Thursday, November 4, 2010


I had a fantastic 6 weeks in Brazil after I finished my internship, and got back home about a month and a half ago.  I spent 3 weeks at mom and dad's, simultaneously packing and unpacking, before finally moving into my own place with Jordan.

We still have a number of boxes left to unpack, mostly textbooks and Warhammer 40K minis we don't know where to store, but our mothers teamed up to make our apartment nice and homey.  We have a fantastic futon and I got spice jars and just planted my herb garden.

School has been keeping me busy, but I've found time to start attending drop-in lifedrawing classes (occasionally accompanied by Miguel), and I made myself an AWESOME VIKING COSTUME for Halloween.  Of course, I spent Halloween cooped up in the civ lab working on a construction project,  but I looked really awesome while I did it.

I've been doing all the cooking because until today, I was under the mistaken impression that Jordan didn't know how to cook.  He's spent 3 and a half years making clueless faces whenever he's in the kitchen.  Turns out the moment I was gone for just a few hours, he revealed super-secret gourmet chef abilities.  I'm drooling over the memory of the delicious scalloped potato and green pepper dish he made.  It was perfectly spiced, with lots of rosemary and pequin peppers and cumin ** Drool**

Life is generally pretty good, although earlier this evening I got a terrible wave of homesickness...I'm just no longer sure what I'm homesick *for*

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Trip to Curitiba, Part 2: Historic Architecture

While my cousins went to work, I took advantage of my day off to explore historic downtown Curitiba.  There are some really beautiful buildings there

Trip to Curitiba, Part 1: Childcare solutions

Wow, the last month of my internship just flew by!  Between several projects that kept me busy at work, lots of fun things to do outside of work, a few weekend trips and a bad case of food poisoning that kept me away from work for a couple days, I've completely neglected this blog.  I`ll publish a bunch of posts all at once to make up for it :)

The first weekend in July was a long weekend in São Paulo, so I travelled to Curitiba, in Paraná state, to visit my cousins Larissa and Nicole (no, not IGB Larissa and Nicole :P).

The buses and traffic leaving São Paulo on the long weekend were craaazy, and by the time I made it to the bus station the next several buses were sold out, so I had several hours to waste while waiting for my bus, so I went to get myself food at the nearby shopping center (or as Brazilians call them, just shopping ).

Here I got to witness how Brazilians care for their children on a trip to the mall:

 Yes, those are giant inflatable plastic hamster balls containing children.  Yes, they are floating in a wading pool.  I was torn between crying child abuse, and begging to be let into one of these bubbles myself.  It actually looked fun, in a kinda creepy way.  I wish I had a picture from closer-up, but I didn´t want to get dragged away by the angry looking security guards for taking pictures of children who didn't belong to me :P

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Copa do Mundo

The World Cup is a big deal here.  Whenever Brazil plays a game, the whole country takes time off from life to watch.  Everyone dresses up in soccer jerseys, silly hats, flags and other costumes.  Here are some pics I took before the Brazil-Ivory Coast game last week, at my aunt's condo :)

The bar downstairs got converted into a viewing room.  My aunt and I went for a walk to show off our costumes to the other residents :)

I felt like such a superhero with my flag cape and studded bracelets :)

Sustainable Building: A Family Business

I came to Brazil prepared to learn a lot about sustainable building at work during my internship.  What I did not come prepared for was the amazing amout of interest, support and involvement in the field that my family here has shown.  In my earlier visits to Brazil, I'd never realized just how many of my aunts and uncles work in some part of the building industry.  I certainly had no way of knowing that nearly all of my cousins would end up studying in a building related field.  We have everything from architects, to engineers, to construction managers, to building inspectors, to building operation managers to interior designers in the family, and they're all interested in sustainable building. They're always asking about the work I do, for advice on making their buildings more sustainable, and telling me about all the cool projects they've been involved in, or about the issues they face in the Brazilian building industry.  It's fantastic that this is something I can share with them!

This past weekend, I went to visit some cousins in Sertãozinho, a small town in the interior of São Paulo state.  My uncle and cousin there have teamed up to start a small family side-business building low-income houses.  The central bank, where my uncle works, loans up to R$ 80 000 (just under CAD$ 50 000), on a low-interest, 20-year plan to allow low-income families to buy their own houses.  My uncle and cousin have gotten the process streamlined.  First, my uncle helps the family choose a lot.  My cousin, who is finishing up her architecture degree, works with the families to design their homes. Since she is not yet a certified arquitect, she gets her plans approved by a local architecture office where she is doing an internship.  Then she sends the plans to my uncle, who files for funding from the central bank.  My uncle also works part-time with a general contractor, overseeing the projects.  They try to keep construction costs as low as possible by reusing materials from other projects, or buying end-of-line products from manufacturers. The whole process takes between 4 and 6 months, and the average house, including the lot it sits on and interior finishes and appliances, ends up costing around R$ 100 000 (or about 60 000$ Canadian). 

