Thursday, July 31, 2008
I went into the experience a bit anxious, as I really didn't know what to expect. All I knew is that there would be 12 people who all held upper management positions in a big company and spoke some degree of English already. I arrived at the hotel about 30 minutes outside of Belo Horizonte at 7:45 Monday morning, met up with the language school's owner and the other teachers who I would be working with, and waited for our students to arrive. We started the program at 8:30 and went strong all day until about 10:00 that night. Over the course of the three long days, I taught small group workshops on US social etiquette, US business etiquette, presentation language, and English pronunciation, I worked with students on perfecting a business presentation they are planning to give in the coming months, we read and debated case studies and articles from The New York Times, I went for early morning walks, ate lots of great meals, and enjoyed fabulous conversation. The middle-aged business men and women, that I was initially slightly intimidated to be teaching, turned out to be wonderful people with great attitudes towards the whole experience. And last night as I said goodbye to everyone, I left highly encouraged as a teacher of my native language. The entire experience was quite incredible.
Brasilians amaze me regularly with their love of foreign language and their desire to study and learn. While there are Americans who speak Spanish, French, German, or a whole array of other languages, that tends to be very much the exception and not the rule. Here, especially among those in middle to upper management positions, foreign language classes are totally the norm - and not only English, the international language of business. There are plenty of people taking Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, French, or Italian classes too. It isn't so much the fact that they learn foreign languages as much as it is just my amazement at the commitment to continuing their education. How rarely do Americans in their 40-50's leave work in the evenings to go take classes a couple times per week (or more)? And this happens throughout a great majority of their career, not just one or two years of it. It's just something that I really respect about the culture.
After spending much of last week preparing material for the immersion class, along with my editing work, I feel like I've accomplished nothing at home. Laundry is piling up, floors need mopped, personal emails need answering, and cooking supper for my husband might be a nice gesture too. But at my sluggish pace today, the fact that I have editing to catch up on, and the English classes I teach on Thursday nights, all the housely duties are probably going to have to wait. Luckily I have tomorrow. Well, actually, I have a school wide teacher workshop tomorrow from 9 am until 6 pm where I will get my teaching schedule for the upcoming semster - which starts on Monday. (Have I mentioned how much I love the advanced planning around here?) Okay, next week. Thank goodness I have next week. (Although I'm starting to think a bit more about the advice of everyone here: maybe it is time to get a maid.)
Friday, July 25, 2008
Slipping out of my clothes and into a pristine white bathrobe, flip-flops, and the unmistakable spa-ness of disposable underwear, I tried to remind myself why I've only done this once before in my life. And then somewhere about 10 minutes into my shiatsu massage, I vowed to never ever leave the place.
Way back in 2005 while I was going through a rough patch in life, I threw caution, or maybe just good fiscal sense, to the wind and spent a way whole lotta money to treat myself to an entire eight hour day at a spa on Hilton Head Island. Since that expensive, but oh so fabulous, weekend I've had a massage or two and a couple of facials, but I've never let myself go in for multiple treatments or anything resembling a "spa day."
So when my friend, Corinne, suggested we treat ourselves to an afternoon at the spa, I decided to jump at the opportunity. I've been working hard; why not go blow a few Reais at the spa!?! (That is a rhetorical question, Sweetie. There is no need for you to answer it.) And boy am I glad I did! Besides a little girl talk, I got four and a half hours of pampering: namely, a shiatsu massage, aromatherapy body wrap, complete facial, and a spa manicure/pedicure. The really incredible part is that I did all that for about the same as it costs you just to walk into a spa in the US. And the service was fabulous!
I have a feeling that this is going to get added to the list of bad habits I am going to have to break when we return to the US. Is there a 12-step program for returning expats? Looking towards the future a bit, I am pretty certain that I'm going to need one.
And as a side note here, am I the only one who loves the concept of the disposable undies? Something about them just really gives a sense of freedom and comfort: Go ahead, slather me up with mud or chocolate or whatever fabulous body treatment you have to offer and wrap me in a cocoon! Or is it just me and my disdain for laundry?
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Know what they all have in common? Blue sky. Brasil's fabulously blue sky. And my camera can't even start to capture just how deep blue it is.
