Saturday, July 30, 2011

New shoes and other thrilling adventures

Today it was still cold, wet, and so thickly overcast that it felt dark all day.  The rain actually let up long enough for me to walk downtown and shop for shoes.  The sandals I brought are not right for the cold and constant rain and I've been wearing my running shoes constantly.  So I found a nice pair of black leather shoes for work.
I was able to shop for and buy the shoes in Portuguese, which made me feel rather proud of my meager ability.  Apparently there are a surprising number of foreigners here for such a small town, as the staff in all the shoe shops were very understanding once as I stammered out my "I don't speak Portuguese very well" phrase.

This morning I had my last lesson of the week.  After class I sent a load of laundry out to be cleaned.  I made the mistake of hanging a damp bath towel too close to the ground, and a cat peed on it.  Ugh.  It's been raining for 4 days and, with rain forecast for the next 5 days, there is no way to get laundry dry in this 90%+ humidity without a clothes dryer, which are not common in Brazil.  For this reason, this is a busy time for the laundry services.

I went to the other supermarket today, which is a bit closer than the first one I visited, and spent a long time familiarizing myself with the products.  I'm sure the staff thought I was crazy, shopping for an hour, but I was busy reading labels the whole time!  The checkers seem to get very confused in both stores when I give them my reusable shopping bag, either pushing the bag off to the side, or putting the groceries in plastic bags and then in the reusable bag.  And they only put a couple of items in each plastic bag.    I was a bit surprised by this, since in China most people brought their own bags.  I've only been here a week and already I have two months' worth of bags to line my trash cans!

I had a conversation with one of my studetns about this, and we decided that education about the environment was good, but ultimately the way to make people change the plastic bag habit is through their wallets.  In the USA, some stores offer 5 cents back if you bring your own bag, which is kind of nice but not a big motivator.  However, in China, the stores charge you for every plastic bag they give you, and that is a big motivator.  Clearly, people respond more quickly to being charged extra than to receiving a discount. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Second Grammar Class

It has been raining for three days now.  There was a break yesterday just long enough for me to go downtown to buy a hair dryer, an umbrella and some stationery supplies. The area between my cottage and the school is one giant puddle and by hopping carefully I can still get across it with only minor shoe sloshage.  Thi sis good because I have only one pair of shoes, all the rest are sandals.

The small cat, Josie, has decided that this cottage belongs to her.  She is very sweet, and I love having a cat around, but it also makes me very nervous because firstly, I fear she will start "marking" in the house, and secondly, she is pregnant and I don't want a litter of kittens in here!  (Am I the only one thinking "Oh, no, not again"?)

The second grammar class went wonderfully.  My presentation and my activities were successful, and the students were using the present tense more carefully by the end of class.  I think the activities were fun.  Sadly, the two students at a slightly lower level that I worked so hard to adjust tonight's lesson for did not attend.  I really hope they will come back next week.  In any case, it was good for me to re-think how to structure the lesson, so they have taught me something.

I have one private lesson tomorrow morning (Saturday) and that's it until Monday morning.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

First grammar class

Today I worked on lesson materials and plans most of the day again.  The first grammar class was far from perfect, as the material was quite difficult for two of the students and ok for the other two. One activity went really well.  It was harder to get the students talking than in the private lessons.  At least now I know them and their levels, so I have a better idea what to do in the future.  Another good thing is that I have enough subject material prepared to see me through the next week - I just need to add some more activities. 

That about does it for the first-day jitters, at least until the semester starts in a couple of weeks.  We are teaching between-semester intensives now.  Private lessons continue to go smoothly - in fact this evening's student booked an extra lesson for Saturday morning, which I take to be a good sign. 

Tomorrow I have just two private lessons in the evening, so I can get some errands done in the morning.  I really need a hair dryer; the humidity is around 90% and I'm afraid that if I wash my hair it will never dry and get moldy.  It's very hard to get the bathroom towels to dry.  The weather forecast shows rain the next 5 days.  Good thing I washed clothes on the last sunny day!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

First day teaching

It was a blustery morning when I woke up.  Clouds heavy with rain were blowing by at a fast pace and making glorious patterns in the sky.