After spending an evening looking over my cousin's shoulder while she worked on some plans, I accompanied my uncle to check out the progress on some of the projects currently underway.  The first house we stopped at was nearly done, only missing painting on the inside.  Unfortunately, since it was so close to done, the contractors locked it up so that the stuff inside wouldn't get stolen, so I couldn't get any pictures of the inside finishes.  Here it is from the front:

These houses don't have many windows, for safety and cost reasons.  Unfortunately, the lack of operable windows means there's very little climate control inside.  These houses are doubtless broiling hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter (they don't have any heating or air conditioning). 

Next, we stopped at a house that was about halfway built.  The structural walls were all up, and the roof was partway finished.  There were still no floors, paint, fixtures or appliances in the house.  Here's what it looked like from the outside.  As you can see, it's made of structural brick, the most common building material in Brazil

And here is a view from inside of what will be the kitchen.  This whole house had maaybe about 25-30 square meters of floor space, and was going to house a family of 6.  One funny thing about the design (which my cousin was furious about) was that the family insisted on having a walk-in closet in one of the rooms.  However, because the house was so small, the walk-in closet occupied nearly half of the larger bedroom.  It's funny what features people cling to when designing a house.

While visiting these houses, my uncle mentioned that a lot of the lower-income houses being built in Brazil today do not have solar hot water, which has been popular in Brazil for the past several decades, because the solar hot water systems, which cost maybe about R$ 1500 (800$ CAD) are too much of an initial investment. It's sad that such a widely available, easy-to-install, cost-saving technology is not available to those who need it the most. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Green Guilt

Sometimes, I feel like a hypocrite.  I care about the planet, and about the impact of my actions, I really do.  I think it's important that we start designing better, greener buildings, and retrofitting our existing building stock to improve efficiency.  It's why I went into civil engineering, why I volunteer with the green party, why I lead sustainability initiatives at school, and (part of) why I applied for this internship.

I'm happy that I'm here.  In the less than 2 months I've been here, I've learned more about green building certification processes and standards than I did in my first 3 years of school.  I've learned about some fantastic technologies and applications of green building principles, and I've spoken to some amazing, motivated people (including some people in my own family, who I had no idea were interested in green building).

In 3 years of operation, GBC Brasil has made some unbelievable progress in the country.  Seminars and MBA Programs in green building are offered all over the country.  The Olympics Committee and FIFA have agreed to extensive sustainability measures in their new structures.  The municipal government in Rio de Janeiro has imposed sustainability guidelines on all new public developments, which are based on the LEED system.  Our 1 Degree Less campaign for cool roofs has inspired a draft law in São Paulo.  There are now 16 certified buildings in Brazil.  That's a lot to be proud of.

But then I think about my own impact.  I flew 10 000 km away for this opportunity.  That's an awful lot of emissions.  Is the work I'm doing here actually going to offset that, or is this just a feel-good measure? I'm pushing papers, translating documents and attending meetings with energy companies who want to green their image.   For the past two weeks, I've been working on preparing for an international conference for which we will be bringing people in from the US, Canada and Europe.  Are these speakers going to bring something to the brazilian market that we couldn't find internally?  Couldn't we have them speak via videoconference? Are they going to learn something that they could not have learned in their own countries?  I've also helped map itineraries and book green building tours for my coworker's trips to Chicago, New York and Washington.  As interesting and revolutionary as a trip to Sidwell Friends School may be, is it worth the 10 000 km trip for 4-6 people?  Is seeing it really going to improve green building in Brazil enough to offset the trip?

And then there's the nature of the buildings we're certifying.  Almost all are new buildings.  Shiny, new developments adding more demand onto an already tapped-out system. Very few are retrofits.  Here in Brazil we're excitedly working on new green stadiums and hotels, so that people from all over the world can jet over to watch sports.  But not to worry, the hotel has low-flush toilets and bamboo floors!

I hate to be a cynic.  I really do believe that most people in this movement are well-intentioned.  However, I sometimes feel like we all just need a healthy dose of perspective.  Jetting around the world promoting green principles sure feels good, but we need to really start acting differently. 

Brazilian TV

Brazilian TV comes in three flavours:  telenovela, futebol (soccer) and really freaking weird

The first thing you learn about Brazil is that the whole country stops for novelas and futebol. 

If you are at a party, expect your hostess (and most of the other women and some of the men)  to suddenly vanish at 8 pm.  You'll find them gathered around the TV, watching the latest novela. Novelas are like soap operas except shorter, each novela lasts about 3 months.  They tend to feature lots of cheating wives and husbands and other family drama, with some background story and fluff.  The current novela is about an inheritance scam in Italy, so everyone speaks in Por-Talian.