There have been many times that Eric and I have stared up at the sky and wondered, "Is the sky this blue everywhere? Have we just not taken the time to notice before?"
Well, it's not in our heads after all! A little research yielded these results. The sky is actually bluest in Brasil, according to scientist people with fancy instruments.
Reason number 3,283 why I love this place!
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
We started this weekend, by trying to finish up the last bit of shopping we had left to do. We still needed a couple of small pieces of furniture, we needed some artwork for the main guest bedroom, and I wanted to add some more houseplants. A couple highlights to share:
A large painting for the main guest bedroom. (Which we still have to hang.)
Some smaller accent paintings for the main guest bedroom.
We sufficiently confused one salesman over the course of our weekend shopping. Despite how much we probably should be, we just can't quite make ourselves use Portuguese with one another yet. (It would be great practice, for me especially, but it just doesn't last for very long when we try it.) So we generally always use English when we're together and that included this weekend while shopping. I was looking at an item in a small store, and I took it to the sales desk to ask how much it was. I asked the guy behind the counter about the cost of said item, in Portuguese. He immediately reached for his calculator and started typing something in. Without saying a word, he turned it around to show it to Eric and I: "99.00". We continued looking around and Eric was looking at something else at one point when the guy came up with his calculator and punched something in and showed it to Eric, again without saying a word. A little bit later, we went to pay for our purchases. The guy still hadn't said a word, so we went ahead and said hello, told him we wanted to buy these items, and told him we would be using a Visa card but wanted to pay for it all outright, not in payments. All of this was said in Portuguese. The guy rang up our purchase, pointed at the price on the computer screen, and then asked another sales associate if she spoke English. Eric looked at the guy really funny and told him (in Portuguese) that we spoke Portuguese and that we could understand him if he wanted to talk. The guy looked shocked and said, "Eu não soube!" (Which means, "I didn't know!") Hmmm, well, um, alrighty then.
Monday, July 21, 2008
My three brothers and I always anxiously awaited the arrival of all the Christmas catalogs (you know, because it was way back before the internet and online shopping). We would feverishly go through the Sears Wish Book, the JC Penney Christmas Catalog, and all the others that were full of toys and fun stuff we just knew we couldn't live without. Sometime around mid-November (maybe earlier) we had created our very detailed "Christmas Lists" with all of our hearts' desires complete with the catalog and page number where it could be found. (We liked to make it easy for ol' Santa!)
Every year, I would lust after these really awesome "moon shoes". They were basically little trampolines that you strapped to your feet and jumped around on. They claimed to give you the sensation of walking on the moon along with the ability to jump extra high. Every year, I would show them to my mom and go on and on about how cool they were. Every year, my mother informed me that they looked like a good way to break an ankle and that, no, I couldn't have them. (Never mind the big trampoline in our backyard where we all four jumped and flipped and nearly broke each other's necks . . . apparently the idea of hauling around a kid with a broken ankle sounded much worse to Mom.)
One of the perks of growing up, I suppose, is that you get to make your own decisions regarding personal safety. Well that and having your own money and purchasing power too. So, I think you already know the "rest of the story" when I ran across these on sale at the mall on Saturday:
Merry Christmas to me!
So they might not be little trampolines. And they might not be called moon shoes. And maybe they are a good way to break an ankle. Who cares if I maybe exceed the recommended weight limit on the bouncy-shoes made for kids by, oh 8 kg or so? Does it really matter that they are a size too small for me and my toes are a little cramped? And so what if I will never ever wear these outside of my home. I will provide myself endless entertainment in my living room and dining room and kitchen with these bad boys. And that doesn't even consider the comic relief (and jealousy, might I add) enjoyed by my husband.
And no, there will not be a video (or even pictures) posted of them in use. Let me just say though, it is fun(ny)!
