domingo, 22 de março de 2009

Crescendo, aprendendo e final de lua-de-mel

Over the past couple weeks I've become nearly-completely familiar with Arujá, and in doing so have realized a lot of what I came to Brazil to see or do lie beyond this town. So I've been numerous little jaunts into São Paulo proper, Mogi or Guarolhos - usually without any sort of plan or motive, but simply to explore. Luckily, Brazilians are gregarious and meeting people and making friends isn't too hard.

I've recently made visits to Liberdade (pronounced: lee-bur-dadge) São Paulo's huge Japanese immigrant burrough, Avenida Paulista - the city's vibrant cosmopolitan main avenue and historic home street to the city's original coffee barons, and Vinte Cinco de Março - the crazy-loud open street market, swamped with skeevy vendors and go-go-rush-rush Paulistas.

Liberdade is a lot like the two or three East Asian districts of other large cities I've had the chance to see: half-tourist oriented, half-immigrant oriented, distinct culture from the rest of the city, countless good restaurants and in keeping with the positive stereotype, a relatively calm and orderly atmosphere. A lot of the students from the nearby university like to congregate after classes in the late afternoon on the steps just outside the entrance to Liberdade's subway station. At about 5pm the area is buzzing with lots of young people, street vendors elderly Japanese folks and the buzz of people a thousand or so people happy to be relaxing in a the area of one city block--Liberdade is the neighborhood where I've so far got the most pleasant vibe in São Paulo.

However, Liberdade is the only place in São Paulo where I've seen any sort of violence. In short, a young street kid was caught stealing by a vendor. The vendor grabbed the kid - about ten - by the collar, swung and shook him hard to loosen him and his struggle, and once the kid was limp, while still holding the kid's collar with his left hand, the vendor socked him in the face three times with his right, then threw him on his butt on the sidewalk. The kid, got up cursed, spat, threw a piece of trash, which hit the vendor, then turned and ran. I saw his eyes were already swelling when he ran past me, but he was absolutely not crying, just angry at having been punched in the face and probaly becase he got caught instead of making off with the candy or whatever. Those are some tough, sad young kids.

Avenida Paulista is a whole 'nother animal. It's wide, clean and penned in by high-rises on both sides. The sidewalks are abour 15meters wide, the major financial institutions of Brazil have their headquarters there, young people walk fast in suits with briefcases and eat standing up. São Paulo is rightly considered the most international of Brazilian cities and whether or not that makes it less traditionally Brazilian is possible, but almost all of the justification for this consideration can be found on Avenida Paulista--you can hear English, Spanish, German and Chinese on a 15 minute walk from the Brigadeiro metro station to the Cultural Library. Avenida Paulista is interesting in the way the busiest parts of New York, London and Frankfurt probably are: the fast pace of life in every economic center of globalizing nations and how aggressive and unreal it seems to those of us who aren't a part of it.

Vinte cinco de Março is loud, cramped, dirty, smoky, pushy and, even though loaded with crowd control cops in big boots with clubs, one of the worst places in São Paulo for theft. Most of the stuff laid out on the black velvet covered tables is the sort of cheaply made in China tack you'd expect: neon yellow and pink toys that stick to walls, electric fly swatters, chrome painted plastic jewelry, knock offs and pirated dvds. In truth, I don't care much for Vinte Cinco de Março, but I do have to get through it to make it to Mercado Municipal. Mercado Municipal is a very high-ceilinged warehous that has been converted to a food market. It's booth style like Pike Place Market in Seattle, but more cramped, and laid out like a winding grid as opposed to a single line. The are huge greasy Mortadella sandwich stands, salted Baccalhau fish, every kind of Portuguese sausage and wine, cooked and seasoned nuts, fruits that look like props from science fiction movies and all sorts of handmade cheese. As a foody, it is one of the best places to spend a long time browsing, looking at the way Brazilian ingredients have come together with the cuisines of various immigrant populations.

I also had the chance to visit Uberlândia in Minas Gerais in order to sort out my visa with the federal police. For being a city with about 500,000 people, Uberlândia is very calm clean and free of traffic. Especially compared with the folks of São Paulo, the people of Uberlândia seemed quite laid-back. The city also boasts a pretty park with some capivara. It was a nice day that was unfortunately bookended with 8 hour bus rides.

quarta-feira, 25 de fevereiro de 2009

Que romanticos eles são!

