Thursday, December 31, 2009

In With the New

DISCLAIMER: This blog post talks about the extremely touchy subject of parenthood. This disclaimer is in place as a preemptive strike as anyone who is childless that expresses their opinions on the matter will usually be greeted with responses with "Well, you're not a parent!" and the like. True, I'm not a parent for various reasons (which will be noted below). But, if anything I understand that parenthood has a huge host of responsibilities that should not be taken lightly. If you are a parent, you may feel that this post is directed at you. It is not. The purpose of this is not to judge or condemn, rather than to make a comment about civilization in general.

Parenthood is not necessarily the most topical of subjects, especially on New Year's Eve. I could stretch it, saying that birth and childhood represents the new, with promise, but the bottom line is that this post is motivated by an incident that happened recently at work.

Without disclosing details that will get fired or alienated my coworkers, the short version was that several of my officemates temporarily added "babysitter" to our list of job descriptions as one of our associates was required to come in for business matters, but had their offspring in tow. This is generally not a problem, as my coworkers who bring their children are cognizant of the fact that it's a place of work and not a daycare centre. However, this did not happen in this case, as within minutes, the child became bored and began harassing my officemates.

In an attempt to keep the kid occupied enough to concentrate on work, I show him one of my Rubik's Cubes, which I solve for him (all the while he's calling me "slowpoke", despite his inability to solve it on his own). He wants to see another one that I keep on my desk, which is extremely similar, but I decline, given the monetary value attached to it. He then defiantly says that as soon as my back is turned, he will take it. He then sees the bag of cough drops on my desk and requests one. I'm reluctant, given that it's actual medication, and with my attempt to understand the child's limited vocabulary, I decline saying that "It's only for people who are sick."

Given this child's willingness to steal and the fact that he looks healthy, I have no reason to believe him when he says that he is sick, so I agree to give him one on the condition that his parent allows it. He manages to secure permission, but given the fact that the parent is busy, I don't feel that the explanation that it's for "people that are sick" is sufficiently understood by the parent, so I still decline (the package clearly states, "keep out of reach of children"). As a substitution, I provide a lollipop (leftover from Halloween), which he takes without so much as a "thank you."

Probably not the worst behaved kid I've encountered, but his lack of manners, overt willingness to openly steal, and failure to comply with his parent's instructions have me reaching for the word "crotch fruit" to describe him (a derisive term used by childless individuals that have a lot of contempt and resentment towards children in general).

I'm not going to delve on the probable complexities of his family life. If anything, a "traditional family" (ie: parents of opposite gender, married, and living in the same household) is not a guarantee of raising a child into a productive member of society. I've seen extreme opposites on both sides - single parents who raised (and are still raising) kids on their way to becoming productive members of society, and married couples that are raising kids destined to be drains on society. But, it does speak to the level of responsibility that parenthood entails, which is dismissed way too many in today's society.

This leads to an interesting dichotomy, where despite the level of work, money, and time required to turn a newborn infant into a productive member of society, it is considerably easier to make a baby than it is to secure a student loan, obtain a mortgage, or get a job. While the latter three considerable damage to one's credit rating if mismanaged, they pale in comparison to the potentially unlimited amount of damage caused by a child with lackadaisical upbringing. This is also irregardless of things like class and income, as even well-off families (at least financially) are capable of raising kids that grow up to be Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.

While parenthood isn't an idea I have written off completely, it comes with a lot of consideration. I could very well choose to be the deadbeat dad, but personal ethics and the fact that financial support (at the very least) is required by law keep that from being an option. Economics, genetics (what crappy genes will they inherit?), and the very course-of-life altering nature of parenthood in general are other considerations. Also is the fact that we're already at a world population of 6.7 billion, which the planet is barely able to sustain even with a steady supply of fossil fuels.

This is why the decision for parenthood really needs to be taken a lot more seriously than it is now, and given the inability for the general population to think for itself, makes it considerably more difficult. Government intervention is always a possibility, but is always going to be subject to controversy as it will be seen with interference with human reproductive rights. Then there's also the religious point of view, which has been associated with a notion of "Go Forth and Multiply," which makes the idea of government intervention even less of a desirable idea.

And then there's the consideration of what state-ordered family planning may entail. Those against the idea will point out theoretical situations where reproduction ends up becoming a commodity or a right only entitled to the wealthy. This is something that's entirely possible if the right to bear children is bestowed based on worthiness, genetics, or projected income, which could lead to a nightmarish future in which eugenics becomes the norm.

China's one-child policy is one attempt at averting a population crisis, although it is subject to a lot of flaws. Wealthy couples are more than willing to pay out fines for the privilege of a larger family, while those who are sticking to the one-child policy generally lean to raising young boys (via selective abortion), which has the potential to turn future China into a sausage party.

Given the complexities of parenthood, the overdeveloped sense of entitlement that can come with parenthood is entirely misplaced, especially when the larger picture is considered. Even the notion of "Go Forth and Multiply" is completely outdated today, as the Bible was written at a time when life expectancies didn't even reach 40 years of age and infant deaths were commonplace, and exceeding the carrying capacity of the planet wasn't ever a consideration.

On a smaller scale, the sense of entitlement is just as worrisome. While the prospects of having a night out at the movies ruined because of a kid with bad ADHD just won't shut the hell up is annoying, it's trivial in comparison to the larger costs on society. Raising a child that ends up being a drain on society will mean everyone else has to work harder so that the said individual will have a comparable standard of living to those that have to work for it. Considering that the current and future generations now face the prospect of having living standards below what their parents had, this makes it that much harder.

Yes, parenthood is hard. Yes, I'm not a parent myself, so I have no idea what it's like to carry the thing for 9 months and take care of it for 18+ years. Yes, I'm aware of the fact that you have to work three jobs and your spouse is living in a different country. Irregardless of any of that, it doesn't make ill-behaved children something that can be simply dismissed with any sort of excuse or justification. Just remember that you will be responsible for bailing that child out from prison and you'll have to answer to the society when your child goes on a high school shooting rampage.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, post mortem

I’m currently killing about 2 hours in the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport, somewhat wired after having to chug down a can of Brazilian Coca-Cola at the security checkpoint. AGAIN. Still no free internet, so uploading photos and blogs will have to wait another 6 hours when I’m back in Vancouver. I looked out the window and there is frost on the cars outside. I shudder to think of what it’s like back home. I’m-a-guessing pretty frickin’ cold.

The past two weeks have been a very worthwhile experience, with memories that will last until I become senile. With beaches, warm weather, interesting people, and good Capoeira training, the trip will stay with me as long as I have the mental capacity to recall this.

Best things about the trip:
-Almost constant beautiful weather, making the fact that we’re in “rainy season” pretty ironic.
-A completely different cultural experience than what we see and do back home
-Time spent relaxing on the beach
-All of the new friends that have been made
-Developing a better appreciation for the way life is back home after the visit to the favelas
-Great food almost everywhere we went
-A different perspective about Capoeira training
-Picking up parts of a foreign language and expanding my horizons
-The non-commercialized aspect of Porto de Galinhas, with nary a Starbucks or McDonald’s in sight
-Receiving the mini-celebrity treatment at Batizados

Worst things about the trip:
- The “laid back” mentality of northern Brazil often resulting in lackadaisical customer service and forcing changes in plans, resulting in a lot of wasted time
-The day we were forced to pay for lunch by people who we knew that came to the table, ordered, ate, and then left
-Frighteningly unsanitary conditions of some of the places we visited, making some of us really glad that we took the necessary precautions
-The Brazilian public infrastructure resulting in road trips rougher than the plane ride over Miami.
-Being forced to spend 3 hours looking for a hospital because someone decided to handle a stray cat
-Having last minute changes to plans due to businesses giving away reservations to other parties or groups

Survival tips for those looking to do the Brazilian experience with Aché Brasil next year:

General travel and planning:
-Get everything done EARLY. Because the trip is done in high season, ticket prices will be very volatile and can price quotes can change within hours. Additionally, visas and passports take a long time to process, while vaccinations take about a month to protect you fully.
-Items purchased after completing security checkpoints in the airport are typically meant to be consumed. I got burned by this twice when attempting to bring a can of Brazilian Coca-Cola home, but because it wasn’t in the checked luggage, I had to chug it at the security check point.
-They really do not mess around when it comes to carrying liquids. I have been forced to part with two cans of Coke, a bottle of sunscreen, and a tube of insect repellent because they were not in checked luggage. If the bottle was originally more than 100 mL, even if it obviously has less than 100 mL in it (i.e.: partially emptied), they will confiscate it.

Stuff to bring:
-Brazil’s household electrical pumps out 220 volts. Most of your electronic doo-dads will utilize 110 volts, although a lot of electronics will be able to accept voltage ranges. While you may be able to obtain an adaptor while here, it’s better that you bring your own. Check the voltage ratings on your electronics. If it ONLY accepts 110 volts, you will need a step-down voltage converter as well, or else the device is not going to work or you’re going to fry it.
-Depending on what you plan to be doing, you can usually pack very light in terms of clothing. I brought about 10 pairs of socks, but I ended up going barefoot in sandals the entire time. Since you’ll likely be wearing a swimsuit a lot of the time, you can forgo a lot of clothing. During the two week stay, I wore the same pair of cargo shorts the entire time.
-Sunscreen is very expensive in Porto de Galinhas. Bring your own and make sure it’s in your checked luggage.

Brazilian culture:
-Learn as much Portuguese as possible before coming. As much as Porto de Galinhas is very touristy, it’s not commercialized to the point that all of the locals are bilingual.
-If you bungle the Portuguese language, accept the fact that they are laughing AT you, not WITH you. Besides, when’s the last time you laughed at someone bungling English? Deal with it.
-Despite the racial diversity of Brazil, in the more northern districts (Pernambuco, Natal, Paraiba), Asians are extremely rare. If you are Asian, you WILL be stared at, they will assume that you’re Japanese (even if you’re not), you know Kung Fu, and that you’re all related. All the Japanese people are in Sao Paulo, not Pernambuco. Deal with it.
-There are certain social aspects that are far beyond your control, which will result in what appears to be very lackadaisical customer service attempts to screw over the gringo tourists. This is more culturally based and is standard practice. Businesses will often say “yes” and “agree” to do things when they in fact have no intention of doing so, or will even give up your reservations to someone who is paying them more (and yes, they keep your money anyway). Customer service standards that would otherwise cause bad word to spread around and resulting lost business are the norm here. Why? It’s a tourist town and it’s not like they’re going to see you again any time soon, and it’s not like some other gringo tourist isn’t going to replace you when you’re gone. Deal with it.

