has turned out to be the owner of the typewriter I've been hearing since soon after we moved in. Yes, a typewriter. That she types on. All the time. But only in short bursts.

I was convinced she didn't even know how to read, so now I'm left to guess what she could possibly be typing. I've come up with some theories:

1. She's writing the next great Brazilian novel, exposing the plight of Brazil's urban poor;
2. She runs a carrier pigeon agency (this would also explain all the pigeons on the building every morning);
3. She's applying to be the national poet laureate and writes genius haikus during moments of inspiration;
4. She's drafting letters to her local congressmen to complain about the sorry state of our neighborhood;
5. She's composing love letters for her abusive common-law husband (ones which apparently seem to draw him back for short periods of time)...

Those are all fine ideas, but I think the following scenario is the most likely:

6. Crazy wench neighbor saw a typewriter at a second-hand store and was fascinated by the sound the buttons made. Now she hacks at the keys periodically in fascination, but then quickly loses interest when she's distracted by yet another Queen song on the radio, or perhaps by talking animals on TV.

Any other possibilities that you guys can think of?

Stickin' to My Roots

When I moved to Brazil, this "Créu" song was insanely popular. It is accompanied by a super slutty dance, akin to the macarena in a strip club or something. (You don't even need to watch it to get the idea. The screen cap preview is enough, but you can watch at your own risk.)

Anyway, there's a new video floating around the internet. I swear this girl saw me dancing to créu once and decided to copy me, because I totally did this at Alexandre's college parties:


Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Belps

So I've made a different sort of post, à lá Hyperbole and a Half and Pernambucano Gypsy combined. You'll see that, on a scale of 1 to 10 of computer graphics skills (1 being blind and in a semi-vegetative state and 10 being professional), I'm about a 2. But I needed a way to get my energy out somehow. Enjoy.


So Brazil is a sort of vortex. Foreigners get sucked into this vortex, drawn like helpless pale grains of sand into the beautiful beaches and even more beautiful people. 

But because it’s a vortex, you’re stuck once you get pulled in, and by then, it’s too late to escape Brazil’s biggest secret: The Belps.

The belps are a class of robots developed by the Brazilian government. They were made to fill clerical jobs in an attempt to give the image that capitalism abounds rather than an undying feudal system. Some political higher-ups figured it’d be cheaper to churn them out regularly than to pay for education, safety, job training, healthcare, and housing. (They also thought it’d be more effective than using the stray dogs running around the streets, because at least the belps would be designed to pee in designated places, but one of the IT guys made an error and that has turned out not to be the case.)

Belps were made in all different colors, partly because the government wanted to reinforce their campaign that “Brazil has no racism.”

Their eyes were inspired by goats and cows, whose gazes the developers thought to be serene.

The belps are trained for basic functions like sitting in a chair and pressing color-coded buttons. Newer models have been trained to literally push paper. They’re also very good with rubber stamps.

The government wanted to save on costs, so belps were not properly trained for human speech (other than the word “no”), nor were they programmed to understand basic math, relativity, or critical thinking.

Because the belps’ system is basic, outdated, and underfunded, it still has a few kinks.

Another glitch was the lack of banking abilities, which the developers simply forgot to install. Beta testers allowed 1.0 belps to watch American westerns for ideas on how to run banks. What they saw seemed to be work well enough for John Wayne, so they adopted it, and newer belp models have yet to be changed. 

Normal Brazilian children are brainwashed while growing up. Their teachers and families insist that their country is filled with smiling, happy people, and that their adult lives will be nothing more than carnival, soccer, and barbecues with their smiling, happy families. Then, normal Brazilians become adults and are disappointed to learn that this is not the case. However, normal Brazilians are exposed to belps at a very early age, so they consider them a slight annoyance but a relatively unsurprising concept, the way Americans feel about traffic in Los Angeles or Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Because the belps' programming is limited, problems that arise from a foreigner’s presence (which perhaps would require the pushing of two color-coded buttons rather than one) can easily make the belps' systems short-circuit or overheat, causing them to just utter the word “no. no. no. no” repeatedly when their motherboards freeze. Luckily, they are calmed by shiny objects, bright colors, fireworks, cheap computer graphics in D-list movies, and scantily clad women, especially if said women are dancing in sparkling bikinis with clowns on a big-screen TV.

Another belp favorite:

(Swear to God I made that up and then decided to search on YouTube for it. The search invariably produced results. N.B., the breasts should tell you that this show is meant for adults.)

Another technique to dealing with belps is saying something positive about the soccer team from the city in which the belp has been placed. Luckily, all belps are programmed with the following algorithm:

  1. Me Belp.
  2. Belp from Base.
  3. Soccer team from Base = SBase
  4. SBase = good = love and happiness for Belp
So by saying something as simple as “Your soccer team. Good,” you can often trigger the use of this algorithm, giving you temporary abilities to convince the belp in question to agree with you.

Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions to the problems caused by belps. They’ve learned how to reproduce and have infiltrated almost all parts of the Brazilian job market. They’ve also evolved into excellent buck-passers. Not even the managerial class is safe.

The country’s saving grace is that alcohol is often cheaper than water. It’s a good thing, because this is really the closest to a solution that you're gonna get:

Do this, and hope that your problems will disappear or solve themselves or slip through the cracks and go unnoticed by the belps that tend to cause them in the first place.
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