Today is the last day of Carnival, but by most Brazilians´s considerations it is basically over. Unfortunately I didn't make it up to one of the traditional Carnival meccas such as Rio, Salvador or Recife. Instead I remained here and was able to make it out to the coast, to the beach town Bertioga. In Aruja, Carnival is just a late night streetfair with a lot of drink, some samba and cheap plastic costumes. Bertioga on the other hand is a popular destination for Paulistas during Carnival, and was pretty packed. A large 18-wheeler with an extended flatbed rolled up and down the beach blaring samba and club music with sexy girls dancing on the back.

The beach itself is nice, but I imagine it is a couple notches prettier when there aren't thousands of people squeezed onto it as far as the eye could see. On the South end of Bertioga's southern most beach, the shore abruptly ends and there is a canal about half a km wide cutting in. Across the canal is an abrupt jungle mountain with cliffs cutting into the water at its base and several vultures circling around the top. Pretty cool veiw to have while swimming.

For those of you who are familiar with South King County, the beach is a lot like Coulon Park on Lake Washington, in terms of the crowd...15 years ago.

On my way to Bertioga, I had to first catch a bus to Mogi, a town about 40km Northeast of Aruja, then change buses at the station to get to Bertioga. Fine. However, what I didn't count on was the suprise blessing of getting on a bus for Bertioga with a driver who had apparently just been hired and was making his maiden voyage!

Something was off when, while still in Mogi, just a a couple hundred meters from the station, he turned the bus down a narrow alley, heading the wrong way, and had to back up a couple blocks in the middle of the city. Then, in some sleepy neighborhood by a cemetary, obviously not the route we needed, he pulled the bus over to ask a street broomer where to go. The street broomer gave bad or wrong directions because we eventually had to back all the way up back to the street broomer, ask him again, so that the broomer shrugged and pointed in the opposite direction...this went on for a long while and all the passengers were screaming at the driver. Although his eyes were hidden behind some wrap-around shades, there was clearly a lot of sweat all over his face and he was miserable. We were all watching one of the most humiliating days of this guy's life. How'd he get hired anyway?

All my Brazilian students have been telling me that after Carnival is when they get serious and work hard, that the time from New Years to now is basically slack time...Why don't we get on board with something like that, America? How about we, as a country, decide to just, you know, take 'er easy from July 1 to the end of August. It'd be un-American, sure, but can't we all agree that there are some things other places do better than us, and one of those things is not work hard all the time?

Brazil doesn't do Valentine's day, but instead they do "Day of Lovers" on June 12th. So VD passed without a sound. With Romance in general, Brazilians seem pretty different. They love openly, make clear or exagerated displays of love and affection, things aren't often smooth and low-key, but dramatic fier-ay. Just going for a walk through the plaza here in Aruja one can see lovers kissing and crying. Anyday, just about anytime. And Brazilians have different distinctions: someone you flirt with is called a girlfriend or boyfriend, but so is someone you actually have something more with. A long term boyfriend or girlfriend in a committed relationship is a husband or wife, despite the fact there has been no marriage. A coworker of mine, who in the past has told me of his 4 different girlfriends, just recently mentioned he's been married for 12 years, then showed me a picture of his 3 children. Infidelity is part of their game as well.

Here, Love (flirting, desire, momentary passion and actual enduring care) is constantly the topic of discussion, there is a preoccupation with it and it has a large presence in a lot of people's lives. The fact that it is so out in the open and discussed so much is what I find striking...people care about love in other places as well, but here you've no right to privacy when it comes to romance, for better or worse.

That's all for now.

domingo, 8 de fevereiro de 2009

arroz e feijao, arroz e feijao

Per Conor's bright suggestion, here are some links to your recommended Bossa-Nova-blog-reading soundtrack:

Food is a big deal to me. I love food and eating and I consider eating food a great joy. I (probably unfairly) base much of my judgment of a place on the cuisine it offers. So, I'm unsure what to feel now, since I've eaten rice and beans two times a day, every day since I arrived here in Aruja. I enjoy rice and beans. The dish is slightly savory and with a squirt of lime juice over the top, can almost seem exotic. Rice and beans can fill the stomach just fine. And, if I really wanted to, I guess I could always buy and prepare my own food instead of having Selma (my house-lady) do all of the cooking, but I'm pretty busy, dangit. And also, I'm looking forward to having my heart and tummy won over, or through such relentless repetition somehow become physically dependant on the specific nourishment offer by arroz e feijao.

Brazilians, onthe otherhand, are so passionate about their rice and beans, their passion almost reaches a form of patriotism. A few days ago, a young Brazilian guy told me how he missed his nation's dish more than anything, family included, while studying abroad in Canada, and that he was driven to tears when his host-mother, in her naivete, drained the water from the beans..."the water's the best part!"he exclaimed...and during his story I thought back to the several dozen dishes of those soupy feijaos, and had little sympathy for him.