Climate and health:
-DO NOT DRINK THE WATER FROM THE TAP. You should be consuming at least 1.5 litres of water per day.
-To minimize mosquito bites, wear long sleeves and pants to bed and leave the door closed. Kill all mosquitoes that make their way into your room.
-If you’re on a low-sodium diet, you will be SOL. The Brazilians like a lot of salt on their meat. This may be beneficial as it could help retain fluids and stave off dehydration, however. But remember to keep drinking water.
-DO NOT HANDLE STRAY ANIMALS. This should be a no-brainer, but someone on our group caused us to lose 3 hours trying to find a hospital for a rabies shot.
-Get a minimum of 30 SPF sunscreen and remember to reapply as necessary. Some with fairer skin types will need a much higher protection level.

-Nobody had any major problems, but the standard rules do apply. Avoid wandering around at night alone, do not keep all your money on you or flash your money around, leave your passport in your room and carry around a photo copy.
-Cops in Brazil are bastards and for good reason. They are vastly underpaid, face danger constantly, and have very itchy trigger fingers. During the trip, no major incidents happened, mostly because Porto de Galinhas is relatively safe. However, one of the group was accused of stealing prior to our arrival and had a shotgun pointed at his head.

-I ended up spending less than 350 R$ on food during the two weeks, but budget for 450 R$. Remember that exchange rates are very volatile, however.
-Things will generally be more expensive in Porto de Galinhas than in surrounding areas such as Olinda and Recife. A bottle of water averages around 2 R$ in Porto, and about 30% less in the supermarkets in Olinda and Recife. Stock up and purchase in bulk whenever possible.
-Bar fridge purchases are stupidly expensive. Everybody should know this by now, but a few in our group did not. Remember to replenish the inventory before you leave. Also take the inventory the second you check in.
-DO NOT WASTE MONEY ON LAUNDRY SERVICES. Several students on this year’s trip relied on the laundry service which was purported to be next day service, but ended up being delayed to the point that they were not ready when a Batizado was held.

Merchandise and souvenirs
-Avoid places that have no price tags on things. Vendors may apply arbitrary pricing based on how much of a tourist you come across (i.e.: “the gringo tax”).

-As much as Capoeira is a large part of our lives, surprisingly, it is largely looked down upon and is often viewed as a “poor man’s sport.” Capoeira rodas are best performed with Mestre’s approval and when all students have full Capoeira uniforms.

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Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 14 (sabado, decembro 19)

Mosquito bite count:
-Hands: 4 / Arms: 7 / Shoulders: 4 / Chest: 1 / Head: 8 / Neck: 2
-Back: 0 / Legs: 1

Today is where I fly home and hope like hell that the berimbaus purchased do not get confiscated by customs. We put a clear coat of lacquer on all of the biribas and cabacas the previous day, save for the one that I specifically purchased on Francois’ behalf.

Morning was spent with last minute scrambling to get the room cleaned out, perform all last minute idiot checks, and exchange contact information with some of the friends we’ve made so I can practice my Portuguese and they can practice their English. We also ensure that our bar fridge inventory matches their numbers, which we corrected yesterday when despite the fact that we only had 5 bottles of water to begin with, they were supposed to have 6. Camara and Safadinho do not have that foresight and are hit with a 75 R$ bar fridge invoice.

Mestre was on the horn with the transport company most of the night to make absolutely damn sure that they were on hand to pick us up from the Pousada. Jacare and Saphodinho left the Pousada to stay in Recife; Charme was able to get a last minute flight to Rio; Zulu (AKA the Other Vince), Jaguar, and Acai caught an 11AM flight to Miami; and Canela and I are now on a 4PM flight to Sao Paulo, where I will kill a few hours before flying out to Dallas Ft. Worth and meet up with Zulu, Jaguar, and Açai.

And of course, despite all best efforts, the transport van was STILL late, although given their complete failure to show up at all yesterday, half an hour late is pretty darn good.

As Canela and I are taking the later flight, we had several hours to kill in the Recife airport, which is dangerous when there is a lot of really cool crap to buy. Realizing that I left a few people off the list when shopping for trinkets and kitsch in Porto de Galinhas, I finally start exercising the credit card that had gone unused for the past two weeks as I relied on Brazilian cash.

Thankfully not finding a McDonald’s in the Recife airport, I end up at Bob’s, where I eat what may be the best airport fast food hamburger I have ever eaten in my life. Canela opts for Subway. As I’m eating it and I make my way through the last bites, I’m realizing that for once, the burger actually looked smaller in the photo.

I also take the next step in my attempt to improve my Portuguese by purchasing a copy of Besouro, a novel based on the life of the famous Capoeirista Besouro Manganga, which also inspired a film that just came out this year.

This book is written entirely in Portuguese, which will mean it will take at least 10 times as long as the average book for me to read, although I anticipate that it will go faster as I slowly increase my vocabulary. I have a quick conversation with the bookstore clerk with his limited English, telling him that I don’t know that much Portuguese, but I’m interested in reading it due to my interest in Capoeira. He asks if I know any Portuguese at all, to which I respond, “Um pequeno.” He then spouts a few random Portuguese greetings, “Bom dia…obrigado…” I then add in, “Onde é o banheiro”, which provokes laughter behind the clerks behind the counter.

Canela and I are flying on TAM Linhas on an A321, which is smaller than the planes that took us on the way in, but somehow more comfortable. And they just served us a hot ham and cheese sandwich. This beats the pants off of the chintzy cookies and boxed drink we got on the American Airlines flight from Salvador to Recife.

Landing in Sao Paulo, Canela makes her connection to Chicago and I’m making my brief stop before heading out to Dallas. We wander around for about an hour as this is a very large and busy airport. The airport is akin to a rat maze and I’ve lost confidence in my ability to find my way after airport staff gives directions. Canela suggests that the airport was designed in the 1970s to counter protests and gatherings, which is why navigation is very complex. After about fifteen minutes of searching, we end up at the American Airlines counter where I have to exchange boarding passes and Canela has to re-check in.

The unfortunate thing is that this is not a really direct connection, as I have to pass through airline security AGAIN. I end up having to swallow the entire can of Brazilian Coke (intended as a gift to the Coke-addicted girlfriend) at the security checkpoint, forcing me to purchase a replacement before the gate. The price is a whopping 5 R$, which translates to roughly $3-4 CDN. Back in the Recife airport, it cost 3,50 R$. It didn’t even cost that much in the bar fridge back at the Pousada.

Without stepping outside of the Sao Paulo airport, I have a very limited impression of the city, although I have finally found the Brazilian-Japanese population, so I’m not going to be attracting stares. And yes, stuff is much more expensive here. And there’s STILL no free internet. I will wait until I get to Dallas-Ft. Worth and check there.

With this, I say boa viagem to Brazil and step on the plane.

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Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 14 (quinta-feira, decembro 18)

Mosquito bite count:
-Hands: 4 / Arms: 7 / Shoulders: 4 / Chest: 1 / Head: 8 / Neck: 2
-Back: 0 / Legs: 1

Mestre knows that I’m putting together a blog and has half-jokingly asked for approval, to which I responded, “I don’t remember signing a non-disclosure agreement.” And really, given my responsibilities as a writer, I have to call it as I see it, with as much balance and fairness as possible. But, in the interest of maintaining positive ties and whatnot, names will be withheld when appropriate and discussion of sensitive topics will be kept to a minimum.

With my last night here in Brazil, I can sum up my entire experience in three words: “Abandon all expectations.” This can be both good and bad at the same time, and in retrospect, it’s been mostly good, even with the not so great experiences. And there have been days when I’ve been feeling like absolute crud, but largely the positive experiences more than made up for them.

For example, most of today ended up being a minor write-off. We were scheduled to go to the mud pits for a therapeutic mud bath, which I was really looking forward to, but the transportation company isn’t exactly coming through on agreements. Previously, it was agreed that the van would be available to pick us up at 11:00AM, but when they aren’t there, they suddenly have no recollection of this appointment, or that the van needs to be repaired, or something. From my experience so far, it’s more than likely they rented it out to someone who paid more, but they’re just not willing to admit it.

While cultural dynamics can be fascinating for sociological study and international relations, they’re a pain in the ass from a customer service point of view. The Other Vince and I have been compiling a list of businesses in Brazil that we cannot trust, but given that in some certain respect, pretty much all of the businesses categories fall under there, it’s not so much that certain businesses can’t be trusted, rather that it’s the general mentality of the culture in general. For a person that depends on full disclosure and transparency (and comes close to having anxiety attacks when these things are not there), this is not the kind of thing that I like to deal with on a regular basis.

As it stands, the end result of this is that we have to hire another van and driver, sending an old beat up VW minibus which doesn’t have all the seatbelts. By the time we pass through Ipojuca and get to the mud flats, they closed early, leaving behind a very unfriendly looking guard dog behind. And of course, no one has any idea what’s going on and asking for help from the locals gets us nowhere.

With me looking forward to finishing up a non-relaxing vacation with a therapeutic mud bath, this is less than welcome news, which has actually gotten me pretty bummed out. And considering that the number of hours wasted waiting could’ve been spent at the beach or doing something else, a lot of people are definitely not happy with the van company.

But, the feeling doesn’t last all that long, as we end up going to a favela (“shantytown”) to deliver gifts to underprivileged locals. This gives me enough perspective. These people, while they have less, are generally happy, even though their lives are harder. They are literally dirt poor, often making less than a few dollars per day. And they are extremely grateful for the gifts we give them. Meanwhile, we have everything we want, but want more, become disconnected with the people around us, take psychoactive meds to remain calm, shut ourselves out from the outside world because we’re addicted to our 24 hour high speed internet, shopping, eBay, and pornography.