The air was still warm and comfortable, so I opened the cottage windows until the first fat drops fell.  I closed the windows, then, not certain whether the windows seal completely against the rain (must ask about this), I went ahead and closed the shutters.  I don't like having them closed during the day because closing them makes the apartment quite dark.  I could hear thunder and it rained heavily for a while.

Yesterday I had picked up a dozen or so citrus fruits from under the trees here.  About a third of them are lemons.  The rest are some kind of small, strange smelling orange that tastes bitter.  These might or might not be bergamot oranges - I will have to show them around to some of the Brazilian coworkers and find out what to do with them.  It feels wasteful to throw them away just because I don't like them, but maybe they can be used in marmalade or something.

I worked on lesson plans pretty much all day today.  I stepped over to the main house just before the rain started to print out some lesson materials, and my Portuguese teacher gave me a lovely big jar of honey from her uncle's beehive. Yum!

I got a lot of work done on the week's lessons today, but still want to get some more done tomorrow.  I feel I need to prepare extra for the grammar class, both because I am not certain of their level and because I've never taught a grammar course before.  With any luck it will be more than we can do in one night and I'll have both lessons for the week all set.

I was horribly nervous before the evening lessons - my first private conversation lessons with adult students here  (yes, I knew that I wouldn't die, just felt like it).  I've just come home and the two lessons went very well.  In fact, I barely used the materials I had prepared because the students were so talkative!  I'm told that in some group classes, the teacher has trouble keeping the students from interrupting each other because they want to talk so much.  Awesome.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The outside

Once again I'm tempted to just go to bed, but they say it takes 21 days to form a habit and I'm not yet in the habit of uploading all my photos the day I take them, so here I am.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed by homesickness and culture shock this evening.  I haven't met many people here so far and it's a holiday weekend so they are all off doing their own thing.  Walking around I found myself reluctant to try to even buy an ice cream due to my lack of Portuguese.  Missing my family and my friends and my cat.  I know that this will pass - I will learn Portuguese, I will make new friends, and there is even a cat here that seems to think the cottage belongs to her.  But just now, nothing here is "mine" yet and I'm feeling lonesome.  

I will be teaching every day from tomorrow (Tuesday) through Saturday, with a total of 11 hours this week, so there will no time to feel sorry for myself after tonight.  That will also help, as part of my blues is due to the "newbie jitters".  Once I've had my first few lessons that feeling should ease off. 

Today was warmer, the temperature got up to 27 C / 80 F and it was a little breezy, so I did laundry.  The "normal" setting took over an hour, my poor clothes!  Next time I must use the "rapido 30 minutos" setting.  There is no dryer, so I hung all the clothing out to dry around 12:30 and it was just enough time to barely get dried by dusk. 

While waiting for the laundry, I took some pictures of the outside of the cottage and the grounds. 

This is the shutter holder I described in yesterday's post.  You flip up the little man's head to hold the shutters in place.  Kind of cool and yet slightly creepy at the same time.  I crush your head in my fingers, I crush it!

 The side patio view of my little cottage, with the freestanding classroom visible in the background.
 Now the other side - the classroom is in the foreground and my cottage in the background.
Turning right from that point to look at the main house.

Standing in the middle of the open area, I took a 360 degree video starting and ending with my cottage.

This was taken from the front driveway of the school.  No, the buildings are not tilted; I had to put several photos together into a panorama in order to have a wide enough image to show it all. The end result is slightly distorted, but you can get the general idea.
This gate is on the lower corner of the property, which sits on the corner of the block.  In the above panorama view it would be off the left side of the picture and slightly downhill.  The turret can be seen in the below pics.

