First signs of reverse cultural shock

28 Oct IMG_3455.JPG

Everyone keeps asking me how is it to be back. Some of the strange things I found worth noting :
1. Supermarkets are quite overwhelming: the variety, abundance, cleanliness and incredibly polite and friendly employees. It makes me feel like a cave woman being transported to modern times as I stare in bewilderment at the fresh baked cookie stand, right between the full sushi bar and the organic foods hall.

2. You don’t have to walk more than 200 meters (and this is if you’re unlucky and couldn’t find closer parking at Costco), ever. Unless you want to. This has already made me extremely lazy and I’m slowly transforming into a couch potato.

3. Having to drive 10 miles (~16km) to find a non-chain coffee shop. The good news is that thanks to a robust highway system, it takes only 15-20 mins so is somewhat equivalent to going to a coffee shop a few subway stops away.

4. Having to drive in order to be able to walk somewhere interesting or even to the gym. It’s true that one can certainly walk or bike around the neighborhood but the biggest action to be encountered a dog barking at the neighbor’s cat or a kid falling off her bicycle. Street art, music, social gathering are all things to plan around.

5. Online shopping – a world of opportunities is now open, without having to worry about credit card fraud or goods being stolen by the post office.

6. Having to reply to emails even if there’s nothing to say. I got used to Brazilian style of selective replies to only people you care about, need something from or have a concrete response to deliver. Americans are so much more efficient with emails that I constantly feel guilty if I don’t reply right away. The guilt feeling hasn’t caused behavioral change yet. But maybe soon.

7. Speaking in English to everyone outside the home. I still have the urge to interact with people (especially servers) in Portuguese. It seems so strange that they know English…

8. Not constantly finding hair in my food . This one is a cool upgrade.

I will keep updating as I run into more useless observations.

From Rio’s Chaos to Austin’s suburbia

28 Oct

My Rio adventure is now over. Now, I’m starting the readjustment process to Austin, TX, a place that has changed so much in the 8 years since I left.
Step 1: stop saying “Oi” (“hey” in Portuguese) to everyone I meet.

Some photos from my city exploration. They are mostly from downtown Austin. Suburbs don’t provide as many photography opportunities.

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A Texan Walmart discovery
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Art in your back yard – Jardim Botanico

12 Oct

The bohemian neighborhood of Jardim Botanico organized a magical walk through the galleries called Circuito das Artes. After 3 years in Rio, I got to once more discover hidden alleys and cute galleries while checking out some great home decor ideas.

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Brazil’s current Soap Opera: The Presidential Elections

30 Sep

As some of you may know, the Presidential elections in Brazil are scheduled for this Sunday. The leading candidate must gain more than 50% of the votes in order to win. Otherwise, there will be a second round on October 26.

I got really confused navigating all the points of discussion and trying to decide who should I vote for should I had the option to. One questionnaire told me that based on my opinions, I should vote for Dilma. Another analysis of candidates’ statements on the Globo (the main media channel) website made me favor Aecio,  while on interviews / debates I liked Marina’s way of putting forth arguments. I then decided to organize all the key points to try and see if I could reach a better conclusion. The reader should be advised that this is not a professional’s opinion but rather my reading based on media outlets and conversations with people around me. Enjoy!

Dilma Rousseff, AKA: Lady “Tudo Beleza” (“all is great!”)

Dilma is the current president, representing the PT (labor party). Lula nominated her as his successor and she was therefore able to ride the great waves of his popularity and continue his political legacy. She was previously tortured during the dictatorship times in Brazil, a fact she likes to highlight as an expression of her loyalty to the country.

Dilma’s main points are:

- PT did great job with the economy, improved income inequality, health and education (building tons of universities and schools and strengthening scholarship and study abroad programs). Brazil is in great shape with inflation under control, and lowest ever unemployment rate, and a bright bright future.

- If anyone has any doubts, remember the evil global economic crisis. PT must protect jobs and not go down the horrible ways of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (pre-Lula president), which will cut jobs and put the country in downward spiral.

- Petrobras is the greatest company in the world and will just be greater in the future. Whatever things that could have gone wrong were not my fault, don’t matter anymore, and are evil lies of the opposition that wants to destroy the country and give the company into the hands of evil capitalists

- There is no corruption greater than the previous government’s corruption

- Political reform is needed to avoid corruption because otherwise, it’s impossible to rule without making coalition with corrupt politicians. The only way to solve this is to have a popular vote on political reform

- Minas Gerais doesn’t support Aecio’s successor which obviously means that all Aecio did in Minas Gerais just destroyed the state in the same way he will destroy Brazil

Dilma’s strengths: she cares about improving the conditions of the poor people and reducing the gap between the reach and the poor, which is arguably the biggest problem of Brazil.

Her weaknesses: She is not an inspiring leader: her speeches seem more like socialist demagoguery than a vision for a large nation, she doesn’t feel comfortable on camera, she doesn’t accept any criticism or opposite opinion and attributes any weaknesses to external factors.

Aecio Neves, AKA: “I mean business and I will save you from the RED dragon”

Former governor of Minas Gerias, Aecio comes from a legacy of famous politicians (his grandfather even serving as the president of Brazil for a short while) represents PSDB (Social democrats party). He is known as a playboy who partied it up with cocaine and the ladies and is friends with many of the Brazilian business elite. He recently got remarried and had twin babies, which “obviously” turns him into a serious family man.

