Thursday, 28 February 2013

One down, two to go!

Gave my first talk at the UnB this afternoon and it went really well.  Reva’s husband was expecting attendance around 8-10 people since it’s during their exam period so professors are busy writing, administering and grading exams.  However, I had an enthusiastic crowd of 30-40 professors from a variety of backgrounds.  Since I had some time before I started talking, I asked the attendees what they taught and it ranged from elementary school, to physics, to international relations, Portuguese and even physical education!  The audience was attentive and I got many questions at the end- over 20 minutes of public questions and several people stayed after to ask more questions and confirm my contact information.  Success!! 

Giving this talk, and any talk really, is a reminder of both the exciting and annoying parts of studying physics education.  It’s exciting because usually people can understand and relate to what you are talking about.  It’s a great conversation starter and it is fun to share experiences with people.  Even back when I did a poster session during my summer research at the University of Minnesota, I was the only physics education research poster and it was one of the most popular stops.  Many people stopped to read my poster and I was always talking to someone.  However, a lot of people (especially professors who have been teaching for decades) don’t like to be told to how to teach so they can be prickly or refuse to listen to what you have to say.  An older, European man questioned me during and after the question session.  He was convinced that when students work in groups, only the top student does work and the other two tag along.  I explained how we strategically group the students, quiz them individually every week, test them individually and showed him the data separated out by bottom, middle and top third of students.  Each group has a member from each of these thirds and the chart shows how each category of these students learns significantly more than if they were sitting in a traditional lecture.  Which won’t happen if they weren’t participating!  Anyway, I won’t complain now but you think a scientist would appreciate that data does not lie!

Other exciting news of the day: APS (American Physical Society) wants me to write a column in their newsletter!  Which will justifying getting my housing in Rio paid for!  Sweet deal!  Good thing that I’m getting warmed up to write because Reva wants to get a publication out of this women and science thing as well.  Speaking of publications, the Physics Teacher article I’m a co-author on is set to run in April 2013 so keep your eyes peeled for that, if you are a physics person.

After that, went to play Snooker with Gilberto.  Basically pool but with a slightly smaller table and balls.  You play odds and evens instead of stripes and solids- supposedly an American game but if I played in the past, it wasn’t memorable.  It was an excellent time- the first game, I technically deserved to crawl under the table but he was nice and didn’t make me.  My skills improved, we talked about life… an excellent evening overall.  I was very impressed with Brazilian bars- they make you carry around a piece of paper to keep track of your drinks then you check out with a cashier and pay for it then.  Although their musical choices were pretty hilarious- classical 80s and early 90s.  One guy was a dancing machine in purple sparkly converse, which made me laugh.  

I need to get up at the crack of dawn for another talk tomorrow.  Boa noite!  Tchau tchau!

Spiritually realigned!

So I didn't get to go to the dance fusion concert last night because Fernando's lesson preparations didn't go as well as he hoped but I should be able to meet up with him this weekend and I still got to go on some fun adventures.  
Don Bosco Sanctuary- not much to look at from the outside
Awe-inspiring interior
 First stop was the Dom Bosco Sanctuary- a fairly unimpressive concrete box from the outside, kind of in the middle of chaotic streets.  But inside, I found a breathtaking, inspiring space.  Its walls are formed by 80 columns over 15 m, which unite in the high Gothic arches. The structures contain 2,200 square feet of stained glass, with twelve shades of blue to create the feeling of a starry sky.  The building commemorates Saint John Belchior Bosco, an Italian priest who had a prophetic dream about the rise of an important civilization in the region where Brasília is today. The chandelier is  3.5 m high chandelier, to symbolize Jesus, the light of the world. 
Traveling to the next stop allowed me to see a different side of Brasilia.  We drove through the hospital and school sections of the city and I still didn't see any slums but there were definitely poorer sections of the city.  Many tents outside with vendors selling street food, some horses/donkeys and carts carrying supplies, more graffiti including a huge display which was actually the exterior of the contemporary art museum.
The second stop was the Temple of Good Will, which was a much stranger place.  It proclaims itself to be "one of the seven wonders of Brazil" and "the most visited monument of the capital".  It was founded by a journalist and radio broadcaster to "promote Ecumenism without restrictions and has the supreme objective of fostering the Earthly and Celestial Beings of all ethnic groups, philosophies, religious and political creeds, atheists and materialists".  It had a weird mix of things inside- posters that showed the faces of Leonardo da Vinci near Gengis Khan near Lao Tzu near Mother Teresa.  Inside there was artwork for sale that included geometric modern art, religious paintings, more indigenous traditional works then pieces that looked like graffiti.  They had semi-precious stones for sale which is quite common in Brazil but also healing crystals to align your chankras.  There was an Egyptian room, a room with Jesus and a waterfall and behind a mandala, there was a "floating box" that contained the body of the man who built it.  It was an impressive, pyramid-shaped exterior but was pretty plain inside the actual nave.  We arrived during the daily 15 minute healing ceremony.  That was also interesting- a man lead a prayer session with people gathered in a circle, directly under the central crystal under the pinnacle of the pyramid.  Then there was a booming god-like voice coming out of the speakers, Ave Maria playing then the people in the circle walked to the exterior and started praying over seated people around the perimeter.  I thought it was an interesting idea for a space but kind of cheesily executed- definitely got the impression it was designed as a tourist trap.
Temple of Good Will from the outside- also known as the Pyramids of Luminous Spirits