 Views of the street taken from the driveway where I took the panorama shots.  The corner gate is down the block to the right in the below photo.
 Looking left.  I haven't explored in this direction yet.
Walking around town a little.  Many of the streets are cobblestone but some are asphalt.
"Pizza you"!  I'm not sure whether this is an insult or a compliment - I guess it depends on whether the pizza is good or not. 
 The bus system is called "Stadtbus" - clearly, the German-Brazilians were instrumental in setting up this town's public transportation. 
 This was in the late afternoon on a day that was 27 C / 80 F, sunny and breezy.  The moisture on the ground from the rain the night before last did not evaporate in the areas that were in deep shade, despite two warm sunny days.

Saving the best for last: the food pictures y'all keep asking for.  

Bacon pate!  How could I possibly not buy this?  NOM!!!! 
Jelly and jam as we know it in the USA is horribly expensive here, as is peanut butter, so I decided to try the Brazilian style jam instead, which has a consistency more like a sticky paste.  It comes in all kinds of interesting flavors.  Shown below are banana and pumpkin-coconut.  I also saw doce de leite (caramel), sugarcane, fig, guava, strawberry, blueberry, and peach, to name a few.

My work here is done.  Boa noite!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cottage and stuff

I was tempted to put off uploading today's pics, but I know from experience that that way lies madness - or at least hundreds of unsorted photos.  It will be so much easier if I can just... keep... up...

When I got up today, it was sunny and already warming up a little, so I opened up the windows and took some photos of my little cottage.  It is located behind the school, a sort of groundskeeper's cottage.  There really is a groundskeeper, but he lives offsite.

The first photo is taken out the front window of the living room. ( The school, which is in the original mansion, is in the background.  It's a gorgeous building and property, and one of these days I'll photograph it so it can have an entry of its own here.)
The front door and the front window, through which I took the previous picture, now closed. Under the table is a box fan; there is also a tiny space heater in the cottage. 

The tiny living room with a small love seat and two mini chairs (miniature for my big self, anyway). 
Another view, showing the edge of the standing lamp which I can't figure out how to turn on; it seems to have no switch, unless it's inline on the cord (which is underneath and behind the loveseat).  In this view you can also see the windows.  The glass panes swing inward, and on the outside are shutters with metal screening and wooden slats which swing outward.  Outside the cottage are metal brackets with little sliders shaped like a man's head that you flip up to keep the shutters from blowing around.
This photo was taken with my back against the front door.  You can see the corner of the loveseat.  On the left is the door to the bathroom and on the right is the door to the bedroom.  The glass blocks let in the lovely morning light.
The bedroom has a full bed, two bedside tables, a huge wardrobe, and a bookshelf behind the door.
The grounds are really lush with tropical plants; apparently it rarely even frosts here.  The red plant is against the back fence of the property, through which I can see a swimming pool which I foresee my envying greatly come summertime.
There is a tiny patio on the side with two chairs on it.  Here you can see the three-door wardrobe a bit better.
Standing in the bedroom doorway, looking across at the bathroom doorway. 
A pretty little bathroom which is going to be a constant challenge to keep dry in this humidity.  This morning I opened an empty drawer beneath the sink and it was damp inside... not from leakage, but from the steam of the previous evening's shower.  Ew.
The only hot water in the house comes from this instant heating unit.  It doesn't have much power, so to get a hot shower I can only turn the tap on halfway, but the cold water is really cold so I'm quite grateful to have it!  In the summer I'll probably want cold showers, but NOT NOW.  The cottage has plaster walls so doesn't really warm up in winter, I hope this will keep it cooler in the summer too.
The bathroom window has two parts.  The glass paned part is on the outside, and the screened part on the inside.  Both are hinged at the top and swing out in opposite directions.
Red flowering tree as seen through the bathroom window while holding the screen open.  I was wanting to photograph the two little birds, but they were not cooperating much.  One showed me its rear end and the other stayed in the shadow.