There is also always some sort of soccer going on.  Brazil has several soccer clubs (Corinthians, Santos, Palmeiras, Fluminense, etc) that compete for various local and continental cups when the national team is not competing.  Brazilians are very dedicated to their teams, and bar brawls post-game are not uncommon.  However, the whole country gets together to chear for the national team:  when the Brazilian team plays, everyone gets the day off from work to watch. 

When there's no soccer or novelas to watch, Brazilian TV gets really weird.  For example, the main TV station, Globo, held a Pre-Soccer Special to pump things up on Sunday.  Two teams of 3 people each were made up from the show cast, to play a special game.  Here's how this game worked.  One person from the first team got suspended in a harness from the studio ceiling, and both their feet were shoved into a giant, metre-long soccer shoe.  They were then swung across the studio by their team-mates, to kick a giant balloon into a net on the other side of the studio.  The net was guarded by one of the players from the other team....who was dressed as a pineapple.  The pineapple was also suspended from the studio ceiling, and was swung side-to-side by his teammates.  The pineapple was spiky, so that if the ball hit him, it would explode.  This game was refereed by a very peppy tranvestive in hoop skirts, while a dozen women in sexy underwear danced in the background and blew kisses. The program described above is in no way unusual for Brazilian TV. 

I never fail to be astounded at what people will come up with for amusement

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Cultural Differences

I've been in Brazil for just over a month and a half now.  I've been having a great time.  Work is great, the food is better,  it's great to see my extended family and meet new people.  My portuguese has improved a lot; for the first time in 18+ years, my default language is Portuguese, not English or French.  I've figured out the transit systems in São Paulo, and learned how cross streets with only minimal fear for my life.  I sometimes feel a little lonely, but everyone has been so welcoming that my loneliness is always short-lived.  I watched the first World Cup game at a coworkers house, with his parents, sisters, fiancée, son-in-law, dog and tiny kittycat.  The parties here are amazing, and my love for outlandish costumes and enthusiastic dancing is encouraged !  Even in the dead of the Brazilian winter, we have occasional 25 degree days, and the tropical foliage is absolutely beautiful. 

Quite frequently, I get asked by family or coworkers whether I'd consider moving here permanently.  Unfortunately for my dreams of eating fresh tropical fruit for breakfast every morning, the answer is always no.  The longer I stay here, the more I notice aspects of the culture that bug me.  I'm a little hesitant to post this here, since anyone can read this blog, but I need to get this off my chest.  Brazilian society is extremely racist, sexist, classist and homophobic.  In fact, the longer I stay here the more I realize that brazilians have no real respect for people in general, only status.  The whole toxic mix is liberally sprinkled with a healthy dose of catholic guilt.

The first thing I noticed when I got here was the sexism, and it's what's been bugging me the most, probably because it's the aspect which affects me the most.  It started out innocently enough;  men rushing around to open car doors for me, or standing at elevator doors with their arms stuck out to let me through.  At first I was bewildered. It all looked so silly. I actually had a coworker nearly crush my foot rushing to open a car door for me before I got to it.  Then I found it amusing.  Next, I started paying attention to the comments from people. I've received criticism on everything from my short hair to my unpierced ears and lack of makeup to my "boyish" tshirts.  Worse, I've had several people suggest that I should change my appearance so that my boyfriend will like me more.  Now, one thing I know for certain is that if I dyed my hair blonde (brazilians are convinced I'd look great as a blonde), wore heavy makeup, cleavagy tops, spike heels, dangly earrings, and got my nails transformed into bright pink talons, Jordan would be anything but impressed.  In fact, I figure he'd probably shake me up and demand to know where I hid his laid-back, tomboyish girlfriend, and demand that I return her immediately.

But if it were all limited to telling me how to alter my wardrobe and grooming habits, I wouldn't be bothered. People tell me how I should be less of a tomboy all the time, even in Canada (albeit to a much lesser degree).  However, the huge wealth disparity and objectifying culture has other side effects.  You might all have heard about Brazil being the plastic surgery capital of the world. That's not a joke.  Dinner parties regularly feature all the women sitting around a table poking at themselves and stretching their skin to demonstrate where their next surgery is going to be.  Boob jobs, nose jobs, eye lifts, ear tucks, lipo, collagen injections, face lifts.  You'd be hard pressed to find anyone in most gatherings who *hasn't* gotten any operations. Worse, this spills into younger age groups.  I have cousins as young as 11 who have gotten plastic surgery.  The adults don't see anything wrong with this, in fact, they think she should have gotten operated earlier. 

But for all this encouragement to modify their bodies, women in Brazil are given no real control over their bodies.  Abortion is illegal here. Thousands die in back-alley abortions.  Nonetheless, the average age of first birth is 21(contrast to about 27 in Canada).  Single-motherhood and divorce are also seen as shameful, leaving many women in very unpleasant situations.  Most Brazilians recognize that this is a problem, but the catholic guilt is so ingrained that 85% of the population still believes that abortion should remain illegal.  65% believe that it should remain a criminal offence, punishable by jail time for both the abortionist and the mother.