Friday, July 18, 2008
The Correios workers around here have been on strike a lot since we arrived. From the news articles I've read, they've been striking on and off for over a year. It has pretty much stopped making the news now. They want higher wages, and maybe more, but I am mostly gathering that they don't think they get paid enough. The crazy thing is, I don't think anyone hardly even notices when they're not working. Hardly any serious business is handled through their mail system. If you have important documents to deliver, you send it by DHL or other private carrier; if it is just within your city, you call a motoboy (guy on a motorcycle) to pick it up and deliver it. Bills arrive in the mail, but you can't mail your payment in. You have to go to the bank to pay your bills. We really get nothing more than a couple bills (the others are hand delivered to our apartment building) and bank statements in the mail. (Well that and the occasional card or package from the US.) But really, for the most part, nobody seems to care if they are delivering mail or not.
Just the same, a big gaggle of 'em came marching down my street yesterday and they put on a pretty good show. It kept me from my work for at least 15 minutes.
I found it rather funny that they had a police escort in front and behind them: cars stayed back for awhile, but then they got impatient and started driving through the protesters. The police (as usual) just watched. What's the point of a police escort during a "parade" if they don't keep the cars from running over the people in the street?
And in this one you can hear all the frustrated drivers honking and then see them start driving through the crowd.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
We tend to chuckle a little as our friends wear their heavy winter coats and complain about how bitterly cold it is here in Belo Horizonte when the overnight low only gets down to 51 degrees F. Normally they then inform us that, sure it doesn’t get as cold here as it gets in Iowa, but here the buildings are not insulated and they don't have heaters! So while it might not get as cold here, they reason, the buildings are the same temperature as the outdoors, so you are always surrounded by the cold.
Earlier this week, we were invited over to supper at a friend's apartment. It was one of those cooler nights in BH, so it probably was in the 50's. Since we are in winter/the dry season here though, the sun had been out all day and it got up into the low 80's. We noticed it was a little cool in the apartment, and our friend even put on his winter coat because he was sitting at the table shivering. I would have been a little more sympathetic towards him being so cold, but about half the windows in the place were wide open! He went on to tell us how hard it is to get out of bed in the mornings and take a shower - he said he just freezes! When I went to wash my hands before supper, I noticed the bathroom window was also open - and so yes, it was quite cool in the bathroom!
Given that brick and concrete are the building material of choice here, and the fact that they don't insulate buildings, and the non-existence of double pane windows or doors that seal, I agree that the interior temperature tends to rise and fall with the exterior environment. But no amount of insulation would do a bit of good here with all the windows open! I try to use our windows to my advantage in the "winter" time. I open all the blinds and shutters during the day (except for those in my bedroom) and let the bright sun warm the apartment. I also make sure to keep all the windows shut pretty much all the time. (I am not a big fan of city noise either, so keeping my windows closed also cuts down on the squealing brakes, honking horns, people shouting in the street, and other general noisiness that comes with living right in the middle of the city!) As the sun goes down, so does the temperature in our apartment, but it never actually gets cold in here. On the cooler nights, it still stays in the mid 60's at night - perfect sleeping temperature, I think.
This picture of an apartment across the street from us was taken early this morning. It was 59 degrees F with a very cool breeze blowing right into their open window.
A few other open-window notes from our months here:
- Eric's office has air conditioning, which would be quite nice in the summer. The A/C will be working hard trying to keep the engineering area cool on a hot sunny day, but no matter how hard it works it never quite gets cool thanks to everyone having their windows open.
- Emissions are a real issue here, especially from the diesel trucks and buses. It is pretty unbearable during rush hour with tons of vehicles puking out black stinky fumes. Yet, anytime one of our friends rides with us in our car (which will always have the air running on a warm day), they immediately roll down their window, inundating the car with exhaust fumes. (Which I think totally kills the case for desiring open windows for the sake of "fresh" air!)
- Now that I've got the system figured out, I use the public buses several times per week, often in the evening to go teach English classes in another neighborhood. Quite often I observe people get on the bus, open any window near them if it happens to be shut, and then sit there shivering from being so cold.
- We took a two hour (round trip) day trip in our car with another couple a while back. It was an especially hot and sunny day. Despite having our A/C cranked up the entire trip, Eric still sat in the driver's seat sweating. Our friends were in the backseat with the windows cracked the entire trip. We asked several times if they were too hot or too cold and the response varied from "I'm comfortable" to "I'm a little warm", but the hot breeze continued blowing in from the open windows in the back.
