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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Learning a Language

I am enjoying the class I take on Tuesday and Thursday nights very much. Well, maybe not the part of the class we are discussing right now - how to write a scientific research paper. My writing of preference is personal essay; observations and opinions, no right or wrong, or referencing others thoughts and words (You should make references if you are going to publish and you actually quote someone - even if just your mother). You can be wrong, but who is to know for sure, its about how you feel, what you saw, and how blue the sky is. In this class with all the other students being teachers, I enjoy hearing everyone's comments and problems about learning language from the perspective of the teacher. I am learning, through the research I am doing, lots of information about how we learn a second language. There is a big difference, in the minds of those who know about language acquisition, between learning your mother tongue, learning a second language, and learning a foreign language. Because I am living in a foreign country, where there is need to use the language everyday, in many situations, I am actually learning a second language - I am, of course, using the word 'learning' here in a very broad sense. To be more accurate, lets say that I am trying to learn a second language.
So if you have just moved to a foreign country it is important to look into these concepts just a bit before choosing a course for language study - some schools (I wanted to say all - but have just learned about the scientific method of reporting called hedging) teach a second language with the immersion method - or as I read in one article the 'submersion' method. They "throw you in and you sink or swim." You learn quickly if you can swim, but in the time it takes the slow learners to figure out how to swim, while the teachers are standing on the side of the pool gloating that this method is the best for you, it can prove to be a very unpleasant experience.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Fall Color in Friburgo

When I arrived in Friburgo early Friday afternoon, it was warm with bright sunshine. By three fog, rain and a chill had moved in. We had a fire in the fireplace and cold feet all weekend.

It is hard to explain but even with fog and rain the air is crystal clear. The colors look different, vibrant, alive. I took some photos of what it looks like at our house in the fall. It is almost like being in the north of the USA, enjoy

Sunday, May 20, 2007

my banking in Brasil

I think that the banking system in Brasil is very sophisticated. It is hard to get a bank account. You have to have a CPF number, a proof of residence (light bill or tax bill in your name with a street address.) and proof that you have some type of income and other assets of value in Brasil. You have to prove yourself to be a person of substance, of character. I have an account at a small national bank. (= I am a person with a small amount of substance)
I am able to go to any branch of my bank, use my bank card to get into the ATM system. Pay the electric bill, the tuition at PUC, get cash, a printout of my account balance, and print checks. Can you imagine, in the USA you can not pay your bills from the ATM (at least you couldn't from my bank in HOUSTON) and to get additional checks you had to contact customer service, order them and in a week to ten days later, the checks arrive in the mail. Yesterday, I needed a check so I went to the bank, used my bank card and printed out 12 checks. I was very impressed.
A quick look at the dark side; every time I put money in or take money out of my account, I pay a tax (or CPMF as it is called), and every time I use my money whether it is cash, check or transfer, I get charged a service fee which is so high it could be considered outright robbery - but the system is convenient, it works and is very sophisticated.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

a matter of perspective

Perspective From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Perspective (visual), is the way in which objects appear to the eye Perspective (cognitive), one's "point of view", the choice of a context for opinions, beliefs and experiences Point of view (literature), the related experience of the narrator
I love to look up words in a dictionary. It helps to clarify my thinking. Above are three of the six definitions related to today's thoughts.
Yesterday, I wrote the blog about recycling, saying that the USA could learn a thing or two about recycling from Brasil. Well, I didn't really say it that point blank, but I intended for the idea to hang out there. Riorose commented from Ann Arbor that where she had lived in California, there was a serious and mandatory recycling plan in place years ago. From my perspective, I still don't think the US has any type of serious world leader type 'green earth' plan. And if you understand the USA even a little, you know that Californian thinking is light years away from Texan thinking (Its okay I wasn't born Texan, but in the Midwest which is a completely different story.) It is sort of like comparing Carioca with Paulista with Bahiana - completely different perspectives.
You will be surprised to know that Texas, the home of President Bush, does not have a plan.
Camillo says that if you hold your fist up to a point of reference on the horizon, you can say that another landmark is, for each indenture between your knuckles, a degree away from the point of reference. A full circle is 360 degrees, (360 knuckles). I think that all thoughts: all views: all opinions: all understanding of words, color, smell, taste: all conclusions drawn on carefully drawn research, everything is based on an individual perspective from anywhere in that 360 degree circle.
Everything we experience, whether with a lesson learned or not, changes our perspectives. I can not see or understand my world in quite the same way as I did four years ago, or a year ago, a month, even one day ago. To say that we don't change is to state the impossible, even if not recognized, the change, the slight shift in perspective in us, is there waiting to be found and understood. GingerV