They had tons of these posters of random- you can see Lincoln, Gandhi, Krishna here
This morning, Reva and I got up at the crack of dawn (6:15 AM which corresponds to 4:15 AM EST)  to go to yoga.  Reva used to go but has been too scared to go alone since the teacher changed 3 years ago.  We had a nice walk and the studio space was beautiful- small, plain room but in front of a huge glass window which was cracked to let in the sounds of birds chirping, a harmonica player at one point and the fresh breeze, as well as a view of jungly vegetation.  So that was fun- it was hatha yoga which isn't my favorite but it was nice to move.  Reva kept thanking me for giving her the courage to start going again and I said I was happy to help.
Altar symbolizes four elements and it reads "Every day is the day to renew our destiny"

It's been a fairly relaxing morning- we'll head to campus after lunch.  I miss hot showers- I figured out how to make the water not teeth-chattering-cold but the temperature doesn't go above luke warm.  Rainy season humidity does not do good things for my hair and in order to use my straightener, I have to power up the transformer, use a plug adapter and the humidity still usually causes it to frizz... sigh.  

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Dictatorship with a smile!

National Theater from the outside
Last night, Reva and her husband took me to a free symphony at Cláudio Santoro National Theater.  The building is another one of Oscar Niemeyer's beautiful creations.  The show itself was a treat (although it would have been nice to experience some Brazilian music)- two of Mozart's pieces.  The soloist was supposedly the best living pianist in Brazil and the audience was enthusiastic, they ended up playing two extra songs.  

This is just one of many examples of the services the government provides for "free" (supposedly the taxes are absurdly high... it has to come from somewhere).  All the tourist attractions downtown were free of charge, the government bought the area around the TV tower and charges no rent to the people selling their goods, they maintain all the trees all over the city.  Mr. Garg you know you are in a third world country when all of these services are provided for free- it doesn't provide incentive for competition between private businesses and it doesn't bring in an income.  This has huge implications when it comes to education- a college education is provided to all citizens.  Many teachers complain of unmotivated and lazy students.  Since they get their education paid for, they literally aren't invested in getting educated and they'll get this service no matter what grades they earn.  Furthermore, Brazilians don't have many of the rights and liberties we may take for granted in America.  I had mentioned that it's very difficult to own firearms, which is related to Brazilian's inability to really own and protect private property.  All the trees are owned by the government, even if you plant one.  They can take your land anytime and there's nothing you can do about it.  This came up when talking to someone and he described it as "dictatorship with a smile" because the government will take your land, claiming it is for a good purpose but that doesn't do anything to protect your human rights.  Supposedly, freedom of speech is limited.  Government is still somewhat nepotistic- people are elected based on their reputation and who they know.  I was surprised to hear that one of Brazil's presidents in the not-so-distant past was illiterate.

Some graffiti that I love near the art school at UnB
Disclaimer: these are just things I've heard and noticed- I haven't studied Brazilian politics in details but it does inspire renewed appreciation for what it means to be American.  Several of the Brazilians said they want to move to the US but the Visa process is too difficult (one even asked me to marry him, move to California so we could go surfing and skateboarding every day).  I don't really feel like I'm in a third world country besides the lack of a well-developed tourism industry.  I've only seen a couple beggars, although there is a ton of graffiti, much of which protests the unequal distribution of resources and rights between rich and poor.  I know there are slums in Rio so Brazilia may be a nicer city than most...

Not much else to report here- I visited the American School of Brasilia this morning to meet with the headmaster and the physics teacher.  The physics class looked like a mini-SCALE-UP classroom- students were working on whiteboards while others were collecting real-time data using Vernier probes.  I'd rather teach at the college level but I could see myself working at a place like that.  They sent around the abstract of my talk and supposedly, at least 20 teachers are interested in coming!  