The kitchen is about the same size as my kitchen in China, so I had to hold the camera sideways.  
The refrigerator is full sized but not new - one of its feet seems to be broken as it wobbles like crazy when I open it. The gas stove is brand new.
The little table could be pulled out to make a full round table, if I had space for it. There is a little square stool to sit on under it.
Here is a view out of the open kitchen window.  The little wrought iron table and chairs under the rose arbor will be lovely when the roses bloom - one or two are already opening.
I found this teensy weensy lizard by the desk, so I took him outside.  I hope he survives.
Went out today around town with the one foreign teacher who is continuing from the previous semester (the rest of us will all be new).  We went to the same buffet for lunch that I went to the other day.  Some really different foods.  In the middle is a small pumpkin stuffed with ground beef and cheese.  On top of that is a smily face made of deep fried mashed potatoes (I think).  The big brown thing is a battered, deep fried banana.  Clockwise from the banana: grain salad, mini tomato salad, celery salad with strawberries, a miniature pizza, some kind of croquette with meat, a mystery sausage, lasagna bolognese, baked carp, pineapple dusted with cinnamon, fresh mango, and steamed broccoli.  I ate all of this (yum) and didn't have room for dessert.
This is the Catholic church downtown.  The church was closed when we were there, although it was Sunday afternoon.  (Maybe it was during the time when businesses close for lunch here - similar to Spanish siesta, most businesses close between 12:00-1:30pm.)
They have somehow treated the stained glass windows so that the colored designs can be clearly seen from the outside in broad daylight.  Nice.

There was an old building beside the church, probably once connected with the church, which now has a modern building in front of it, creating a darkly shadowed alleyway which mostly hid the lovely statue there.  I had to stand precariously on a railing to take this picture over a wire fence, risking great bodily harm, but it was worth it to share Jesus-of-the-Alley.
This is the park in the town square.  People are gathering with their lawn chairs in droves.  They all sit facing the street and socialize with friends as they walk or drive by.  The same thing happens on the big avenue behind the school, which means nights can get very noisy as some of them have really loud "car parties" going on until the wee hours.
Proof that German heritage is alive and well here - Quark, a German dairy product which is kind of like the love child of ricotta and sour cream.  The packaging is all in Portuguese.

Lastly, a little anecdote about yesterday's trip to the supermarket.  After I had paid and put my wallet away, I looked up and the bagger had disappeared with my groceries.  I spotted him heading for the door and hurried to catch up with him as he exited the store.  He looked at me expectantly, waiting for me to show him my car. I rallied my fledgling Portuguese enough to blurt out, "Eu nao tenho carro!" ("I no have car!").  He smiled, said something which I assumed must have been about walking, and handed me my groceries.  I thanked him and was so proud of myself for actually making a semi-intelligible sentence!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Portuguese and domestic matters

Boa noite!  This morning I had my first official Portuguese lesson.  I am already able to speak and understand more Portuguese than Mandarin, which makes me feel hopeful that I can become functional fairly quickly.

In the afternoon, I just took care of domestic stuff - unpacking, getting settled, going to the supermarket all by myself, cooking and so on.  Grabbed a bunch of textbooks from the school's staff library.  It was nice to have a mostly down day after the last few days.

It's cold, but the humidity here is unbelievable - earlier today it was 94%!  I have things that I put in the dish draining rack that just stayed wet for hours.  I will have to buy stock in a vinegar company to combat the inevitable mildew.  Today it got up to 64 F, so I opened all the windows until it got cold again.  This evening I made some congee and now the kitchen walls and ceiling are totally wet.  I've got the kitchen window open and the kitchen door closed to try to dry it out a little.

Last night I got my first taste of urban Brazil - people hang out on the main street along the sidewalk and play their car stereos at window-shaking volumes.  I was so tired I slept despite the noise.  I hope that I'll continue to be able to sleep through it, as my predecessor warned me that this is typical on Thursday through Saturday nights until around 2:00am.  Other than the night life, this cottage is nice and quiet. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Arrived in Brazil

I'm in Brazil!  

