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.