Aecio’s main points

- Brazil is in awful awful shape, all thanks to PT: high inflation, high unemployment, crazy interference in the business environment, loss of investor’s confidence

- Government must have accountability, clear objectives, transparency, focus

- Government size must be reduced to achieve the above objectives

- I transformed Minas Gerais into a paradise on earth, with better education, better public safety, better health system and I will transform Brazil just in the same matter.

- Brazil needs a president that will bring back the trust of the investor community

- Central bank needs to be independent to ensure that it doesn’t serve the needs of politicians

- Fernando Henrique Cardoso is the god of the universe and I shall follow his politics

- I will create quality jobs

- All PT programs are just increasing inefficiency and inflation and need to be revamped

Aecio’s strengths: support from the business elite, which ultimately controls the country, simple business approach to running the government.

His weaknesses: personal image as a playboy, elitist group of friends and close ones make it very hard for him to become approachable candidate for the masses. “Old boys” political party that reminds people of worst times from the past.

Marina Silva, AKA: “I’m not like ‘em other politicians”

Marina emerged as a strong candidate late in the game as her predecessor Eduardo Campos died in a tragic plane crash. She is a former Minister of the Environment, former PT, Green party, independent, and currently of the PSB (Socialist party, that is really not socialist at all and kind of combines ideas from all the above). Mariana comes from very poor background, growing up extracting rubber in Acre state, in the north of Brazil. She is of mixed race and sometimes seen as the “Obama” of Brazil, although I heard very few mentions of this. She is the face of struggle and ascent as she managed to survive various diseases such as Hepatitis and Malaria and get her education, fight against the dictatorship, raise a family, etc. She is sort of the voice of intellectuals, environmentalists, the poor, and big business at the same time, which is makes her the best or the worst politician, depending on the definition. On the other hand, her religious belief (very evangelical) made people question her abilities to approach neutrally social issues such as gay marriages and aborts and scientific research in an objective fashion.

Marina’s main points:

- I am not aligned to political interests of one party or another, I will work for the people of Brazil

- Business and sustainable development go hand and hand

- The other candidates are creating a divide in the Brazilian people, I will build collaboration between the government, business, NGOs, academia to support better decision making

- Generic stuff like: we need to improve health, education, security, infrastructure and create jobs

- Transparency

- Companies that receive subsidies for the government must make environmental commitments in return

- A president cannot be just a manager, she needs to be a leader and fight for her vision just like Lula, Cardoso and others did in the past

- We must put competent people in the right roles in government instead of appointing political positions and having a whole structure staffed with people protecting individual / party interests instead of working for the people

- PT is going wrong about the economy, they should stimulate investments instead of playing with exchange rate

Marina’s strengths: her poor background and appeal as someone who cares about social issues and the environment. Her perception as someone who puts values above politics.

Her weaknesses: no strong positioning or proposal of measurable actions. No strong previous experience in running a government. Strong religious beliefs.

There are other candidates that are worth noting fo the comical note

Levy Fidelix – extreme right candidate, that wants to solve crime by privatizing prisons, and recently became even more infamous for his anti-gay statements on the presidential debate.

Luciana Genro – the extreme left candidate. She is somewhat the combination of your 5 grade history teacher and Harry Potter’s Divination Professor Trelawney. Her party’s position builds on the “capitalism is the root of all evil” and “PT betrayed its voters and forgot its ideology” maxims. I couldn’t really figure out what’s the alternative proposal as she was using the presidential debate to mostly discuss the evils of PT, corporations, and rich people.

Eduardo Jorge – Green Party candidate. Gave me the impression of a kind-hearted hippy as he defended legalizing drugs as a solution for all crime problems and reducing the financial support to presidential campaigns. He seemed to be buddy buddy of Aecio Neves, the voice of the rich and famous, which made me somewhat suspicious of his idealistic / intellectual motives.


Pastor Everlado – the Socialist Christian party candidate. He represents an increasing growing evangelical lobby. Conservative on issues such as gay marriages and abortions and is pro-business. While his views on the economy made me think he doesn’t really have too much of an opinion, I took personal offence to his assertion of his credibility by explaining that there is no individual more honest and good than that who embraces Jesus Christ to his heart (on the topic that going against LGBT is against Brazil’s values of diversity and respect of human rights).

Conclusion:

While I put quite an effort trying to understand the proposals and credentials of each candidate, I couldn’t find any sort of reliable information on both fronts. The data is all biased and indicators are manipulated to support one premise or another. Overall debates are not about facts or action plans but rather about moving the crowd into one emotional spiral vs. the other.

The very complicating factor is the lack of independent media. The key media outlets such as Globo are very strong political players. Therefore, instead of providing independent coverage, they play a prominent role in swaying the vote towards the candidate they prefer, fueling conspiracy theory discussions and constantly failing to provide a balanced picture.

Finally, my bet based on latest survey data: Mrs Dilma is here to stay. Unless….

In case you want to know more and speak Portuguese:

- Key quotes: http://g1.globo.com/politica/eleicoes/2014/na-boca-do-candidato/index.html

- Presidential debates:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OqWxrjhLwY

- Interviews on main channels:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apeBzm7iHZE

ArtRio 2014

14 Sep

It’s my second year in a row going to the amazing ArtRio fair, where the extremely wealthy, the bohemian and intellectuals and the poor art students all mix in appreciation of some great modern art. This year’s special treat was a design fair.

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