When I'm unable to enjoy the food I crave, I'm apt to take a perverse pleasure in talking in detail about the dishes I want to be tasting at the moment. Luckily, also teaching at BRITS is a true connoisseur of the Cuisine Americana, in the form of a jolly, baby-faced, 50 year old Nigerian named Michael. Michael has traveled and lived all over North and South America, Europe and Africa, and he harbors within himself such passion for all things tasty, he's a natural partner for food fantasy discussions. We keep one upping, food-name-checking until we're both salivating and become angry with one another and have to leave each other's presence.

Recently in the teacher's breakroom Michael leaned over towards me, and in a low/serious voice said, "I don't understand how you could leave the," then gave a sad sigh, clicked his tongue and slowly shook his head, travelling back to the last bite of BurgerKing he tasted. Michael'll often pop his head into the teacher breakroom and just say one phrase to me, like, "curly-fries, wit da seasonin" and make a little curly fry in the air by wiggling his index finger in a tight circle, and nod slowly, or "Domino's...tha theek crust...thirty minutes or less...or FREE!" With this face. I guess it took the eyes of an outsider to realize how truly blessed we are in the states...or as Michael put it, "Man, if you African, it's not junk's just delicious."

I've completed my first full work week for Brits here, and am a little astonished at how quick I was brought into the fold...I guess when there are not people working at or concerned with "integrating" me (or anyone) into a new culture or way of life, it becomes a non-issue; one just adapts as one needs to. I'm also amused by the phenomenon of how professional adults of all ages immediately regress to their petulant, immature selves once they return to the role of student, especially if they are studying a subject of which they are a beginner. For example, I have a student named Teo, about 50, looks a lot like a slimmer Tony Soprano with glasses who may be a foreman or lead, and quite respected and revered in his office, but in my class, sits forward in his chair, hugging his desk like an anxious 10 year old. When Teo has an answer he raises and vigorously waggles two fingers in the air and says, "teacher, teacher, I know teacher." And I have to ask him to wait his turn. Another entire class of about 5 students, all between the ages of 35 and 55 were caught collaboratively cheating before and end of term exam, and had to get a severe dressing-down from one of my colleagues.

As I'm learning the names of all my students, I'm realizing a vast draw on a bunch of cultures. Here are some of the cool/interesting names off the top of my head: Wellington, Osmar, Leticia, Solange, Emerson, Agnelo, Edilson, Wada, Mauricio, Nifna and Tatiane.

I did begin my Portuguese training this week. My director is using the Method (oooohh) on me and the teacher has become the far, I can say that as a teacher I love the Callan method, and as a beginner student of Portuguese I find it slow and occasionally frustrating, but I'll keep the faith. Luckily, living here and being immersed in the language affords me all sorts of opportunities to practice constantly. My current favorite Portuguese phrases are: "legao; otimo" cool, "saude, sorte, paz e amor" best wises, but literally health, luck, peace and love.

Saudem sorte, paz e amor,


domingo, 1 de fevereiro de 2009

Verao, Trabalho e Bossa Nova

After arriving in Brazil a week ago today, I've properly adjusted to the 6 hour time shift and the longer days of the Southern hemisphere's Summer. I think my sensetive Scandi' skin has taken more sunlight in the past 30 hours than in the previous 2 months in Seattle. As I write this, the high 9.30am sun is toasting up my rightside and I remember how a 10minute sunbreak seemed a gift while waiting outside at my old job.

When I first arrived in Sao Paulo, every new collegue from Brits, the school I'm teaching for, asked if I knew about 'the Callan Method' in a severe or reverential tone. I had no idea what the Callan Method was, I said. And each colleague, I could tell, was suprised and maybe a bit dissappointed. This method was apparently a big deal to each member of whatever organization I'd got myself into...and as I realized devotion to the Callan Method was universal, I wasn't unconvinced I was joining a cult. And so, there we have the title of this blog. Plus, this title may just as easily apply to my figuring out my method to live and learn the things desired and unexpected to really do well in my life here.

Luckily, the school isn't on a remote compound, we don't wear robes, chant or have numbers or have power animals. The Callan Method is the specific language teaching method used at Brits: 50 minute classes with small groups, fast pace, rigid structure with pre-set lesson material. This means the students and teachers know what to expect every hour, the students get a lot out of each hour, and the teacher needs just a couple minutes to prepare. So, that's the work I'll be doing for the next year.