The classism also really gets to me.  Living in upperclass Brazil feels to me like living in a gilded cage.  My family's apartments and houses are all beautiful, as are my coworkers.  Hammocs are strung between palm trees, and there's always fresh tropical juices to sip, and beautiful pools and gardens.  Gardens are perfectly maintained, houses are always spotless, and delicious food appears like magic out of the kitchen, all made possible by cheap labour.  However, venturing out of this comfortable bubble is strongly discouraged.  The reason claimed is because of the danger of getting robbed or catching a stray bullet, but that risk is often overstated because rich brazilians don't like associating with the lower classes.  The first time I rode the interregional train, my supervisor at work nearly went catatonic, but couldn't express what the risk actually was.  I checked with my aunt, and she explained that it's mostly just prejudice, as the trains and stations are well-lit, guarded and full of people, but that because a lot of poor people ride the train it's not seen as a pleasant ride.  Reassured, I've started riding public transit more comfortably and venturing out into São Paulo on my own during the daytime.  Nonetheless, most of my time is spent carefully sheltered behind guards, 10 foot walls and locked doors. I miss skipping through Toronto streets at any hour of the day or night.  I miss not having to think about which are the dangerous areas, and at what time it stops being safe to ride the subway.

Then, there's the racism and homophobia.  A common greeting to a black person (or even a darker-skinned white or latino person) is "Oi, nego/nega", which translates to "Hey, nigger".  If you ask a Brazilian, they'll tell you it doesn't imply any hatred of black people,  but the fact remains that there's no equivalent for white people.  It's also quite common to refer to asian people as japinhas (Japs) and black people as pretinhos (blackies).  Again, race never gets mentioned for white people, despite white people being the minority in this country.  I can't really comment on how black people get treated apart from the othering comments, since I haven't experienced it, but I can't imagine that with so much casual racism, that there isn't a lot of more sinister comments, too.

Similarly,  homophobia is ridiculously rampant.  Canadians make gay jokes, but it doesn't even approach the level of the gay jokes, and offhand gay comments here.  And then there's the quite frankly bizarre questions I get? I've had several people very bluntly ask me, out of the blue "So, are there a lot of gay people in Canada, too?".  I'm always sort of stunned, and stammer something about "Erm, yeah, there's gay people everywhere in the world. Err, why?", which always gets answered with "It's not the same everywhere, there's gotta be more in Brazil.  We've got too many of *them* here", usually followed with a joke about the gayest state being Rio Grande do Sul (damned if I know why that one specifically is the gayest state, but everyone seems to be in agreement about it).  Most people leave it at that, but I've also heard a few too many people go on about how gay people are gross and make them want to puke. 

It's disturbing to me how accepted this all is here.  I miss the openness of Canadian culture.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Long weekend in Uberlândia

All dressed up in our Sunday best for my cousin's birthday :)

This past weekend was a long weekend here in Brazil because of Corpus Christi.  I'm not religious, but I took advantage of the 4-day-weekend to go visit my cousins in Uberlândia, in the interior of the country (about 600 km NW of São Paulo).

We left on Wednesday afternoon (I left work a little early to meet my aunt in São Paulo) and arrived late Wednesday night at my aunt's mother's house (she's my aunt by marriage, so I'd never met this branch of the family before, but they welcomed me right away).  By the time everyone arrived, there were about 40 of us, and I still can't remember everybody's name.

I spent about a third of my time with this new branch of the family, who hosted a *fantastic*  party for my cousin's birthday.  The party was "festa Junina" themed.  A festa junina (literally "June Party")  is a traditional brazilian party thrown to honour one of three saints who have saint days in June.  For a festa junina,  brazilians get all dressed up as hillbillies (plaid shirts, fluffy scrap dresses, blackened teeth, painted on freckles and straw hats),  eat traditional cakes, sweets, roasted corn and popcorn, dance to brazilian country and folk music, and set off fireworks.  My aunt's family sure knows how to party!

More pictures:

Showing off my dress. Beside me is Aunt Adila, my aunt's cousin, who went all out with her costume :)

Dancing waaayyy into the night.

I also made sure to spend lots of time with my cousins (the ones I knew before who are actually related to me :) ).  I was particularly excited to see my cousin Laize again.  Laize and I have known each other since we were babies, and we've always been close.  We're both studying civil engineering, and she's the one I called in a mad panic when I first got called in for the internship interview, so she could help me learn construction industry terms in Portuguese.

I was curious to see what civil engineering school was like in Brazil, so I asked Laize to take me to one of her classes.  She had only one class on Friday, Structural Analysis II.  We got to class a little bit early, and she introduced me to her professor as her Canadian cousin who's studying civil engineering over there. 