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

recycling capital of the world

Rio must be the recycling capital of the world. Unless things have changed in the USA, there recycling is still something done half heartily. If you want to you can, but no one imposes the need to recycle on you. You can still buy big inefficient cars, leave your Christmas lights up and on all year round, and you can throw all your trash in one container to be taken to the dump. No one will look at you as scum, or fine you for blackening the 'green earth'.
In Rio it is a requirement of the city that you separate your organic trash from all other trash. The apartment buildings are given fines if this is not done properly so everyone is very careful. Plus, there is an unofficial system, and I am not sure how it works, but I know it is a system. There are men who move through the heavy traffic pushing carts piled high with boxes, paper and other things and there are others who carry used construction materials. I think there is a network starting with the 'porteiros' who phone these men to come when there are things being thrown away in their buildings and they come, from who knows where to haul away anything reusable. Where it all goes is also a mystery to me but it is not hard to imagine everything getting sold, recycled and reused. Nothing wasted. Nothing covered by dirt in a landfill.
I think it is next month that Al Gore will be here in Rio. On Copacabana beach there is to be a huge 'green earth' celebration. I can't help but wonder if he is here to learn from the Brasilians just how it should be done ..... surely he will not be here to tell them ....

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The problem of Books

I am reading a book by John Dunning, Two O'clock Eastern Wartime. I am so into this book that I am having trouble putting it down to do what I need to do. Dunning in one of my favorite authors and I have never seen a book (in English) by this author in Brasil. It is always possible that I haven't been to the right bookstore but just as likely that it isn't to be found here. Books in English are very rare and VERY, very expensive in the bookstores in Brasil. When I moved here one of the first things I had to do was to figure out where to find books to satisfy my reading addiction. I looked for new books, I looked for used books and I asked about libraries. New are expensive and limited, there were some used but the titles were so obscure and the condition of the books so bad that the prices were laughable. Those books appeared to have been in someone's wet attic for years. The pages were crumbly, sometimes stuck together and could not to be opened to be read. I checked used books stores in Ipanema, Copacabana and the Barra. Nothing. Libraries? Pardon me what/where is a Library? Finally in desperation I searched online for a dealer in the states that would ship to Brasil and I found, http://1stchoiceusedbooks.com. They have over 20,000 titles in their warehouse. They will ship to Brasil and the quality of their used books have never disappointed me. The paperback books are priced from 99 cents to $3.00. The only problem is that to afford the shipping costs, you have to request 'land' and it takes 90 to 120 days to get here. But they do get here, and if I order a dozen or so every 90 days, I am always in supply. Want to borrow a book?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

rainy day

Today is a rainy day in Rio. I woke this morning to the sound of heavy rains and darkness from foggy skies. When I look out the window, hanging way out, I can usually see the Corcovado, today I can see only low, heavy clouds and I can feel the cooler air of a fall day. The sounds from the street below are muted, splashy. Today was to be a day to get things I need to do done, but I'll spend the day indoors were I can be dry and warm. The chores can wait. The quietness of the city says that most the Carioca also feel this way.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Spirit of the Carioca

This weekend I did my favorite of all favorite things to do while in Rio, I walked around the lagoa on Saturday morning, and from Ipanema to midway down Copacabana on Sunday. There is so much to see that I never feel the distance or the heat. I see all that is the good in Rio. The spirit of the Carioca. Don't get me wrong, I still do not understand the full Spirit of the Carioca, but I can see and appreciate important parts of it. The patience with their children, the open joy at the sunshine and sea, the non-judgment of their neighbors (You have to be American to see the 'live and let live part', we Americans are so very much the conformists.), and 'their feel free to be me in a small bikini no matter what my body type' attitude.
I had to smile at myself, while I thought these things during my walk. I look so 'gringa' even after 4 years here; nice sturdy shoes for walking, coordinated walking shorts and comfortable T, bib cap and, of course, a fanny pack. Mine is not one those horrible hip enhancer fanny packs. It is a small over the shoulder camera bag, but the idea is still there. Oh, the smile - I do have a hidden spirit of the Carioca invading my body - don't tell anyone - but under all of the practical 'gringa' clothing - I was bra-less.
When I can walk around the lagoa wearing my designer tennis and a small bathing suit, I will know that I am finally found home. GingerV