For us, these gifts are mostly cast-offs and leftovers. While Kayla did procure new items (stationery, toiletries, etc.), the bulk of the items are old clothes and toys that we have no longer deemed useful. While these people have benefited from our materialistic attachments and our disposable culture of excess, seeing the way people live really makes stuff less worth complaining about, at least in our lives. Heck, my contribution was a few Rubik’s Cubes which I “retired” just because I own so damn many of them. This barely set me back $20.

However, this leads to a fun moment where I get the photo I want…I staged a photo where I’m racing one of the favela kids with Rubik’s Cube solving, and then he ends up beating me. I got what I wanted out of it and I did my good deed of the day, and on top of that, I made somebody smile.

And later, I do confront our non-Capoeira practicing group member to explain myself for last night and why I may have been upset. Indeed, I indicate to her that I’m not so much as looking for an apology as for an understanding of the consequences of not acting according to childhood lessons, while assuring her that after blowing off steam, I’m actually okay with it. Still mildly annoyed, but at least not pissed off about it.

We ended up back at Churasso Gaucho, an all-you-can-eat meat buffet, which the Other Vince describes as “like Samba’s, but the waiters don’t ignore you.” I forgo desert, although the bill swells slightly as we have to pay for the live musician (they neglect to tell us this before we sit down and eat). But, on the plus side, I have finally heard a live rendition of “Garota de Ipanema” (“The Girl from Ipanema”), which I haven’t heard in my entire time here. That’s kinda like going to NYC and never hearing Sinatra’s “New York, New York”.

As we leave, the Other Vince and I ask Acai to help us locate suitable gifts for our significant others back home. Given that shopping for clothes is generally an anxiety-inducing experience, we rely on her expertise and buy what she tells us. We run into Mestre and Christianne, who are saying that they are going to “Go for coffee.” This has the Other Vince and me laughing uncontrollably. We end up explaining the joke to Mestre, who is visibly unimpressed, while Christianne finds it funny.

The night is finished off when we go to the town looking to dance the night away. We run into Diago, one of the locals who works as a tour guide, whom we previously met during one of our Capoeira rodas. Since his English is significantly better than my Portuguese, he recommends one place called Santeria, which Jacare explains is a name of a religion. I only know it as a song by Sublime.

The club session starts out with a live band playing Forro music, for which I’m wishing that I paid more attention in salsa class (Charme explains that the only differences are the footwork). Things start more moving towards familiar territory after the band finishes their set and the DJ steps in to play electronic music and remixed top 40 favourites. “Kung Fu Fighting” begins pumping through the speakers and I do my worst Bruce Lee impression possible, much to the amusement of my peers.

I make my leave in the wee hours of the morning, intent on getting some sleep before an exhausting flight. The girlfriend isn’t feeling very good and could use some cheering up. I hope I picked something that she’d like.

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Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 13 (quarta-feira, decembro 17)

Mosquito bite count:
-Hands: 4 / Arms: 7 (+1) / Shoulders: 4 / Chest: 1 / Head: 8 / Neck: 2
-Back: 0 / Legs: 1 (+1)

Sunburn incident count: 2…maybe (first incident is completely healed, feeling a little sensitive on the face and forehead)

WARNING: AIRING OF DIRTY LAUNDRY. I’m not a big fan of airing dirty laundry in a public forum like Blogger or Facebook (where this blog is posted). Air dirty in public and everyone will know the colour of your underwear. However, this is also to serve as a public service announcement (because knowing is half the battle. YO JOE!). Names will not be mentioned to protect the remaining shreds of dignity, although everyone who was there will know exactly who this refers to. This will be the only mercy that will be shown in this blog. This will be honest, raw, and harsh, but it will be fair.

Parts of this blog were written down outside various medical clinics between Natal and Paraiba. The non-Capoeira practicing member of the group has dragged us here because against all of the basic life survival lessons that they teach children (e.g.: don’t stick metal objects into electric outlets, don’t accept rides from strangers, don’t swallow liquids with the “Mr. Yuck” sticker on it), she hand-fed a stray cat which then bit her. So yes, she’s trying to find a rabies shot.

Look people. They teach you not to handle stray animals when you’re a kid. The basic life survival lessons go double when you’re in a foreign country, triple when medical facilities are hard to find and may or may not be adequate. And surely enough, after hours of searching, we STILL haven’t fount a rabies shot.

While the previous day had me on edge, this incident has officially gotten me pissed off. I accept that there are certain risks associated with traveling abroad, but you do whatever it is that you can to minimize them. This is especially the case in a group trip. If one person gets an intestinal parasite and has to make a bathroom trip every fifteen minutes, the trip will become that much less fun as the van has to make stops every fifteen minutes.

Even as a Capoeirista, I run the risk of serious physical injury every time I step in to train or play against an advanced student, but I know how to minimize the risk. Always play in a respectful manner, don’t provoke an aggressive game if you can’t back it up, protect your face, warm up before training, and if it hurts, don’t push it. As Capoeira training has been one of the primary reasons for me to be here, and if someone gets hurt and we have to go all over town to find suitable medical facilities to reset a broken nose, I’m not going to hold it personally because this is not always preventable or predictable.

Evidently, this didn’t happen for our possibly-rabies infected travel companion, as this was something that was completely preventable. Even more insulting is the lack of anything resembling an apology, although she “thanked” us for accompanying her to all these medical facilities. Guess what, we don’t leave anyone behind and this was not a choice for us, and even if it were a choice, we still would’ve done it. And when presented with the question of whether or not she’s going to do it again, she says that she will, justifying it by saying that the cat was really cute and she couldn’t help herself.

This is a facepalm moment which further cements my perception that she’d be the first to die if we were in a horror film. I’m not looking forward to spending any amount of time with her, which is a shame because I was hoping to go partying on my last night here (tomorrow night), and she’s likely to accompany us. If she’s willing to pet a stray animal just because it’s cute, part of me expects her to let common sense to go flying out the window and accept a spiked drink from a stranger, which will mean the group of us will be involved in the search for her (or her body), will be required to make witness statements, and then be subsequently forced to miss our flights home as a result.

At least the general air of resentment and rage in the van has prompted her to vow to not touch stray animals again.

Not counting the search for the rabies shot, this would’ve been a pretty good day. We woke up and found that our belongings were not rifled through and no one shot at the front desk person. The toilet takes a long time to fill up, but at least we don’t have to sleep in a run down neighbourhood.

We drove to the beach where we alternate between lounging and swimming. The waves are high enough to make me long for a surfboard, but we opt for body surfing instead. The throat burns with sea water and I hit one wave hard enough to knock my goggles askew.

We end up going on an exhilarating dune buggy tour of the Natal sand dunes. The exhilaration is due to the element of danger – and I’m the only one that actually bothers with a seatbelt (which incidentally isn’t working properly). We make several stops for photos, many of which will be part of my screensaver at work.

We come back for Capoeira class on the beach, taught by rotating instructors including Instrutore Parata and Contra Mestre Pequeno. Movements are relatively basic, either to accommodate the large range in ranks or to accommodate us soft Canadians. I’m thinking it’s more of the latter.

Upon completion of class, we hop in the van for another part of the beach for lunch. Beers are continuously piled up in front of us while we wait for the catch of the day prepared to perfection. With drinks, we pay 15R$ each. We all eat our fill while we are swarmed by stray cats, circling like vultures, waiting for us to drop something. We all have the foresight to not handle or feed them.

A small group of us make our way through the nearby residential area to visit Mestre’s relatives. Again highlighting how good we have it, doors are secured witih padlocks and the walls and floors are bare. Many of the locals make their living by fishing, and while business is good now, it’s entirely seasonal. Mestre helps out his extended family wherever possible, and half jokingly laments that he has no money left every time he goes to Brazil. With the number of friends and family that Mestre has here, this is not surprising.

Mestre’s relatives share some mangoes with us, which I hope ripen before I leave Brazil (can’t take it with me). This is when we all hop in the van and find out about the need for a rabies shot. Considering that we’re 6 hours away from our accommodations in Porto de Galinhas, the trips to medical care facilities will add on another 3 hours at the very least.

We don’t end up getting home until 3AM. This had better not mess up scheduling, or I’m going to be even more pissed.

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Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 12 (tertia-feira, decembro 16)

Mosquito bite count: (unchanged)
-Hands: 4 / Arms: 6 / Shoulders: 4 / Chest: 1 / Head: 8 / Neck: 2
-Back: 0 / Legs: 0

Sunburn incident count: 1 (completely healed)

For the first time on this trip, I’m actually stressed out. Here I am, already very out of my element with a significant language barrier and undergoing massive culture shock, and only starting to figure out the local area, and I’m in a hotel in Natal where the front desk person actually needs a Kevlar vest. How did I end up here?

Immediately following breakfast, we were rushed to get on the bus for a 6-hour road trip from Porto to Natal, with one stop in the Recife airport and another stop to eat and get gas. The trip is cushioned with earplugs for the bulk of the trip as I’m feeling more anti-social than usual. I make it through half of Ender’s Game as in my haste to leave, I forgot my iPod charger. I also find out the hard way that my DS charger requires a step down converter before it will work here.

As much as I keep trying to remind myself of the class differences between Canada and Brazil, the bus trip through some of the more run-down areas of Natal has left some of us on edge. Christianne felt it was amusing to tell us that we’d be staying in some of the run-down neighbourhoods and the group would be split up. One non-Capoeira practicing member of the group uses the words “shit-hole” to describe the neighbourhood. It’s people like her who are usually the first to die in the horror movies that put Americans in foreign locales.

Lunch happens with Mestre’s extended family, where we are told we are staying. Despite the obvious class differences, we are treated with the utmost of hospitality with good food and drink. We’re still a little put off at the prospect of spending the night however. The Other Vince vows to follow the advice of Mestre Bimba, the founder of modern Capoeira Regional, who was said to sleep with one eye open. Gripping your pillow tight. Exit light, enter night, grain of sand.

After lunch, we end up at a public school, which is actually well maintained, a contrast to some of the neighbourhoods we have seen. This is the venue for the local Batizado. Compared to previous Batizados at Xexue and Olinda, the children students are less well-off, evidenced by the fact that they don’t all have official Aché Brasil uniforms. We attempt to soften the edge with some charitable donations of gifts that we’ve collected at the Vancouver academy.