About halfway through the class (we were working on sample problems), the professor approached me, and asked which city and university I was at.  It turned out that she'd done some post-doctoral work at U of T, and knew several of my professors!  Her thesis supervisors had been Prof. Collins and Prof. Vecchio.  What a coincidence!  I went to only one class, and it turned out that the prof had not only been to Canada but worked with my profs!

Unfortunately, most of the labs were closed for the holiday weekend, so we didn't get to see too much of the university or meet any more of the staff.   Hopefully, I'll get to do that later on.  Laize is also hoping that she can get me to come speak at one of her classes about green building, which would be really cool.  It seems like the focus of civil engineering in Brazil (or at least at the University of Uberlândia) is more focused on the structural and geotechnical elements, and less on the municipal, transport and sustainability aspects.   Introducing a larger focus on environment and sustainability in the technical fields might be an important next step in greening the brazilian construction industry!

Before a night on the town with my cousins
Left to right: Me, Letícia, Laize and Diana

Friday, May 28, 2010

Technologically Challenged

My power adaptor just died.  I have a very old, very well-loved first-gen macbook (which is now a Linux Hackbook).  It would be relatively easy to replace the power adaptor here in Brazil, however, I would pay a 500% markup, which would make the power adaptor more expensive than the current resale value of the computer.

So if anybody in Canada wants to do me a huuuuge favour (looking at you Parents/Jordan.  PS I Love You),  I would really appreciate if somebody could step into an electronics store (Bestbuy, Carbon Computers, the Mac Store, and almost everywhere else stock them) and buy a 60 W MagSafe Power Supply, and send it to my office.  The new versions are backwards compatible, and should set you back ~$80.  The old versions are available cheap cheap on eBay but won't ship to Brazil.

Not having a computer sucks.

Edit:  Thankyou thankyou thankyou, my love.  So my boyfriend is awesome, and getting me a new power adaptor and sending it in a care package to Brazil. <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Assorted Remarks

So I´ve been in Brazil for 3 and a half weeks now (time flies) and I've noticed a number of random, interesting things about the country, people. culture, work, etc.  Each of them individually did not merit it´s own blog post, but by now I've collected enough of them to make a monster of a post. 

On Online Translators
Working at GBC Brazil essentially means working in 3 languages at once.  I'm in charge of a lot of the translations, but to make my work easier, I usually run stuff through Google translate first, and then just fix it up.  Last week, I translated an interview with our engineer, Marcos Casado.  His name got translated by Google as Mark Married.  Accurate, I guess, but not what I was going for.  Be very very careful when using online translators, they do wonky things.

On Tropical Fruits (1)
There's a real advantage to eating local foods.  Tropical fruits cost pennies here in Brazil.  The other day, I got a delicious, tasty papaya the size of my head for R$ 1.26 (Approximate 70 cents in Canadian currency). Mangoes, pineapples, passion fruit, guava, oranges, limes, bananas, avocadoes, coconuts, persimmons and jackfruit are all dirt cheap.  Yet my relatives are always trying to feed me these clever newfangled things called apples, which they think are really amazing.  Buying apples here is like trying to buy tropical fruits in Canada:  they're ferociously expensive, and as far as apples go, they're really not that great.  And yet the relatives insist...

On Tropical Fruits (2) or How Some Flavours Are Much Better Fresh
A popular juice mix here is Pineapple and Mint.  It is delicious, and I highly recommend it. However, some flavours really do not translate well into soft drink form - I bought some pineapple-mint soft drink, and it tastes like sweetened, carbonated dish soap. 

On the Economy of Cooking
If I was determined to, I could probably feed myself on about 50 cents per day here.  I'm spending a couple orders of magnitude more than that because I have a nasty habit of going out for lunch with my coworkers, and because I buy a number of packaged/prepared food to simplify my cooking in the evenings. As part of my effort to eat more local foods, though, I figured I would make rice and beans (the brazilian staples), but that I would use canned beans to save myself time.  I was surprised to find out that canned beans are not available in Brazil.  Canned milk and canned corn and canned strawberries and canned tomato sauce are available, but canned beans are not.  It's an interesting reality of being in a country with very low labour costs, that any family who can afford the incremental cost of canned beans over dried ones can most likely also afford a maid or to eat out, and will get much better food that way.

On Tetrapak Milk
It's just wrong.  Milk is not supposed to have an infinite shelf life, it shouldn't be on a shelf at all.  Also, tetrapak milk taste weird.  That is all.

On Unrefrigerated Eggs
Are yummier, easier to fry, and look much nicer.  I'll have to take pictures and post them later. 

On Laundry Services
The disadvantage of living in an apartment hotel in a ritzy part of town in Brazil (apart from the exhorbitant rent) is that there's no option for "do your own laundry", unless you're willing to wash everything by hand and dry it by hanging it out your window. I'm paying waytoomuch to have somebody else toss my jeans into a washing machine. 