Saturday, May 05, 2007

flux and flow

It is always a culture shock for me when we come down the mountain from Friburgo and into Rio. The house in Friburgo is a Swiss chalet, warm and cozy kind of place and the apartment in Rio is post modern, bare essentials place.
The house sets on a hill inside but on the outer edge of a private condominium, has a view, very little noise from cars or buses and no foot traffic. The apartment is on one of the main streets that runs along the coast (NOT the beach front, no ordinary mortals live on the beach front) from Ipanema to Leblon and beyond. From about 6 am until past midnight the buses run the street, shifting gears and jerking their way aggressively through the cars, bikes, delivery carts and pedestrians that may get in their way. As you can imagine, I do not sleep when in Rio.
Yesterday, I walked from the apartment to Leblon, then cut over to Gavea to the University. The sidewalks were as congested as the street. Children on the way to school, children on the way home, babies in buggies being strolled by their 'babas', and old men being walked by their nurses, delivery bikes and college students on bikes, and last but not least, the illegal street vendors and beggars placed strategically in the middle of the sidewalk. I didn't know whether to walk in the flux or the flow. Actually to my American eye, there is no flux or flow. Like the buses on the street, you have to dart through the foot traffic, dodging this way and that, looking always forward, always focused on the task at hand and unlike the buses have a ready apology on your lips.

Friday, May 04, 2007

School days, school days

We are back in Rio and I began my 2nd English class last night. The course is a series of classes, each 6-8 sessions of 3.5 hours each. There are a total of 12 modules. Now I will be in Written Discourse on Tuesdays and Research Methodology on Thursdays. I will enjoy the discourse class the most, maybe you will benefit from my increased knowledge of how to write in English. Last night I was called a foreigner twice. I am the only native speaker (of English) and the only student in a class of teachers. I know I am ESTRANGEIRA (I thought it meant stranger) but being called a foreigner felt ... harsh. Why would Foreigner feel worst then a stranger when all it is, is a difference in translation of the same word. According to the dictionary a foreigner is someone from another place, someone different, an alien, an outsider and a stranger is someone you don't know, a visitor, or a new arrival. Doesn't being a stranger sound friendlier to you than being a foreigner? Words and labels are powerful forces. As part of the night's exercise, we had to write about an experience in the class room, then pull hidden insight from the narrative, then turn the insight into why questions. It was a good exercise for finding possible research questions. Everyone else's narrative was about a teaching experience and mine was about a student experience, my most traumatic FIRST PORTUGUESE CLASS! The first important insight of this learning experience, EVERYONE is afraid to speak to a native speaker when learning a new language. I thought myself somehow inadequate and IT IS NORMAL. What a relief.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A New Day

After four days of rain, I woke this morning to bright blue skies, night fog rising from the valley Stucky and singing birds. Hum? It is also very quiet. No buses on the road below the house, no school children laughing as they walk to the bus, only birds singing and dogs barking, it must be another holiday in Brasil.
Camillo has been in disagreement with me over holidays in Brasil. He says we have more time off in the USA. But since he has been trying to organize some meetings in Rio, he is now seeing the error of his thinking in this. Everyone from waiters to top executives have a 30 day vacation starting after one year of employment. In the States, until you have worked for a company for five years, if your lucky, you get ten days of vacation a year. After five years, you get 3 weeks, and if you make it to 20 years you might get a month.
Brasil has mother's day, father's day, children's day, saints' days, world cup days, carnival days, Christmas days, New Year Eve Days, Easter days, .... and today is Labor day and I think May day also, so if it weren't labor day they wouldn't be working anyway. On holidays, all the schools are closed, (Oh! schools also have summer and winter breaks), shops are closed, some restaurants are closed, government offices are closed and worst of all MY GYM is closed. Also, I think that there is a day before and a day after each holiday when nothing happens because they are getting ready for or recovering from a holiday.
In the states, there are by standard 10 paid holidays a year. AND the stores and restaurants are never closed because holidays are the best shopping days for all those women at home for the day with nothing to do because their husbands are watching football games all day. Hum! maybe there is room for improvement there.
I wonder if any government body here has ever related the holiday issues with low national productivity numbers and sluggish economic growth? Speaking of productivity I'd better get to work.