We get the minor celebrity treatment and the kids are happy to see us, although I still get the feeling that they’ve never seen an Asian before, as one kid takes to pull on the corner of his eyes to imitate stereotypical Asian slanted eyes. I haven’t had anybody do that to my face since I was 8 years old, probably the approximate age of the kid who did that. I try not to be offended by this, although I am a little bit surprised, especially given the ethnic diversity that is seen in Brazil. But at least they don’t throw fruit at the van when we leave.

Batizado goes well and is much better organized than the Olinda Batizado, mostly owing to the fact that this was not a last-minute location change, and therefore the bathroom wasn’t as scary, although the fact that I had to use the girls’ change room while Kayla stood guard and the stall was missing half of a door does stand out. The Canadian students all end up doing Capoeira solos to warm up the crowd, but with inadequate warm-up, I know better than to cut loose with the high-risk moves.

However, we do not represent as well as we can, as half of the Canadian students are without proper Capoeira uniforms. While the locals do have an excuse, the only excuse we have is that we trusted the local laundry service which promised next day service. We surrendered our laundry on Monday and were supposed to have it on Tuesday. Guess what happened.

During the drive to God-only-knows-where (presumably where we’ll be staying), we are told that because Natal shares its name with the Christmas holiday in Portuguese (Feliz Natal), the city is completely decked out in Christmas decorations and lights. This leads to some of us singing Christmas carols, with the two Vinces allowing holiday cynicism to take hold – the Other Vince makes a point of changing the line “Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight” in “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” to “Won’t you shoot my wife tonight,” whereas I rant on the excesses of Christmas consumerism.

I mention that I’m doing a Buy-Nothing Christmas with family, mostly owing to the amount of money spent in order for this trip to happen. Our resident non-Capoeira practicing member of the group finds it unfathomable that we could’ve blown so much in savings all at once. She also received the trip as a graduation present. Without mentioning dollar figures, I list off the expenses that come with living on one’s own and sound really frickin’ old in the process.

We finally end up at the hotel, where I notice that the front desk clerk is wearing body armour. I haven’t decided if this is worse than staying at Mestre’s family or not, but at least we are very close to the beach and have a beautiful view. The photos taken will end up as my screensaver at work.

Dinner takes place at an Italian restaurant, consisting of thin-crust pizza and Caparinha (an alcoholic beverage containing Pitu, a local liquor derived from sugar cane). The pizza helps with the hypoglycaemia while the Caparinha takes the edge off.

The generally lackadaisical approach to customer service has me asking Christianne how they can get away with this. I’m told that this is largely due to the completely laid back attitude to just about everything. She tells me that it’s not so much the case in areas such as Sao Paulo, which is heavily industrialized, but also heavily commercialized (ie: Starbucks and McDonald’s all over the place). All I know is that back home, this is a quick way to ensure that repeat business does not happen. If I hand in the type of customer service that we’re getting here back home, I will get fired.

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Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 11 (segunda-feira, decembro 15)

Mosquito bite count:
-Hands: 4 / Arms: 6 (+1) / Shoulders: 4 / Chest: 1 / Head: 8 / Neck: 2
-Back: 0 / Legs: 0

Sunburn incident count: 1 (completely healed)

Immediately following breakfast, I walked with the group to the beach where we took a boat tour to a coral reef. And of course, after putting on all of our sunscreen and whatnot, there was a sudden downpour. Considering that we were going to be swimming a bit later, this wouldn’t have been a big deal, but sunscreen was getting in my eyes. As soon as it stopped, we started randomly quoting “I’m On a Boat.”

When we got on the coral reef, we were given a small packet of food for the fish. We had a bit too much fun feeding them, evidenced by the amount of fish crap that we were swimming in. Getting swarmed by fish was actually sort of neat, and of course there was the requisite stuffing of fish food in someone’s swim trunks.

After a fairly large lunch, we started the berimbau workshop. This ended up dragging on for hours, starting at roughly the afternoon and still going on until 10PM. Creating a full berimbau is an extremely tedious process. A brief run down:

-Peeling off all of the bark
-Cutting the length down to the equivalent of 7 hand lengths (stretched thumb to pinky)
-Using a glass blade to remove the remaining bark and smoothing out the surface and the knots in the wood
-Sanding down the surface
-Cutting, emptying, and sanding down a gourd
-putting holes in the gourd and attaching a string
-Cutting a notch in the berimbau for the aramé to loop around
-Nailing a square of leather to the top of the berimbau
-Cutting an appropriate length of wire and twisting the loops in it
-Tying string to the arame
-Stringing the berimbau properly

Given the extremely limited number of available tools, this takes a lot longer than it should. We end up improvising glass blades made of a broken bottle and surprisingly, nobody cuts themselves on the glass. This may appear to be fairly ghetto, but it actually effective at levelling out the surface. I now have a much better appreciation on what is necessary to make a berimbau and can actually see how the prices can be justified.

As complete newbies, our Berimbau assembly technique has become a great source of comedy for Jaruna, one of the workers at the Pousada who is also a Capoeira student, and obviously, they aid a lot more help than we were hoping for. My berimbau is somewhat complete, although I do need to do some more sanding. The wood is extremely stiff and difficult to flex. However, this is my berimbau. There are many like it, but this one is my own.

This drags on long enough that by the time some of us are finished, we’re all extremely tired, hungry, and getting cranky (low blood sugar and all). The night is finished off at an all-you-can-eat Brazilian barbecue which is much cheaper than eating at Samba’s in Vancouver.

The language barriers are slowly lowering as Saphadinho makes a crack at Charme’s expense. Charme requests “frango de queijo” (“chicken with cheese”), but Saphadinho makes an off-hand crack, “You mean, ‘Frango de Homems?” (slang term for gay male). Charme responds with an extended middle finger, but the waiter takes the joke even further by sending over another member of the wait staff.

The second hapless waiter is completely oblivious to the fact that he just got punked and politely asks if there’s anything else he can do. As we do so, the first waiter is killing himself laughing behind the counter, so much so that he needs his apron to mop up the tears because he’s laughing too hard.

The hypoglycaemia has now been replaced with a need for a post meal coma.

Next: Natal.

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Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 10 (segunda-feira, decembro 14)

Mosquito bite count: (unchanged)
-Hands: 4 / Arms: 5 / Shoulders: 4 / Chest: 1 / Head: 8 / Neck: 2
-Back: 0 / Legs: 0

Sunburn incident count: 1 (first one is completely healed)

Okay, minor change of plans. Berimbau workshop is deferred for another day due to the lack of available mass transportation to move 8 of us at once. Instead, today is chill day.

During breakfast, I am greeted by a slightly panicked Julia. Based on my limited understanding of Portuguese, she’s having problems with memory or the monitor…or something, I’m not sure. After finishing breakfast, I go to the computer to diagnose the problem with Julia in tow. I turn on the PC, and then I turn on the monitor. Julia’s eyes widen in amazement as it’s working just fine. I didn’t even do anything. Other Vince makes it pretty clear that he’s not impressed.

After breakfast, I replenish my money supply, having finally managed to burn through 290 R$ (about $200 CDN) over the course of more than a week (not bad, all things considered). Given that I’m in a resort town, I go against hitting currency exchange (low rates guaranteed) and I hit up the ATM. I bite the 10 R$ “convenience fee” but get enough to last the week. I also restock on water.

The Other Vince has been feeling sick since yesterday, owing to an extremely bumpy car ride to Olinda and breakfast that didn’t go down too well. He’s feeling better today, though. Luckily, we’ve all been doing “okay,” and the medical mishaps have been minimal. I’ve lucked out in terms of injury and gastrointestinal upset, getting only mosquito bites and sunburn and one quick bout of the runs.

But for chill-day, it was exactly as expected. We went straight to the beach, chilled out there, had a few drinks, and then went to lunch. Dragao and Iuna headed to Recife before heading back to Vancouver tomorrow so they wanted to make the most of it. Dragao failed to heed Mestre’s warning about rubbernecking the beautiful women on the beach, which usually results in hitting one’s head on the beach umbrella. I’m not sure if this is due to actual rubbernecking of beauties at the beach, but he has a nice scratch on his forehead as a painful reminder.

Maybe I have been well trained by the girlfriend, or maybe my expectations were way too built up, but I’m having difficulty locating the super-hot Brazilian women. Sure, they’re there, and there is nary a one-piece bathing suit in sight, but the ratio of super-beautiful women to average-fugly looking women isn’t necessarily greater than going to the beach back home in summer. This may also be buffered by the number of bodies that are NOT ready for the beach, which I’m trying really hard not to notice.

Relaxing at the beach is requisite when in Brazil. When here, one must learn the language, or at least enough to tell the vendors to go away. We had a vendor shield in the form of a beach blanket that keeps beach vendors at a distance, but the rising tide makes this impossible. On cue, we have two guitarists come by to harass us, who refuse to leave unless paid. We all pony up 1 R$ each.

Lunch was at Porto Mix, this place that served pretty much everything from pizza to Brazilian barbecue. They also had Japanese food, although it’s not quite like the stuff back home. The Other Vince chanced it on maki tuna rolls while I went for yakisoba. Overall, it’s okay and total I spend is 20 R$, which includes an acai berry smoothie.

We end up back at the pousada where we then head back to the beach for Capoeira training with Instrutore Pisao. The sand makes for better cushioning, although the last move he shows us before sundown is very difficult (somewhat akin to an s-dobrado into an au malandro).

After class, the Other Vince and I check the internet back at the pousada (they gave us off-hours internet access in exchange for fixing their computer). We quickly check Google News to see how things are back home. Some of the negative aspects of the trip had me missing home a little bit, but then I saw the report for 20 cm of snow to dump on Vancouver, followed by freezing rain. That feeling of homesickness immediately subsided, for I remembered that I just came back from the beach. Then that post-beach elation subsided when I realized that I’m only here for four more days after tonight.

Over dinner, Canela, Charme, the Other Vince, and I talked about the trip, what we liked and could’ve had better. Ice cream in just about every flavour available was welcome as desert.