While we're getting quite comfortable in our understanding of most all things here, this open-window business still confuses us to no end! We've always written off the open-windows-when-it's-hot thing as people not being used to having air conditioning and it just being a habit to open windows. But having the windows open when it's cool outside and you're already cold? We're completely befuddled on this one!
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
(Definition of cuticle from Wikipedia for the fellas (since I repeatedly have to explain myself when I use this word around my husband): "the strip of dead skin cells at the base and sides of the fingernail". Okay, now that we've cleared that up . . .)
When we arrived back from our vacation to Chile and Argentina, I was really looking forward to my manicure/pedicure. It has pretty much been a weekly habit since moving here and after 12 days of vacation my fingers and toes were ready for a little attention.
The salon I use is just three and a half blocks from our apartment. I walk by it quite regularly. Ever since we got home from vacation, it has been closed. Most days the big metal door they pull down at night has been down. One day a couple weeks ago, the metal door was open and I saw lots of guys in the salon doing some work. I figured they must be remodeling. (Which I thought was strange because they just replaced all the flooring, lighting, and repainted about three months ago.) I hadn't bothered finding another salon during this time. I was patiently awaiting mine to re-open. I'm kind of loyal like that. Well that and they all know my name. And I just finally mastered all their names. And on Wednesdays, I usually had a standing 5:00 appointment. And also on Wednesdays, they had a special promotion and my mani/pedi was only R$10 (US$6.25) - and that's hard to beat!
Yesterday as I was walking home, I noticed a big sign in the window of my salon: "Inauguração". YEA!!! They were open again. A big grand re-opening. Oh, what fun! I couldn't wait to see the girls and see what fabulous things they had done to my salon. I quickly crossed the street and was ready to sling the door open and greet everyone. My toes could feel the impending attention and were so excited. I think my cuticles even breathed a big sigh of relief (I didn't even know that was possible but, I'm telling you, I think it is.)
Just as I was about to make my grand entrance at my salon's grand re-opening, I saw a rack of clothes. And then I realized the sign had been taken off the glass door. My salon was gone. A women's clothing store now stood there in the place where my nails had so carefully been tended to all these months. And that just kind of ruined my day.
As I stare sadly at my unpainted scraggly nails right now (yes, sometimes I look down at the keyboard - my appologies to my eighth grade keyboading teacher), it is obvious I am going to have to find a new salon. <insert heavy sigh> This is my biggest problem right now. Sort of pathetic, isn't it?
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Saturday night we were invited out by our friends Marco and Regina to go bowling. Several other couples were going too, so we knew it would be a fun time.
Bowling, or boliche as it is called in Brasil, is not an overly common activity here. Belo Horizonte, with 5 million people in its metropolitan area, has two bowling alleys (to my knowledge, at least.) Most of the people we were going with had never bowled before in their life. I should have known to take my camera!
We met up with our friends at a bowling alley that is inside one of the malls in town. They had put their names in for a lane, but there was a two hour wait. (Remember, common or not, 5 million people with roughly 40 lanes in the entire city . . .) The first thing Eric and I noticed was that all the people bowling were barefoot: shoes and socks kicked off, pants rolled up, bowling. The second thing we noticed was some interesting form: two handed underhand slinging of the ball, shot-put style throwing of the ball, balls that rolled backwards away from the lane, balls that ended up on the wrong lane, and leaps and jumps and looking like somebody was going to seriously dislocate something. The third thing we noticed was incredibly decent scores considering what we were watching, and that's when we realized that the bumpers were pulled up on almost every lane. This was bowling of the likes we've never seen in all our 26 years on this great Earth. (And that includes several years in college towns where a large majority of the participants had been indulging in entirely too many fluids from the bar prior to their bowling efforts.) But let me tell you, I've never seen a happier bunch of people! They were all laughing and cheering and having a grand time.
So our number was called and we got two lanes together, since there were 11 of us bowling. Eric was most concerned about the lack of shoes - however would he maintain proper form barefooted? There was small desk with shoes for rent, but the selection was limited and they didn't have his size. I thought he needed to just embrace the culture and their barefooted ways - even though the 8 - 12 pound balls flying around made me a bit nervous without any toe protection. If ever steel toe boots were appropriate, then might have been the time. But, just the same, we shed our shoes. I didn't really want to be wandering around barefooted though due to unnatural fears of toe fungi and the sort, so I left my socks on. Eric, thinking he could get a little slide and maintain better form (the boy takes his bowling entirely too serious for me), left his on as well.