On Recycling
 Most houses and buildings here do not have recycling collection.  The GBC Brasil office does, but my apartment does not.  It feels really weird to throw recyclables in the garbage, to the point that I've been stockpiling and will be bringing in a bunch of recyclables to the office to recycle them here.

On Productive Government
While recycling is still rare in Brazil, the governmnent here has managed to get a number of impressive pieces of legislation through.  I'm always surprised when I visit how much things have changed in Brazil since my last visit.  The city of São Paulo, for example, no longer has any billboards on buildings.  None at all. Wouldn't that be really cool in Toronto?  What's even cooler is that there is currently a piece of legislation on the table in São Paulo state which would make it mandatory for all new buildings to have a cool roof (white, reflective or green roof).  This legislation is inspired by GBC Brasil´s One Degree Less campaign, which I may or may not be writing my paper on.

On Traffic
I risk my life crossing the street to work every day.  Drivers here are crazy.  They accelerate when they see a pedestrian they could hit.  Pedestrian crosswalks are mostly decorative, as many drivers ignore them.  On my third day here, a motorcyclist got hit by a car, and everyone's biggest concern was how this would delay their ride home.  Drunk driving is accepted as a fact of life.  I went out for dinner with friends a few weeks ago, and several people drove out completely plastered drunk, even though many of us were sober.  I tried to stop them, but got laughed off by the (sober) Brazilians who assured me that the guy who couldn't stand up straight would sober right up once he got behind a wheel. 

On Neighbourhood Developments
The neighbourhood I live and work in is the first in a new trend in Brazil of planned neighbourhoods.  The idea sort of resembles the concept of an urban pod, where commercial, residential and industrial buildings are all built together in a high-density urban pod, which is then connected by public transit to other similar pods, allowing people to do most of their work and shopping in a small area, but still have the benefit of living in a larger, vibrant city.  I was a little skeptical of how this would work out in a São Paulo suburb, and there are defitinely still some kinks to iron out, I've been impressed with this neighbourhood.  The commercial district (centro commercial) is adorable, paved with cobblestones and most of it is pedestrian only. The whole neighbourhood is full of parks and trees, and quite nice to walk around in.  Unfortunately, most people who work here don't live here, and the transit system is subpar, so traffic is still a problem, but I'm hopeful that with more of these developments, we could really reduce congestion and sprawl.

On Bra Sizing
My aunt took me pyjama shopping with her.  On this trip I found out that in Brazil, all undergarments are sold by hip size.  Bras don't even feature a cup size, it's all trial and error.  Does anyone else find this ridiculously bizarre?

On Being Vegetarian
Although Brazilians don't really understand the concept of somebody choosing to be vegetarian, I've found being vegetarian here to be extremely easy, especially when living on my own.  Fruits, veggies, rice, beans, cornmeal, fried eggs, bread, etc.  I've been eating *very* well.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

First trip to the beach

After an exciting night on the town,  my aunt and uncle and I drove me out to their beach house on Sunday morning.  The drive to the coast is among the most scenic trips I've ever been on, going right through the pristine Serra do Mar natural reserve.

Here's another one for you civil engineers:

The trip over was so beautiful I was afraid I'd be dissapointed once I got to my aunt and uncle's beach house.  Fortunately, the house was also adorable, and my love of water and green coconuts soon made me fall in love with the beach.  Here's one of my aunt sipping from a nice cold green coconut!

Now if only I could figure out how to rotate that picture.  This interface is painful.

Next weekend we're going back to the beach.  Stay tuned for pictures of me in my new brazilian bikini.

Nuit Blanche, São Paulo style

Those of you from Toronto might be familiar with a yearly all-night arts and culture festival called Nuit Blanche that happens in our city every fall.  Well, São Paulo has  a similar event, called Virada Cultural, which happened this past Saturday and Sunday.  São Paulo being a much larger city, their event is also much larger, featuring 198 stages with hourly shows, plus thousands of booths, street performers, parades, tattoo stands, and other attractions.  My aunt and uncle very generously offered to take me around to see some of the highlights.

Since all of the roads in the downtown core were closed off for the festivities, we had to travel downtown by subway.  First stop, Santa Cruz station. Check out the beautiful mural on the way in:

First up, we watched some samba groups perform in Praca da Republica, one of the main squares in the city.  Next, we hopped back onto the subway and walked through a rave happening in a downtown park, on our way to check out some other attractions.  As we were walking, we got sidetracked by a parade of cyclists:

My aunt, uncle and I each chose a couple areas we wanted to check out.  My top  choice?  The "Nerd Dimension".  I'm definitely happy I chose it. Turns out that brazilian nerds are just like canadian ones, except they are a little bit more outgoing, and speak portuguese.  Check out the brazilian LARPers (I signed up for their mailing list, ooooh yeah, LARPing in Brazil):

I've also got a special treat for all my DnDer friends.  That's right, I found rulebooks in portuguese (as well as looking in on a bunch of brazilians playing a game in one of the booths). Who's up for a campaign in portuguese?