Tomorrow, we should be having our berimbau workshop (for real this time). A day or two after, we’re visiting Natal for an overnight stay.

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Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 9 (domingo, decembro 13)

Mosquito bite count: (unchanged)
-Hands: 4 / Arms: 5 / Shoulders: 4 / Chest: 1 / Head: 8 / Neck: 2
-Back: 0 / Legs: 0

Sunburn incident count: 1 (completely healed, now peeling)

I can say with absolute confidence that Brazil is not a tourist destination for the germ phobic or those with constant hand-washing OCD. While this may be less applicable for areas such as Rio de Janeiro (which more caters to English-speaking gringos Americano), the non-TP accepting toilets, Kafka-esque public washrooms, and prevalence of winged bloodsuckers and creepy crawlies will have the OCD types substituting hand sanitizer with bleach.

Batizado day in Olinda had us training with both Mestre Eclilson (it was also his birthday today) and Mestre Derli. For this location, we ended up in a public theatre auditorium which was in a bit of a state of disrepair. We ended up cleaning up the floor with our feet, hands, and uniforms, which further cements how much I really don’t want to complain when the academy back home gets messy. The unfortunate bathroom facilities are even worse, causing one of our group to develop a sudden case of shy bladder until more suitable facilities can be located. In his words, "I took one look at the toilet, and my penis said NOOOOOOOOO!"

It may be more of a function of the weather and inadequate ventilation rather than our level of exertion, as I was dripping with sweat after and during classes. I was able to stave off dehydration with a litre of Guarana soda and 1.5 litres of water, made possible with the really cheap supermercado that was up the street. I was about ready to stock up for home, given that 1.5 litres of water is about 50% more expensive in Porto (1,29 R$ at the Olinda supermercado vs. 2 R$ in Porto), but they were shut down early, as were all the other businesses except for restaurants.

Lunch took place at a local restaurant that promised both Brazilian and Chinese cuisine. Having spent many a dollar at the restaurants in Richmond, I know what real Chinese food is supposed to be like, so my expectations were extremely low. Given that I was hungry, it was still adequate, although I would avoid a place like this if it was back home.

Batizado was a little more long and tedious this time around in comparison to the Batizado in Palmares. Many major landmarks were achieved however. Kayla received her first belt and apelido (“Jaguar”), while Contra Mestre Gordo and Professore Pit Bull were promoted to their next ranks (Mestre and Conra Mestre, respectively). We also made a few interesting contacts and a few friends.

The ceremony dragged on long enough that a small group of us had to head out to find a snack (preferably ice cream), but we ended up getting caught up in a drum parade. We still haven’t found out what the special occasion is, but it would explain why half of the businesses are shuttered. It may be for the Brazilian equivalent of the Day of the Dead, but I don’t see any decorations to that effect.

Overall, this Batizado is a disappointment compared to the one in Palmares, not only given the horrifying bathroom facilities and dirty floors, but the level of disorganization. Apparently, the original venue was changed at the last minute due to the group being bumped in favour of another. Supposedly, Brazil is a candidate for being an economic superpower. I don’t know if I want them in charge.

We end up at a pizza place for dinner and spend 10 R$, while Mestre’s extended family brings in birthday cake for Mestre. Para bens pra vocé, Mestre Eclilson. Before we leave, I take a photo of the locally produced liquid zero-calorie sweetener. The photo on the package has a provocative image of a woman drinking coffee while a man holds her from behind. The name of the product is “Assugrin.” I am so buying a bottle to take home when I get the chance.

With this being the month of December, businesses are gearing up for Christmas, although it’s easy for me to forget that, given that it’s summery weather here. Coming from Canada, I tend to associate Christmas with cold weather, the North Pole, snow, winter wonderland, and Bing Crosby (“I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”). I feel really, really bad for the local Brazilians that are tasked with dressing up like Padre Noel, given that they didn’t adapt the non-secular Christmas icon for warm weather (i.e.: Santa Claus still dresses up in the thick, fleecy, and furry Santa suit even in the sun).

The van ride home is uneventful as half of us are asleep through it. I’m crashing early tonight too. Next up: Berimbau workshop.

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Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 8 (sabado, decembro 12)

Mosquito bite count: (unchanged)
-Hands: 4 / Arms: 5 / Shoulders: 4 / Chest: 1 / Head: 8 / Neck: 2
-Back: 0 / Legs: 0

Sunburn incident count: 1 (completely healed, now waiting to peel)

The various spurts of Internet goodness have indicated that things at home are going as well as can be...when I left, things were kinda going to hell in the apartment (mouse infestation), but to hopefully soften the blow, I made sure that there would be a gift waiting for the girlfriend on her birthday. I know this won’t make up for the mouse infestation that was there when I left, but I have to try.

The only infestation I am dealing with is mosquitoes and tiny ants which are just about everywhere. Last night while chewing on sugar cane, I discovered ants made their way to it, so to protect my precious sugar cane, I tossed in the bar fridge. Now I’m chewing on ant-free sugar cane while spitting the fibres out into a bag while blogging. Life is good.

On the other hand, I’m just wondering if I’m getting a negative return on energy investment, as I have chewed through about 4 inches of sugar cane in the past half hour, which is less than a teaspoon of sugar. The mosquito bites on my arms have radiated redness to the surrounding area, which has made my arm slightly puffy.

Today has been relax day, where we had no set agenda (i.e.: no 2-hour road trip to Olinda or Palmares), except for music class with Professore Pit Bull. Lots of lazy going on here, with us just walking to town in search of a beach towel, but the language barrier makes stuff difficult. We still haven’t found a suitable beach towel.

We had pizza lunch with Julia, one of the Pousada hostesses. We’ve unofficially given her the Capoeira nickname Bacalhau (“cod”), based on the number of times she’s attempted to get us to pronounce that word properly (“Bola… ba… ba… BA… BA… KA… LEEYAO”). While she attempts to teach us Portuguese, we attempt to share English as well.

After lunch, Julia was going to help me find a beach towel, but not in the stores we came across (“Tudo não tem!”). While the women in the group were checking out a place for wraps and sarongs, Julia suggested that I buy a gift for the girlfriend at home. I understand enough to realize that she is trying to get me to tell her which dress size. I have to go with the typical guy response: Eu não sei (“I don’t know”). She then goes onto compare various sizes, pointing at me, indicating esbelto (slender) and The Other Vince as mas forte (not so slender).

I’m not sure if in Brazil there are consequences for buying gifts of clothing for wives and girlfriends of the wrong size, but I attempt to explain it. “Eu compra ‘mas forte’ pra minha namorada…” I start. I then point to myself and make a choking and punching gesture. Maybe it’s easier to say, “Ela me mata.”

After an emergency run to the Pousada restroom (not actual traveller’s diarrhoea, as far as I can tell), we hit the beach. I come to an area where some of our friends have already rented some chairs and umbrellas. This is handy, as this allows me to check my bag with some of our Pousada neighbours. The Other Vince stays out in the water while I alternate between poorly-motivated Capoeira movements and jumping in the water.

I am greeted with another reminder of business practices in Brazil when Kirk, one of our travel companions, has the misfortune of getting stuck with a bill for chairs that were supposed to have been paid for. The problem of the language barrier rears its ugly head yet again, which leads to our young adoptee to attempt to diffuse the situation with his additional two months in Brazil (and therefore better understanding of Portuguese and Brazilian culture).

Realizing that he’s not going to win this battle any time soon, Kirk produces 20 R$, muttering, “They need it more than I do,” and dropping it on the ground in front of the vendor before storming off. The vendor says words to the effect of, “You don’t rip people off in Brazil.” After yesterday’s lunch incident, this is somewhat ironic.

The odd cultural differences have gotten The Other Vince and I saying f***-it to the Brazilian public infrastructure and we have decided to flush the TP down the toilet, partly on the advice of one of the English speaking tourists we ran into last night. This is us exacting our karmic retribution for being forced to pay for lunch.

Today Mestre went off to pick up Mestre Derli, a Capoeira mestre who spent time in the actual Cidade de Deus (“City of God,” a notorious favela which was immortalized in the film of the same name). I met him at our previous Batizados and have had several classes with him.

We were supposed to have roda in the public square, but the general lack of organization (i.e.: put together by the lower belted students including myself) means that the likelihood of it occurring is put into question, up until the point that we find some other group members. Not the best roda by usual standards, partly because it’s completely casual (no one is in full uniform, only a few instruments), also because Mestre wasn’t here, but we manage to attract enough attention that some of the locals want to play, and we even get a tourist from Australia to come out as well.

Tomorrow is Batizado day in Olinda and we’re leaving as soon as we’re done breakfast.

Food report: we were told to budget approximately 45 R$ per day, and other Vince and I have consistently kept our food costs at under 35 R$ per day on average (even including when we got stuck with a padded lunch bill yesterday). We finally breached that today with pizza at lunch (9 R$ each) and steak dinner (31 R$).

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Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 7 (sesta-feira, decembro 11)

Mosquito bite count:
-Hands: 4 / Arms: 5 (+4) / Shoulders: 4 (+2) / Chest: 1 / Head: 8 (+2) / Neck: 2
-Back: 0 / Legs: 0

Sunburn incident count: 1 (completely healed, waiting for it to peel)

It’s like my computer has been with a Brazilian prostitute, as my computer is now up cybercreek without a paddle. I’m now unable to connect to the internet, so this post will have to be put up retroactively. For whatever reasons, nothing is working properly on my computer, the antivirus programs have been disabled, and I can’t even install any new programs. Microsoft Word is only usable program right now.

They’re asking me to compile all of the photos onto DVD, but now that’s looking impossible, as doing so would produce a DVD more virus ridden than Paris Hilton. I don’t know where it came from, whether it was from the two people that viewed files on my computer or the internet connection key. I strongly suspect that it was Dragão.

Today started out pretty well, all things considered. Class was held out in Riberão, where we went to what looked like what used to be an airplane hangar. Bathroom facilities were non-existent, so I ended up using the great outdoors as the urinal (at least I’ve long since gotten over my fear of that). Class was taught by Contra Mestre Jean, who previously operated an independent Capoeira grupo, but joined Aché Brasil.