Eric's first turn came up and he carefully selected a ball of the proper weight and finger hole sizing. (Something our friends didn't seem to bother with - which might explain some of the crazy techniques.) He started from the back line and made his ever graceful approach towards the lane. Somewhere in all of his careful observation and calculation, he didn't notice that the approach area is approximately a half-stride shorter than he is accustomed too. That half stride turns out to be quite important. His sock-covered foot crossed the boundary line and hit the oiled lane. His ever so textbook bowling form turned into an ever not so pretty but oh so entertaining slip, slide, crash, and sprawl across the lane. Whew, thank goodness they had brought along some Americans, the more experienced bowlers, to show them how it's done, huh? Eric was immediately reprimanded by all the women with us and told to take his socks off - it was dangerous to be bowling like that! (With my less serious approach to bowling, my socks offered no problems. And kept the fungi away from my ever so delicate toesies.)
So, I am not completely sure what I would rather have a video clip of: the Brasilians bowling or Eric's fall. Either way, I could be entertained for hours replaying it. We also learned that not having the opportunity for your ball to end up in the gutter makes the game a lot more interesting. After hanging with us and even beating us a couple rounds, our friends proved that you're better off learning how to make a bank shot than trying to roll the ball straight and fast down the center. Quite a few strikes were made after hitting one bumper, and then the other, prior to arriving at the pins.
If it seems like I am laughing at the Brasilians, be assured, I was laughing with them Saturday night! And furthermore, believe me when I say that they would laugh just as hard at my efforts on the soccer field (and that would just be from the six year-olds as they ran circles around me and stole my ball time and time again.)
Monday, July 14, 2008
It was the perfect day to be out in the country! The temperature was right around 80 degrees F, and the bright blue sky hardly had a cloud in it! (Have I mentioned how much I love winter time in Belo Horizonte?)
While there, we decided to take a ride on the zip-line. Neither one of us had done that since we were kids - it was just as much fun as we remembered!
They give tours of the cachaça making facilities. They were actively making it while we were there, so we got to see it all in action. The wind was carrying the smell of fermenting sugar cane all over the property. It reminded me of the smell of cane syrup cooking - it was fabulous! Of course, the tasting room made it plenty obvious it isn't syrup they are cookin', but I'm not exactly complaining! ;)
It is amazing how much they are able to make with such a small amount of equipment. You are looking at all of the distilling equipment in the picture above. It's sort of like moonshine, I suppose. Only, um, less illegal.
The picture above was one of my favorites from the day. Shadows rock!
Now, I'm not usually one to ask God questions, but I'm telling you, stare at an ostrich long enough and you too will be left asking, "WHY?" (I think it also makes a strong case against evolution - I can't think of a single logical evolutional reason why an ostrich would be like ostriches are. I mean, seriously!)
Notice the swan paddle boats behind me in this next picture. Eric and I couldn't stop quoting Adam Sandler from Billy Madison ("Hello, swaaaan." "What are you looking at swaaan?").
We were big fans of the gnomes that guarded the entrance to the new children's area.
And here is a typical Minas Gerais landscape view on our drive back to BH from Vale Verde.
Vale Verde is a great place to spend a beautiful day. The admission fee was just R$10 (US$6.25) per person. They had a fabulous lunch buffet too. (It was R$23 for all you can eat, which is a little high when compared to other similiar style restaurants, but the food was the best I've ever had at a self-service restaurant!)
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Before we went to supper, we thought we'd cruise up to Praça do Papa. The night view of the city is awesome from up there. After a brief stop to take in the sights, we continued on towards Pampulha.
Traffic started getting heavy and slow. It was only getting worse the closer we got to Pampulha. Finally, it occurred to us what was going on: soccer. Of course. Besides being home to one of our favorite restaurants, Pampulha is also the location of the city's soccer stadium. We were slap-dab in the middle of game-night traffic.