Aruja seems small, but is hilly so I still don't yet have a complete sense of the size or layout. Many people living here commute to Sao Paulo for work, but Aruja strikes me more a self-sufficient little town than a suburb; the town has parks, schools, a farmers market and is not really connected to Sao Paulo by continuos sprawl...maybe I'm comparing the town to the suburbs I know of West coast US, which were built with the arrival of the freeways, but seems old and to not be created because of its proximity to SP.

Aruja is very green, and there is always plenty of people out chatting in the street in the middle of the day. A couple of weeks ago I went for a walk witha friend in Seattle during the middle of a weekday. The sidewalks were empty besides us. I had this sensation before while living in Romania, and again the samehere, that I relish being around and seeing different people in the place I live throughout the day with somewhat regularity as opposed to somehow feeling alone in place where many people live...although they may not be as important a part of my life as family and co-workers, I want to know and see and talk to the people that live or work around me. This gives me a stronger sensation of belonging to a place. Too bad I've so far only found it hemispheres away from Seattle.

Yesterday I made my first trip into Sao Paulo a huge, HUGE! city with a couple of the teachers from Brits. First impressions: Sao Paulo is clean, cleaner than many European cities I've seen. the city is so international, with people of Native Indian, African, Southern and Northern European and Japanese ancestery all (seemingly equally) mixed together. Parque Ibirapuera is the city's equivalent of Central Park, with its several fish stocked lakes, lush fauna, huge running and bike loop, plenty of Paulistas (the term Brazilians use for folks living in Sao Paulo). My new friends and I walked a couple kilometers through Ibirapuera, had lunch at a sandwhich stand and loafed on a shaded bank of one of the lakes, watching turtles and swans swim past. Even after the time spent and distance covered Luis, one of my fellow teachers estimated I'd seen just a quarter of the park.

A samba drum group was rehearsing for Carnival just outside the park in a cluster of trees. The group numbered about twenty all young, equally half men and women banging on everything from huge, deeply hollowed drums to tambourines. They all danced as they played, and we listened to them play through a 4 or 5 part suite...their transitions weren't seamless, but sounded nice because of the lived in roughness of the changes; I got the impression they enjoyed/wanted to clunk a bit at the time shifts, otherwise the music would have been flawless and uninteresting.

The real Brazilian music that has grabbed me though, which I mention in the title of this particular blog, is Bossa Nova. One of my colleagues, Felipe, is the equivalent of the guy in the states who only listens to the Beatles and other 60s rock, like I was and sometimes am. Every morning at 6.30 when Felipe picks us up to head to the engineering offices where we teach our morning classes, he has some of the oldschool Bossa nova playing in his car...and the music is exactly what I want to hear: catchy melodies in major keys, centered on acoustic guitars, plucky rythms and pretty, understated vocals, usually several singers singing together on each song. It is as pleasant and mood lifting as the Beatles. Good music is universal.

For those of you who use skype, I've had to make a new skype account. my new skype id/address is kristopher.lee.medlang. I'll begin working a full schedule this week...the director of the school here, Jaquelina, said she was confident I'd be fine after 3 days of training as opossed to the required/scheduled 2 weeks. And, after the several classes I already taught last week, it's clear she was right. As time goes on, and I learn more I look forward to talking about the people I'm working with here, but I feel it's too early, and I won't be able to give them a fair blog shake. I will say that they are incredibly kind and helpful and have made my quick transition a pleasure here.

segunda-feira, 26 de janeiro de 2009

Day one

Hello everyone!

I arrived in Sao Paulo about 22 hours ago, my head is still in a cloud - on permanent autopilot - and I'm taking in almost nothing in terms of names and other practical info. This blog is just the brass tacks, showing my parents I'm still alive and things are good. And they are.

Aruja, the town I'll be for the next year, seems small, green and hilly. I live on the ground floor of a three story building with another American teacher named Elizabeth. Above us is the school where we will begin teaching in 2 weeks. I'm told classes never exceed 8, but average about 4. We will only be teaching adults, often at the companies' offices. There is a little red company Fiat we are allowed to drive to such jobs. ZOOM ZOOM!

by looking at our living space, one could rightly assume we've joined the Church...minimal, spartan, but definately everything we need.

All of my colleagues I have met thus far have been warm and helpful. Brazilians are generally warm, touchy when talky, Latin sorts of folks.

Sao Paulo is 20 minutes away, the beach is an hour. I got a lot to learn and figure out, and will explain more when I can. Here is my promise to maintain this blog weekly, weather permitting.