We saw a lot of students that we met in the previous week and I’m slowly learning everyone’s names, although it’s really tough. I like that they’re making an honest effort to make us feel welcome (attempts at English are always fun), although the use of the interpreter (read: Camara) is always important.

The class in Riberão was pretty good, although relatively short compared to the roda that followed. Despite the disparity in skill levels, I feel like I can hold my own, although it’s still intimidating when you got some guys who are really skilled and some guys who are really strong. Maculele was especially great to watch as they actually broke out the real machetes for that. I mimed slicing off a hand to Contra Mestre Pequeno, much to his amusement.

Regardless, it’s an incredibly energetic roda, probably one of the biggest ones we’ve been to so far. Some incredible acrobatics, strong games, and I’m liking meeting all of the people. My Portuguese is slowly improving bit by bit, although it’ll be a while until I’m considered fluent.

A highlight was hanging out with our favourite resident Capoeira man-whore, Superhomem. Attempting to explain him to an outsider is kind of tough, as he’s someone who’s extremely obnoxious and abrasive, speaks broken English, is not someone you’d bring to a proper function (like a funeral), and yet somehow, he has incredible luck with women. Basically, if you gave Borat incredible martial arts skills, tattoos, and rogue-ish charm, you’d have Superhomem. I haven’t decided if we’re actually laughing “at” or laughing “with” him, as just about everything he says provokes a reaction.

With his broken English, Superhomem told us about the problems he’s had with the language. “When I first learn English, I had someone ask me if I wanted to go for coffee, but I only heard ‘Go fo’ coff.’” Why does he want me to go f*** off?" Always a good time with Superhomem.

Then I spontaneously had my first off-day of this vacation. We ended up at this one restaurant with some really good food, but much to the disappointment of the eight of us who shown up first, we realized that the table filled up by another eight people (native Brazilians) who ordered more food, and left us with the bill. I bring this to the attention of Camara, who shrugs and merely says “That’s probably going to happen.”

The drive back to the Pousada also involved a stop off at a sugar cane plantation. This is where I received some extra bites on my arms and face. Just about everyone got bitten, and the ones I have are several times larger than the ones I received earlier in the week. Two on my arm have swollen to the size of dollar coins. We later end up at a public market, but hey guess what. We spent all of our money at dinner treating the Brazilians to lunch.

And then I come back to the Pousada only to find that my computer no longer works properly. I can’t even open Control Panel. Getting stuck with a bill and getting my computer screwed up have actually managed to get me mildly upset and now I’m starting to miss home. And unfortunately, there’s absolutely jack all I can do about it because I can’t even get on the internet to diagnose the problem, although I’m attempting to run Windows Defender and scan in safe mode. But, at least the sugar cane was nice.

Icing on the cake comes when the Other Vince and I head out into town to grab some snackage. We run into our travel companions to find a few of them drunk and our young adoptee getting pretty angry at them for being completely drunk. Babysitting drunks has never been my idea of a good time and sometimes it really sucks being the responsible adult. Given that this is one of three things that have gotten me ticked off today, I’m feeling particularly antisocial. However, I did get an apology from Dragao, and I did make a pre-emptive strike apology if it turns out that my computer doesn’t have a virus.

Tomorrow is our day off from training. The only thing this computer is being used for is as a paper weight and a word processor.

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Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 6 (quinta-feira, decembro 10)

Mosquito bite count (unchanged since yesterday):
-Hands: 4 / Arms: 1 / Shoulders: 2 / Chest: 1 / Face: 6 / Neck: 2
-Back: 0 / Legs: 0

Sunburn incident count: 1 (previous sunburn almost completely healed with no noticeable tenderness on my shoulders)

Over breakfast, Other Vince and I were discussing Asian stereotypes and one of my goals to do a short film comedy with that theme. One scene would involve the Asian stereotype about being especially gifted with fixing computers. As luck would have it, the Pousada employees were having complaints about the way the computer was running, so Mestre asked if I could do something about it.

The lack of maintenance and care is extremely evident to my (not really) slanted Asian eyes as well as those of Other Vince. I start by removing the add-on toolbars and pop-up generators while Other Vince and I switch off tag-team style and start searching for legitimate software cleaners (AdAware, Spybot S&D). We then realize that no one has emptied the Internet Explorer cache or the Recycle Bin. Ever. Given that software is going to take longer to install and take effect than realized, we end up missing a significant chunk of Contra Mestre Parana’s class (tourism building).

As it is, a computer with this level of neglect becomes an all-day project to fix when the wireless internet is coming through a 3G connection. Our day starts looking like setting up a specific computer task (downloading program, running virus scan, etc.), letting it run, then going off to do something else (hang out at beach, eat, train Capoeira). As I write this (1:31AM local time), it’s running Defrag. We’ll check it first thing in the morning, and thus further reinforce the Asian stereotype.

To ensure that this does not happen again, we had Mestre act as translator while we attempted to advise the staff on ways to avoid picking up viruses, malware, and Trojan horses. I still suspect that someone will have to do this again same time next year.

Training today was relatively light-weight compared to yesterday (partly because we were fixing the computer rather than training the first class). An hour or two after lunch, we took the trip out to Instrutore Matraka’s academy in Recife where we did a class for music and maculele. I’m noticing that I’m still having issues with properly stringing up berimbau consistently (it’s been a month or two since I last did it) whereas the teachers get it right the first time. But, at least the heat makes the wood easier to bend.

Matraka’s class was followed by roda and mini-class taught by Professore Kiko. Kiko is quick and agile, and seems to have a smile that does not go away, and was described by members of my group as one of the happiest instructors we’ve had.

Overall, I’m enjoying the instruction we’re getting from the various teachers we have here. All of them have made an effort to make us feel welcome, have displayed a lot of patience, try to have fun with us and even take an interest in the things we like and pick up a little English. Instrutore Matraka, for all of his humour and jest (like jokingly threatening to throw my Rubik’s Cube across the room after being unable to solve it), is a very emotional guy, coming to tears when acknowledging Mestre coming all the way to visit the academy and students.

Stuff like this is why I get a little bothered when our resident adoptee gives attitude towards instructors and even Mestre. On this trip, I have witnessed two incidents where our resident adoptee has done exactly that. Those of us who have been here in Brazil for a shorter period of time are pretty put off by his behaviour, although the locals don’t seem to be bothered by it...although it’s pretty clear that he hasn’t gotten away with it.

Today’s incident involved the young charge swearing under his breath (but loud enough for Mestre to hear) and storming out after not being allowed to skip out on Instrutore Matraka’s class. As soon as he’s out of earshot, I go up to Mestre and say, “We’ll straighten him out.”

Mestre’s response was, “We’ll do it in the roda.” I was more thinking of a heart-to-heart talk myself, but obviously they do things differently here. Given that the young charge has been in Brazil for a few months already, he probably has a better idea of what’s going on than I do, although his attitude doesn’t always indicate that. I have seen him toss trash in the streets, which he dismissively justifies with, “someone else will pick it up.”

In a certain sense he’s right, although I’ve done my best to adopt a “leave the place nicer looking than when you leave” policy, where he says the way it’s done here, for everything you clean up, someone else will just leave a bigger mess. And in some respects, it is. It’s pretty rare when I can find a place to properly recycle bottles and cans (Kayla says, “It feels wrong!” Other Vince calls this cognitive dissonance).

Simply put, I don’t know how things work here and I sometimes feel like I’m better off not knowing. Capoeira is incredibly rife with politics and group dynamics change constantly.

And another comment on the major differences between training in Vancouver and training here. We are consistently violating fire safety codes everywhere we train (or at least we would be if they were worth enforcing) by filling rooms beyond capacity, but it goes to show that Capoeira can be done everywhere. And we HAVE been training Capoeira in some pretty random locations, some of which look fairly run down.

While I have had classes that felt much more intense back home, the perception may be based on the fact that it is harder to train in colder weather and we generally can’t train as often as we like due to various obligations (read: WORK). Either that, or the local instructors all know we are lightweights that need constant water breaks (“Não bebe agua!”).

Some of the skill and talent of most of the Capoeira students here is breathtaking and amazing. I’ve especially enjoyed games with one student (green/blue cordão) named Choque. He’s less than 5’ tall, looks small enough to throw Fastball Special style, and has a particularly twitchy style of play, but has energy and body control to spare. That, and he’s been picking up a few random words in English, which he’s been passing on to the other students. Unfortunately, the words they’re picking up aren’t the kind used in polite conversation.

The friendly and carefree attitude is a contrast to the rundown locations that we’ve been training, including where we had Professor Kiko’s roda. We would’ve totally violated fire safety regulations by being there, considering that the training space was less than that of a high school classroom. And the place looks old and poorly maintained. But, a fancy training facility is NOT a requisite for solid martial arts skill, and the skill I have seen is evidence of that.

Food report: breakfast and lunch at the Pousada, dinner (X-Tudo burger and acerola juice) was at a truck stop/gas station. We all stopped to eat and get gas. This proved to be some of the worst service I received so far as they managed to forget about me, so I ended up eating my burger on the bus because it came so late. The place was also a haven for mosquitoes, two of which I crushed.

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Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 5 (quarta-feira, decembro 9)

Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 5 (quarta-feira, decembro 9)

Mosquito bite count (unchanged since yesterday):
-Hands: 4 / Arms: 1 / Shoulders: 2 / Chest: 1 / Face: 6 / Neck: 2
-Back: 0 / Legs: 0

Sunburn incident count: 1 (little time spent out in the sun today, mostly healed, although putting on the backpack sorta hurts a little, not peeling yet)

Today was probably one of the more tiring days on this trip so far, and it’s only Wendesday. A very short time after breakfast, morning class was taught by Contra Mestre China (yes, like the country), and then a short break followed by lunch, which was almost immediately followed by a road trip to Varga for a class taught by Professore Ratinho, a break for food, and then off to Olinda for Professore Pit Bull’s academy for class. And Dragão wants for us to wake up at 7:00 AM for morning training on the beach before we have breakfast. Uh, how about no.

Contra Mestre China has taken to nicknaming me Bruce Lee. This is somewhat flattering, as he is often considered by most to be among the martial arts greats. But I don’t know if it’s due to a passing resemblance and an extremely low body fat percentage, or because all Asians look the same. Other Vince got called Jackie Chan once, and even has the unofficial Capoeira apelido “Bolo” (after the actor who played the baddie in Bloodsport), bestowed upon him several years back.