Next, we walked back to city hall to catch some more shows and events.  We soon found out that the Virada Cultural organizers have a thing for putting their shows on the walls of historical buildings.  Light shows, flag waving, acrobatics, tents, all went up on walls of historical government buildings.  Weirdest of all?  Soccer on the wall of City Hall:

 A very exciting evening, overall.  Can't wait for the next all-night arts festival, Nuit Blanche 2010 in Toronto !

Friday, May 14, 2010

Lee Hamu and the Case of the Invisible Alarm Clock

I'm taking advantage of a lull in my workflow to post about a mystery I just solved.

Every morning at my apartment, I've woken up in a panic at exactly 6:45.  At first I thought it might be habit; after all, 7 am is my little brother's wakeup call at home, and he always wakes me up with his stomping around and yelling.  But that didn't make sense, because the nights I've stayed over at my aunt's or my cousin's place, I haven't woken up.  Next, I thought it might be nerves, but I'm calmer now than I've been in over a year, so that theory was out.  Not to mention, 6:45 local time is 5:45 Toronto time, and there's no precedent whatsoever for that.

Well, today I solved the mystery.  I woke up panicked at 6:45, as usual, but today I spent a few minutes investigating what could have woken me up.  Suddenly, it dawned on me!  The sound of rushing water in the pipes!  It turns out that a bunch of the people in the apartments around and above me wake up early, and take their showers at 6:45.  The sound is not terribly unusual, or disruptive when I'm awake, so I'd never thought of it.  But it is surprisingly loud!

How's that for some civil engineering investigation?

Stay tuned for this weekend's public transit adventure :)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Update from GBC Brasil

I've just realized that in all of my posts about airplanes, weddings and feather boas, I haven't once mentioned the real reason why I am here.  Silly me.  I started work at the Green Building Council Brasil 2 weeks ago, and have been loving every moment. 

The first task I was assigned when I got here was to keep the media section of our website up to date.  Each day we receive a collection of media clippings which mention GBC Brasil, LEED certified buildings in Brazil, and our One Degree Less campaign (to encourage businesses and individuals to paint their roofs white).  My job is to read through them, edit out any endorsements of specific companies or criticism of the GBC, and post them to the GBC Brasil website.  You can see them (in portuguese) here!

Since I have been here, I have researched and summarized a set of recent American Green Building related laws, to help us develop some proposals and recommendations for local governments. Next, I translated our latest industry presentation package from Portuguese to English (since many of our presentations are in English ).  Finally, this morning I automated our mailing list conversion system, and sent out a newsletter to our most recent subscribers.

So far, most of my work has been pretty simple (still very interesting, though), but I'm hoping that over time I will be able to get more involved in the technical and business aspects of the organization.  Late last week, I attended my first industry meeting with my supervisor.  I've been going out for lunch with the engineers here, and I've had a number of very enlightening conversations about the LEED standard in Brazil, as well as some of the more exciting projects happening here. I'm finally getting confident enough to answer the phone and answer simple administrative or technical questions.  It's incredible how much I've learned and done in the past couple weeks,  it feels like it's been over a month, because I've been so busy all of the time!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My Big Fat Brazilian Wedding

This past weekend, I travelled south about 600 km to Londrina, in the state of Paraná, to attend my cousin's wedding.  Actually, Ana Carolina is not actually my cousin but my cousins' cousin, but in small-town Brazil, everybody's family.

It was great to see all the cousins I knew already, and meet a few new ones I'd never met.  It was an interesting experience, because my cousins, who had always seemed much older than me on previous visits, because I was still a kid, now barely seem older at all. We all got along really well.  I even found a travel partner to go to the Amazon with me later this summer;  my cousin's girlfriend, Mariana.  

Weddings in Brazil are lots of fun.  The ceremony is pretty similar to the Canadian weddings we're all familiar with, but after the ceremony and late dinner reception, Brazilian weddings turn into a giant party that lasts all night.  Young and old alike dance the night away. In order to encourage the guests to really go wild, the servers hand out party favours such as masks, fancy hats, feather boas, tiaras, maracas and colourful flip-flops.

Sorry guys, you don't get an actual photo of the actual wedding just yet. Instead, here's a picture of me in my room here in Alphaville, showing off all the swag I collected at the wedding.  See, I forgot to put batteries in my camera before heading out, so I'm going to have to wait until my uncle and cousins send me their pics, or the professional pics get published.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Day 1: The long and gruelling journey

Yesterday evening at 8:00 PM local time,  I left my house in Toronto.  I was feeling pretty good about myself;  I'd left barely anything to the last minute, and had spent the day cuddling with my boyfriend and taking my little brother out for lunch.  I was certain everything would go smoothly.