Notes on the trip from Panama onward (edited to add photos and comments):

The gate area in Panama International Airport, which had been mostly empty, really filled up just before boarding.
I was sitting right over the baggage door, so I could watch the guys loading baggage.  The guy in yellow was doing all the heavy work of lifting and loading the bags, and the guy in orange was just scanning the bagggage tags and wiping his brow again and again as though HE were doing the tough job!
On the flight to Porto Alegre, two Brazilian young women sat next to me.  They chatted with me in a mixture of English, Spanish and Portuguese, and by the end of the flight I was feeling very welcome in Brazil, even though my toes hadn't yet touched the ground.

Here are some photos from the flight.
For those readers who may not have flown in an airplane, I took a video of the takeoff and the receding landscape as the plane rose to the sky.  (No, there is nothing wrong with your computer, that is the real engine noise when one sits behind the wing.)

In the airport, immigration and customs were easy.  After exiting, I couldn't find my taxi driver right away (turns out he was in another section of the airport), but another new friend from the airplane kindly used his cell phone to call the driver and tell him where I was.  The drive to Santa Cruz do Sul was fine, if a little chilly - the nighttime temperatures are a bit colder than I had anticipated and the driver didn't use the heat.  I couldn't see much out the windows except to note that outside of towns, there is less light pollution in Brazil - they don't put streetlights or house lights on all night when it's not necessary.  (This was also very noticeable from the air.)  Since it was 1:30am and there was nothing to see, I closed my eyes and slept much of the way.

Arrived at my little cottage around 3:30am and could not figure out how to operate the flash heater for hot water in the shower, and it was quite chilly in the cottage, so I just skipped it. I went to bed around 4:00am and slept until someone knocked on my door at 10:30 to tell me to come across to the school for "orientation".  Otherwise I could probably have slept all day.  

Orientation consisted of spending several hours with Fabiane, a Portuguese instructor and secretary at the school.  She is very nice, 33 years old.  Her great great grandparents came from Germany and her boyfriend's grandparents came from Italy. This place is as much of a cultural "melting pot" as the USA.  She says some of the older shopkeepers speak German. Maybe I will be brave enough to test this someday. ;)

First there was some paperwork and information about the school - to my surprise, I will be teaching a few classes next week so I have got a schedule already.  Then she took me to lunch at a cafeteria style restaurant and a little walking tour around downtown.  Now we are taking a break and she will pick me up again between 15:30 and 16:00 for more errands (get money, most important, and maybe buy some food). 

The Brazilian monetary unit is the Real, and the paper money is beautiful!  On the backs are different animals.

The school is just a couple of blocks from the downtown, which is tiny and old.  It has a little park in the middle and the courthouse - it looks like the downtown of a very small town, to have a population of 100k; I guess this town has grown "out" instead of "up" as there are few large buildinjgs.  There are trees and tropical plants everywhere. Some of the birds sound like monkeys.   The supermarket, which is very modern, was a couple of blocks the other way.  I have yet to discover the farmers' market - possibly tomorrow.

It's colder than I had anticipated, but I suspect that like when I arrived in China, the cold weather will only last about as long as it would take to receive some warmer clothes from home and then it will be getting hot.  The little cottage is cold, but there is a tiny space heater which I put in the bedroom last night. I'm usually quite warm in the classroom teaching (due to adrenaline, I suppose), so it will probably be ok that my work clothes are not so warm.  There is also a heating/air conditioning wall unit like the one I had in my apartment in China, which I have finally figured out how to operate this evening.

There are several kitties on the grounds.  I've met two of them and the Siamese, Josie, climbed into my lap for petting and then followed me into my cottage!  The furniture is already full of claw marks, so I guess the prior foreign teacher occupying the cottage must have let her in too.  I'm not sure it would be possible to keep her out!

I wasn't expecting to begin teaching until August 1, but it turns out that I will have 10 teaching hours next week, 8 of which are private lessons (up to three students) and the other two hours are a grammar class with 6 students.  The school is currently in its winter between-semester intensive period, so I'll have this schedule for two weeks, and then the next semester will begin.  There are a total of five foreign teachers; one is staying on and the other four will be new, of which I'm the first arrival (hence the classes right away).  Working sooner means getting paid sooner and meeting more people, so it's all good.