For his morning class, Mestre allowed us to train in non-uniform clothes as to avoid dirtying our uniforms for the other academies. We went back to the community square in town where we train fairly often. The weather was hot enough that the guys went shirtless. Unfortunately, the large amount of sweat generated by all of the guys also meant a certain amount of suction was generated when we were on our backs doing leg lifts for abdominal strengthening. The end result was a constant farting sound that made it so no one could concentrate.

Second class resulted in a lot of driving around. We ended up at one gym facility and found that the class was actually bumped in favour of a yoga class. A frickin’ yoga class. Mestre (maybe half-jokingly) commented that Capoeira isn’t as important to them, so they allowed a yoga class to displace the pre-booked time that we set aside. This confirms my suspicious about how business is sometimes done here, or at least in terms of customer service standards. Providers of customer service are more than willing to sacrifice one customer to please a new customer that is offering more money.

Somehow, I’m not surprised…this reminds me of the time the Vancouver academy imported uniform pants from Brazil and had the order screwed up (the logos were placed incorrectly), yet the printer still wanted full payment for their mistake.

We end up at another gym and are able to have class, but it’s in a very small space, but thankfully sufficient for our purposes. We are all sweating buckets by the end and even Camara admits that it was one of the more intense classes he’s had to take since his arrival.

Short dinner break, and we hop in the van to Olinda to Professore Pit Bull’s academy (rented space at another gym). This is where my shirt gets the dirtiest, as there is a sufficient amount of rusted metal around (thank goodness for my tetanus shot) that leaning on any surface in the gym will result in stains that aren’t coming out (that, and the sunscreen washed off onto the shirt, leaving it orange). I have sweated several litres of water due to the heat and large number of bodies packed in the space. Upon completion of the class, I proceed to wring my shirt out on the sidewalk, generating maybe a quarter cup of water. I haven’t decided if I’ll get in trouble or not with the Mestre if I post the video of me doing that on YouTube.

Overall, the class is enjoyable, although the large number of attending students from multiple academies makes getting in the roda very difficult, as rank means that one cannot just cut in with anyone without showing disrespect.

All this training has left my uniform extremely dirty with minimal laundry services available (we’ve taken to washing our clothes with shampoo and in the shower). I will probably have to purchase an entirely new uniform by the time this trip is complete, although I may have to wait until the very last day.

Overall, I’m finding the instructors easy to get along with and they’re all offering a lot of great perspective and insight into Capoeira. I can’t really comment on certain aspects (mostly due to cultural differences), but they’ve shown a lot of patience and have a lot to offer.

In a lot of respects, this has been the least relaxing vacation I have been on, but on the plus side, I definitely won’t be out of shape when I come back (although the long-ass plane ride might change that), and I have something resembling a tan after a few days here. It’s beginning to take a toll on my body, however. My left hip is starting to do something odd, as well as my right ankle. I’m not even the oldest person on this trip either.

Food report: really cheap eats. R$5 for dinner, R$15 for lunch, and R$3,60 for two mangoes and a can of guarana soda.

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Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 4 (terça-feira, decembro 8)

Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 4 (terça-feira, decembro 8)

Mosquito bite count (revised):
-Hands: 4 / Arms: 1 / Shoulders: 2 / Chest: 1 / Face: 6 / Neck: 2
-Back: 0 / Legs: 0

Sunburn incident count: 1 (some redness on upper shoulders, but not painful to the touch)

The more time I spend in Brazil, the more I realize that we have it way too easy in Canada and are spoiled in many respects. In Canada, classes are easier, we train on smooth surfaces made of laminate tile, and sometimes we have the opportunity to slack off. Those luxuries are gone here. For the past few days, we have trained on some pretty weird surfaces, with the last night being on brick road, today being on ceramic tile and later on cobblestone. But, relative to the fact that we actually are on vacation and are doing a lot of really interesting things, we could be doing worse.

The road trip to Olinda was long (involved passing through Recife, then driving for another half hour). Camara was gracious enough to keep the whistle blowing to a minimum, although the bulk of the trip was spent playing with Rubik’s Cubes and watching Up on the iPod.

We ended up at a market square where we met a street vendor who was attempting to sell us a berimbau pendant, although I am on a mission for one made of sterling silver and the ones he had were made of bamboo and other materials. Being one of the few locals that speak English, it was somewhat refreshing to hear (that, and he seems to like Canada more than the US). And I still can’t seem to find a souvenir deck of playing cards.

We were then followed by a couple of guitar players who then started singing about Capoeira (I’m just guessing…that word came up a few times and it was the only word I could understand). Mestre said they wanted money. Considering that the airport staff will expect a tip if they wheel your bags to the bus, I’m not surprised.

I finally got to sample agua de coco for the first time, immediately followed up by tapioca with guava jam (it’s a bit of a grilled sandwich made from toasted tapioca). This bit of downtime was nice, but it’s pretty fleeting as we’re training Capoeira at least twice a day now. However, I could think of worse things that I could be doing.

We ended up on the grounds in front of a church, where we were taught by Instrutore Jean, who gave us a lesson in the importance of paying attention and trying to remember. I’m really getting the feeling that the instructors are taking it easy on us here. After Camara, I am the highest ranked Canadian academy student (cordão azul escuro) on this trip (although this will change once Dragão arrives tomorrow, as he has the same belt), so if I screw up, I take the whole class with me.

We were taught 4 separate sequences which we were supposed to perform. After Monitor Camara was asked to stand aside (so we can’t follow him), I essentially had to lead the class in all the sequences. This was fine up until sequence 3, at which point I performed sequence 4 instead. Instrutore Jean had me do the requisite disciplinary push-ups and sit-ups and gave a speech (in Portuguese) reminding me of my rank (relative to the other students) and that in Brazil, things are going to be harder. As I’m doing my pushups, I say, “Yes, I can see that.” Camara translates, much to the bemusement of the instructor.

At one point, I was seriously contemplating asking Mestre to hold onto my belt for the duration of the Brazil trip, given the responsibilities that come with a higher rank. Higher rank does come with respect which has been earned, but it must be maintained. Slacking off and forgetting movements that a green belt could do is not behaviour becoming of a high-belted student. But, given that Mestre has his reasons for assigning rank, it would probably not be the wisest to go against his judgement.

The responsibility does tend to make one feel a little more important, though. We are tasked with looking out for each other, especially for the younger or less experienced students. One of the youngest students has a bit of a chip on his shoulder, but I know enough not to take the stuff he does personally. Sure, he’s a bit of a punk kid (which we’ve told him up front), but he has become unofficially “adopted” by the academy, so it’s kind of up to us to straighten him out. It’s still upsetting to see him act out, though. I only hope he gets straightened up before he becomes a real problem, for his sake.

Quick food report: today was a cheaper eat day than yesterday. 7 R$ towards pizza, 6 R$ for snacks, and 8 R$ for a “X-Tudo” burger (has everything…beef patty, cheese, lettuce, tomato, sausage, ham, egg, onions…) and ice cream. Yesterday, it was about 30 R$ for lunch alone, although that included a lot of steak. I like steak.

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Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 3.5 (segunda-feira, decembro 7)

Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 3.5 (segunda-feira, decembro 7)

Mosquito bite count (revised):
-Hands: 3 / Arms: 1 / Shoulders: 2 / Chest: 1 / Face: 4 / Neck: 2
-Back: 0 / Legs: 0

Sunburn incident count: 1 (upper shoulders, mild redness, slightly sensitive but not painful to the touch)

It’s finally dawning on me how unspoiled Porto de Galinhas is in terms of tourism. The bulk of the tourists are other Brazilians and finding anyone who speaks any English is an exercise in futility. We are looking like complete gringos (even us Asians) as we are forced to consult with whatever Portuguese dictionary is on hand when we are looking for stuff. “Tem cartas de baralho pra lembrança?” (“Do you have souvenir playing cards?”) Apparently, the preferred term is “cartas de jogo.”

This is somewhat refreshing, as I’m getting a more authentic tourist experience than I would with some plastic wrapped tour in frequently visited areas such as Cancun or Rio De Janeiro. But on the other hand, it reminds me about how little of the outside world I know and it’s a very humbling experience. And we have a tendency to laugh at people when they butcher English too. Looks like the shoe’s on the other foot now.

It’s even more hammered in by distressing feeling of “One of these is not like the other.” Despite the large number of ethnic Japanese living in Brazil, I don’t know where they are, although we did see some Asian tourists. And while Mestre did warn the Other Vince and me that we’d be mistaken for Japanese (despite the fact that I look less Asian than most Asians), it’s still a shock when some random local kid walks up to us and goes, “Vou é Japonês?” and then bursts out laughing when I respond, “Não, e sou chinês.” Either I pronounced it wrong or an Asian person in Brazil is that much of an alien thing to them. The lack of fluency in Portuguese is hampering my efforts to blend in.

Thankfully, our senior student/instructor Camara has been our unofficial tour guide and translator. This is extremely helpful as we would otherwise not know what is good to eat or what the Brazilian instructors are trying to say to us. He is someone we typically look up to for instruction and advice. And then we are sometimes reminded that he’s actually younger than a lot of the less-advanced students.

The evening was spent taking a class taught by Professore Pitbull in the middle of the public square, which was followed by a roda. As we were finishing, a street vendor was selling this whistle that made this annoying “WAH-WAHH” sound. Camara, all excited, wanted the Other Vince and me to also purchase one of these whistles. We refused, not wanting to blow 10 R$ on something so frivolous and annoying. Camara then threatened to play with the whistle during tomorrow’s road trip to Olinda, but wouldn’t if we all bought a whistle. We still refused.

As we walked away in search of something to eat, we met up with another touring student, Açai. Camara comes up to us in a group, trying to get money from her. As a mom, we figured she’d know better, so Other Vince and I are doing our best to make sure that she does NOT relinquish any money to him. Possibly because we were sort of freaking out, we may or may not told her WHY it was a bad idea to give him any money, because she relented, reasoning that Camara was going to pay her back with interest.