Luckily, we had our handy dandy GPS with us, so we decided to try and detour around the stadium and all the traffic. Every detour took us right into more traffic though. Then we considered that about the time we finished eating, the game would be over and we'd have to deal with all the post game traffic too.
Finally, Eric and I decided to scrap the original plan and take them to a different Restaurante da Comida Mineira. After almost one and a half hours of driving (thanks to a heck of a lot of traffic), we arrived at our new dinner destination: exactly 1 1/2 blocks away from their hotel!
After a delicious meal and a whole lot of keep-you-laughing conversation, we were getting up to leave when one of the visiting Americans said to Eric with a grin, "You know what, as much as we appreciate the ride, I think we'll just walk home."
Hey guys, we enjoyed your company last night for supper. And, um, no extra charge for the city tour.
Important Note to Self: In the future, check the game schedule before attempting to take anyone to Xapuri.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
The cross at Praça do Papa (in April)
View towards the mountains from Praça do Papa (in April)
Museum in BH (Museum of Natural History, maybe? I don't remember right now.)
Fountains at the museum on an overcast day (in May)
The weather was so gorgeous the whole time that weekend! (June)
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Ask Eric about helping me in the kitchen, and he will tell you that my feelings about the "proper tool" get even stronger there. Back when we were just dating, he once started cutting a watermelon with a big serrated bread knife. After a minor freak out on my part, he subsequently (immediately) got a detailed lesson on the different types of kitchen knives and their uses. (He is a good man. Despite him thinking I was absolutely crazy that day (everyday?) as I took away the bread knife and handed him a large slicer/carver, he still went on to ask me to marry him.)
When we moved to Brasil, we both had to be somewhat selective about which tools we brought along. The space in our sole air shipment was quite limited. But for the kitchen, I managed to bring 2 mixers, a food processor, a blender, 2 crockpots, an electric skillet, a juicer, a complete set of knives, my entire Calphalon cookware (and utensil) collection, an electric fondue pot, no less than 4 heat-resistant rubber scrapers, and a professional Belgium waffle maker, among other things. You know, just the bare necessities. Included in the abundance of items left behind were cookie sheets and specialized cake pans along with my rather large assortment of cake decorating supplies.
As we prepared to celebrate the 4th of July down here in Brasil, I had to improvise. In the kitchen. It was not the best of times.
We were invited to a really fun 4th of July Cookout on Saturday by our American friend who is a professor at a local university here in Belo Horizonte. She has made a tradition of celebrating the 4th with her Brasilian students and friends by hosting an American cookout complete with grilled hamburgers, BBQ wings, chili, coleslaw, chocolate chip cookies, and other delectable treats. I offered to bring the cake I've been making for the 4th of July since I was about 10 years old: the flag cake.
Trouble is, I don't have a single cake decorating tool here besides an offset metal spatula (or um, make that 3 offset metal spatulas, actually). Decorated cakes exist abundantly here in Brasil, so I figured I would easily find a star tip and decorator's bag at one of the many grocery stores I went to in search of blueberries or blackberries or something I could use for a blue background. Unfortunately, cake decorating supplies must fall into the category of so many other things here that you have to go to a specialty store to find. However, after my exhaustive search for a bluish fruit to use, I was out of time to start locating specialty cake decorating stores.
And so, that is where I had to improvise. A ziplock bag with the corner clipped off became my decorating bag. The results? A totally edible cake. With wobbly lines and misshapen stars. I really started wishing that I had left behind just one of the offset metal spatulas or heat-resistant rubber scrapers and thrown in a star tip or two. Really.
And then, maybe just to torture me - I'm not really sure, Eric requested I make another one for him to take to the office for a late American Independence Day treat for everyone. (I was out of blackberries though, so colored sugar had to suffice.)
In case you are still wondering, it's pretty much impossible to neatly decorate a cake with a ziplock bag. I love using them to drizzle a little melted chocolate over homemade truffles or chocolate dipped strawberries, but not so much for my purposes this weekend. But, I did it. I improvised. I made due with what I had in my less-than-perfectly stocked kitchen. And now I would like to forget that it ever happened. Thank you.