We got to the airport at 8:40, nearly 3 hours before my flight was scheduled to leave.  Immediately, the problems started.  The flight was delayed.  I hadn't brought my printed itinerary.  My single suitcase was just slightly above the weight limit.  I dealt with the first few problems relatively calmly.  Removing weight was easy,  I'd brought 7 lbs worth of Dungeons and Dragons rulebooks I wasn't sure I'd use, so I gave those back to my boyfriend to take back home.  The delay would just mean more time to say goodbye. 

I wasn't too worried about the lack of itinerary, so I walked up to the counter with my Brazilian passport.  At first, the guy couldn't find my name.  Then, he found my name, but it did not have a reserved itinerary, so he couldn't issue me a boarding pass.  He told us to call Expedia, and get them to fix my reservation.  As I started panicking, my mom called home to my dad, who contacted Expedia.  Or rather, he contacted their hold line, where he got to listen to bad music and advertisements for 45 minutes before getting a busy signal and getting disconnected.  He tried again.  The agents at the check-in counter started leaving. 

Another hour went by.  My mom decided to try to buy me another ticket directly through Air Canada (figuring she'd take it up with Expedia later).  Dad finally got through to Expedia, who denied all responsibility.  He convinced them to contact Air Canada, and was put back on hold.  The check-in counter was only going to be open another 30 minutes, despite the airplane being delayed.  Finally, somebody fixed the problem (we're still unclear who). 

I got a boarding pass and rushed through check-in, screening, and across the terminal to my gate.  Panting,  I arrived at the boarding counter to find that the plane had been again delayed, and was not yet at the gate.  I went to take a seat, and found one of my classmates, Fernando,  already seated.  Turns out he was on the same flight, travelling to São Paulo to visit family for a couple weeks.  I chatted with him and his mother for an hour as the airplane arrived.

We boarded, and I was excited to find individual touch-screens for all passengers.  My excitement was quickly followed by dread, as I felt my legs start to ache from the uncomfortable seats.  They didn't even noticeably lie back, and I'd forgotten to bring along sleeping pills.  I yearned for the relative luxury of my bi-weekly Greyhound bus rides.  The flight attendants brought around dinner.  Because of the screwup with my ticket, I did not receive the veggie meal I had requested.  I picked around the meaty sauce on my pasta,  finally giving up, still hungry.  I tried to sleep, and got about 2 hours of very interrupted, very uncomfortable sleep.

We touched down in São Paulo at 11:05 this morning, only 25 minutes behind schedule.  I rushed through customs and baggage claims.  I was so relieved to find my aunt waiting for me, smiling.  We paid her parking, and I acquired cash.  I was happy to discover that my debit card works equally well in Brazil as in Canada, although it is slightly more expensive to use. 

We walked out to the parking lot to find that my aunt had misplaced her car.  She ran around the lot, confused and panicked, before realizing that she'd parked in another lot slightly further away.  We drove back to her condo in Moema (an hour drive from the airport), and chatted about Brazil's changing society and laws as she fielded calls on her two cellphones.  I was terrified as she at one point answered both at once, and navigated Brazilian traffic at the same time.  Later, she mentioned that Brazil was tightening road safety laws, and I hesitantly mentioned that Canada had recently banned handheld cellphones in cars.  Turns out they're illegal in Brazil, too, which was slightly reassuring, although clearly, this law isn't universally followed :P

I had lunch with the family, as they detailed their plans for the weekend.  Tomorrow, we are heading out to Sertãozinho, 2 hours away, to visit some other cousins, and staying overnight.  My aunt is arranging my accomodations in Alphaville, and dropping me off there on Sunday.  Monday morning I start work.

So far, life in Brazil is fun, if extremely busy.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Plane tickets!

I bought about $2000 worth of plane tickets last night.  It was a huge hassle and I ended up having to call Expedia twice, since I was trying to book flights for both my boyfriend and I, but we're leaving on separate flights, 4 months apart, and returning together.  We also had the added challenge of both wanting veggie meals.  

Expedia had a great price on weekday direct flights to São Paulo, but they were a real hassle to work with, as they refused to help me book my return tickets together, so we don't have a guarantee that we will be seated together.

My flight leaves from Pearson Airport at 11:30 PM on April 29th, and arrives in  São Paulo Guarulhos the next day at 10:40 am. 

My lovely boyfriend will be flying out to join me in São Paulo on August 27th, after he finishes his work term. 

We´ll be flying back together on September 11th, with a stopover in Chicago. 

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hello, World.

I should be working on a design project for my Municipal Engineering class right now, but I'm getting distracted looking up airfares to Brazil, and setting up this blog for my trip.  Naughty, naughty little engineer.

I'm going to start this off by figuring out how to post pictures:

This is a picture of me on my last trip to Brazil, with my cousin Larissa (left) and my sister Birdie (right) at an Engenheiros do Hawaii concert.

I can't wait for my trip.  I'm so excited for this internship, and for the chance to see my family again!