Tomorrow’s road trip will to Olinda be buffered with a combination of Gravol, iPods cranked to the max, earplugs, and any other method of distraction.

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Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 3 (segunda feira, decembro 7)

Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 3 (segunda feira, decembro 7)

Mosquito bite count:
-Hands: 3 / Arms: 1 / Shoulders: 1 / Chest: 1 / Face: 2 / Neck: 1
-Back: 0 / Legs: 0

Sunburn incident count: 0

I’m suspecting that due to my Chinese background, I’m more susceptible to mosquito bites than everyone else. Because you know how it is when you eat Chinese…an hour later you gotta do it again. I don’t seem to have any bites from last night, more from the previous night when I didn’t wear a long sleeved shirt to bed. Either that, or because my roomie left the A/C off for parts of the night.

Today was definitely a laid back day compared to the previous day. Even our Capoeira training was pretty lax, much of which involved taking us to a public square type area for Contra Mestre Brasil to give us a Q&A lecture on Capoeira Angola.

Oops, spoke too soon. Kayla just popped her head in the window and we’re training. NOW. As in, 7PM at night.

I really should’ve put the insect repellent in my checked luggage.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 2 (decembro 6)

Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 2 (decembro 6)

Morning followed my first overnight sleep here, made possible with the use of custom-fit earplugs (thank you, Vivian). My roommate, the Other Vince, has “been told” that he snores and I have confirmed it for him, which I describe as being akin to moving furniture (at which point the earplugs went in). Someone, like a girlfriend or family member, may wish to procure an anti-snoring pillow or a year’s supply of Breathe-Right strips as a Christmas gift for him. Just saying, that’s all.

My time here has given me a better appreciation of life in general back home. Either that, or life as a Canadian has left me utterly pacified. The prospect of the locals being unable to speak the same language is somewhat unnerving, but at least I’ve gotten over my fear of toilets that fail to accept toilet paper. Not that it matters, as chronic dehydration may have minimized the possibility of Montezuma’s revenge. This comes in extremely handy as one of the places we visited today had bathroom sanitary conditions approaching biohazard levels. Somehow, the “Worst Toilet in Scotland” scene in Trainspotting comes to mind.

Breakfast consists of food that I can’t get back at home and the fresh fruit is especially welcome. I’m used to the idea of carving out a pineapple and the centre is usually discarded as it’s so fibrous that it can only be chewed on until the juice is removed, and then spat out. I’m still waiting to sample agua de coco (coconut milk), which has been recommended for staving off dehydration. I don’t think I’ll need an excuse for drinking agua de coco.

The main focus of the day was one of the Batizado ceremonies that we are attending. This involved a looooong drive out to Xexeu (near Palmares). Some of these Capoeira students are good and the academies are much larger here. I’m guessing that the training regimens are a little bit different here, or at least the mentalities are different, given the large number of higher-ranked students than the ones back at home. Even though Mestre is largely operating in Canada these days, his base is still back home in Brazil.

While I’m aware of the level of violence that can escalate in some public rodas, we’ve been shielded from that. This is something I’m somewhat grateful for, as I really don’t know what public healthcare is like here in Brazil. If I was in Cuba, I might not be as worried (thank you, Michael Moore), and regardless of travel insurance, getting injured when you’re a long way from the comforts of home is a very frightening thought.

Despite my apprehension, I am able to hold my own against some very high ranked students and instructors, managing to do movements in Capoeira and actually fool them into believing that I’ve been training really hard for the past 7-odd years. I’m still working on the language barrier and the cultural differences, so they may actually be saying that I completely suck, though.

The cultural differences are a challenge and it’s further cementing the fact that I’m definitely not from there when I can’t say anything beyond Eu nao falar Portuguese. But at least they don’t do the American thing about saying things louder and slower even when they don’t understand the local language. However, this has somewhat increased my drive to learn a foreign language prior to visiting another country. I should probably get Cantonese down (being Chinese and all), although if I’m apprehensive about using non-toilet paper accepting toilets, I don’t know how I’ll be able to deal with the infamous squat toilets.

Generally, the people here are quite friendly (the extent of which is to be determined, as I have no idea what they are saying). Coming from Canada is interesting as we’re almost treated like mini-celebrities (either that, or not a lot of Asian people pass through Pernambuco), which is fun for a while. One of our group, Camara (also a student instructor at the academy) has visited Brazil several times before and indicated that it gets old after a while. With some of the street kids visiting the roda, I can see how. They also threw fruit at the van as we left.

The long-ass drive home was somewhat worse than the turbulent flight over Miami, as we were encountering a lot of road work, poorly lit roads, and unpaved roads. There are a lot of speed bumps that I can’t explain, and for some odd reason, we couldn’t take the same route home that we used on the way there. I could’ve sworn that there was a road that was there when we left, and NOT there when we came back. But I’m here, typing away, contemplating jumping in the pool, and missing my 24/7 wireless connection. But at least I don’t miss TV.

Yes, still no consistent fast internet, although Mestre has managed to obtain a wireless internet card, which I will need to procure at some point so I may e-mail my girlfriend, wish my mom a happy birthday, upload these entries to my blog, and get some photos up on Facebook. I may need to find an internet café. Probably tomorrow.

I’m slowly getting used to the time difference here…although it’s 12:41AM local time, my body still thinks it’s Vancouver time (5 hours behind, 7:41PM), so I’m actually awake, although I’m more than willing to sleep after a shower at this point. We’re scheduled to have a Capoeira class tomorrow morning, which will give me my first actual exposure to outdoor sun.

I’ve been able to stave off sunburn by virtue of the fact that I haven’t actually gotten out under the sun yet. And yes, sunblock is very expensive here. I’m hoping SPF30 is sufficient, although I am very capable of burning under the right conditions. Those right conditions could be met while I’m here, at which point I’ll have to bite the bullet and spend some 50 R$ (about $30 CDN) for SPF 60. With an SPF rating like that, I’d better be able to survive at ground zero when World War III occurs.

Why did I not put the sunscreen in my checked in luggage?

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Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 1 (decembro 4-5)

Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 1 (decembro 4-5)

The lack of a constant internet connection has made real-time updates somewhat impossible and goes to show how disconnected from the outside world I have allowed myself to become. So now, after successfully pissing away an entire day on air travel, I am finally landed in Porto Galinhas in Ipojuca, Brazil (near Recife) in the Pousada (“bed & breakfast”), blogging in non-real time, being forced to do the copy & paste thing to when I can. And I still need to find a way to drop a line to my significant other at home. I wonder if she got the text I sent her while I was passing through Miami. It’s also my mom’s birthday today and I haven’t been able to send out any emails or texts without receiving a nasty surprise from Fido the next month.

This is an annual tour organized by my academy, where we visit the various Aché Brasil academies operating in and around Brazil (specifically Pernambuco). In the process, we get to stay at the Pousada, visit and tour Porto de Galinhas, eat some really good food, listen to live music 24-7, and train Capoeira almost every day.

So, why does wanderlust kick in now? In a lot of respects, the opportunity has always been there, as this is an annual trip held by my Capoeira group, but for various reasons (lack of funds, lack of motivation, fear of the unknown) kept me from going, but after some (read: a lot of) urging from my girlfriend, I took the plunge, and now I’m staying warm in the sun, which comes especially welcome after the crappiest November for weather in memory.

Everything up until getting here has been a little more stressful than I’d like…taking two weeks for vacation means that deadlines are pushed up two weeks in advance, while packing takes time, as does the wait for documentation, vaccinations, and everything else. The price of the ticket is extremely volatile in high season (the quote actually went up by $100 in less than 24 hours), there isn’t any sort of direct flight (had to make separate stops in Dallas Ft. Worth, Miami, and Salvador), and there’s the ever-present fear of my luggage still going to Boston. Luckily, I still have all my stuff, except for my sunscreen, which they confiscated at YVR (more than 100mL).

But after successfully losing about day in travel (flying out of Vancouver 8:45AM, arriving in Recife the next day at 11:00AM), I’m running on very little sleep, maybe about 3 hours (which may have been induced by popping a Gravol on the plane). Losing 5 hours across time zones may have helped, as even though I’m dead tired at 16:46 Pacific standard time (actually 21:46 local time), I might be able to fall asleep when I’m supposed to. We’re supposed to be getting up early tomorrow as we have a Batizado (belt ceremony) to attend, which involves a lot of Capoeira training.

Coming to Porto de Galinhas, I feel very out of my element. I haven’t seen any other Asians around (save for Kayla and the Other Vince…and Kayla’s only half Chinese), they don’t cater as much to non-Portuguese speakers, and the conversion rate from CDN to R$ is not as favourable as I would’ve hoped. But on the plus side, I’ve so far managed to avoid Montezuma’s Revenge 4 hours after my first Brazilian meal (a lot of meat and chicken) and I’m with friends, some of whom are fluent in Portuguese. Plus, this part of the city doesn’t seem as dangerous as the travel websites like to warn.

This is my first attempt at an authentic vacation, non-sullied by the constant tourists traps, penetration of American imperialism (haven’t seen a Starbucks yet), lack of authenticity, and plastic wrap sheen. And it’s warm. Really warm. Not blistering hot, but then, we arrived some time in the afternoon and I spent most of the time in an air-conditioned van as we made our way from the Recife airport over to the Pousada, so that is likely to change tomorrow.

So far, I’m liking the weather, the really good food (although watching my sodium intake may be an exercise in futility at this point), and the quaint little hand-craft stores, although the little benefits of home like potable tap water, toilets that will accept toilet paper (the converse is simply unthinkable at this point, having flushed with every wipe since the days of toilet training), and high speed internet are missed.

It’s a little bit frightening and exciting at the same time, with everything from the language barrier to the cultural differences to the possibility of getting mugged making it challenging and worthwhile (although I may have gone a little overboard with the “decoy” wallet). Less-than-rudimentary Portuguese isn’t helping matters, although it makes for an interesting time when I’m attempting to ask for the driver how long something will take, but the only intelligible Portuguese I can muster is “Quanto tempos?”, which comes out as me asking for the time. At least I know how to find the bathroom (“Onde é o banheiro?”).

But when it feels too much like home, then it isn’t truly a vacation, now is it?

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