This afternoon I'm meeting with the physics education research group at UnB and probably should start transcribing my interviews.  Tonight, hopefully I'll go to a "Tribal Fusion" dance performance (supposedly a mix of bellydancing, flamenco and some other Ocidental styles such as hip-hop) with another couchsurfing friend.  This guy is a UnB grad who is interviewing for a teaching position there tomorrow- he sounds like a smarty pants!  And this performance sounds like a unique experience!  Tchau!

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

More amazing people!

Another wonderful day of meeting people.  I interviewed Reva, another professor and a current physics student about their experiences as women in science and their stories blew me away.  The contrast between Reva's story and that of the other professor was especially insightful.  Reva grew up as one of eight with an uneducated mother but a father in academia that encouraged all his children to make the most of their brains- I think she said six of her siblings have PhD's in chemistry, mathematics, etc. so she comes from a very educated family.  She said her father named her Reva after "river" which continues to flow despite obstacles.  Her obstacles are mostly what I discussed yesterday- uprooting herself from a tenured position in India to an unfamiliar land to marry a man she's never met.  Her colleagues didn't seem remotely welcoming and she said she was treated as a "shadow of her husband".  On one hand she feels guilty about the career sacrifices she made for her family but it is also obvious she is most proud of her family and her son.  

The other teacher's story was entirely different.  She grew up in a poor, relatively uneducated family so she got no real support or encouragement from her parents.  She worked as a tutor to pay for her living expenses when she moved to Sao Paulo for her undergraduate, where she met her husband, another physicist.  She got a prestigious post-doc in France and her husband actually discontinued his studies to move there with her.  She got pregnant and the fellowship was supposed to be discontinued if she was pregnant so she had to hide her pregnancy.  When she had the baby, some of her colleagues were particularly nasty when she brought the baby into work, even though that was the only place she could feed it.  Supposedly the laws have changed to allow for some maternity leave but that whole policy and the hostility she received from her peers was ridiculous!  All three of the people I talked to this morning were extraordinarily self-motivated and ambitious- none of them had particularly helpful role models, per se.  The challenges they faced inspired them to stand out by working harder and being even better than anyone else.  Even the student was amazing- she had finished an undergraduate degree in pharmacy and is currently simultaneously working on a second undergraduate degree in physics, a Masters in chemistry while teaching chemistry at a prestigious private school

JK bridge- so unique!

After the interviews, I met up with another couchsurfing friend, Emmanuel for lunch at Mangai, a "kilo" buffet-like restaurant for some delicious food (tried some more traditional Brazilian dishes/veggies that I haven't encountered in the US) and great company.  He's a sports reporter for a local newspaper (he got to report on the London Olympics as part of his job, lucky duck!) who just moved here a month ago.  After lunch, we went to the bottom of the JK bridge which is designed to look like a stone skipping across the lake.  Then we drove by some gorgeous mansions and embassies before walking around the park at Lago Sul.  There were some shops, restaurants, beautiful plants and of course, a nice view of the lake.  We stumbled upon a plaza containing statues of Afro-Brazilian deities.  My first exposure to that aspect of the culture- while we were there, a family made an offering to one of the statues so I guess people still believe.
Orixá Plaza
Emmanuel and I at Lago Sul

Other good news: finally passed level 1 in Rosetta Stone so I'm finally learning more helpful things- "I need coffee" (Eu precida de cafe), "I am going to the hotel" (Eu vou ao hotel), "I want to buy this map" (Eu quero comprar este mapainstead of talking about buying jewelry and tuxedos (which is certainly not a life or death issue for me).  Reva and her husband are going to take me to a bookstore where hopefully I can find a book of helpful travel phrase in Portuguese.  I should have picked one up before I left the US but when I got to Taiwan,  they had free brochures in the airport that had everything I needed.  The airport I flew into had no tourist information at all.

Monday, 25 February 2013

So inspired

In my last post, I said I wasn’t brushing elbows with greatness but that’s a big lie.  One doesn’t need a Nobel Prize- one does not even need to surpass 5 feet in height to be great!
Me at the UnB... such a green, airy beautiful campus... meticulous landscaping... actually they spend so much time taking care of the yards that some of the buildings are falling apart...
So today Reva was showing me around the University, introducing me to people and I learned a bit more about her story.  Her family set up an arranged marriage to the man who is now her husband.  During this process, he had already moved to Brazil to work as a professor at UnB so she had never met him, just looked at his profile in the notebook and communicated a bit through the brother in that family.  So she decides to move to Brazil where she doesn’t know any Portuguese, where there are barely any people from India, vegetarianism is extremely rare and marry a man she’s never met.  Fortunately, they get along and I couldn’t imagine a more perfect match- it’s adorable to watch them.  But she said she spent her first few years spending a ton of time in the University library learning Portuguese and actually published three physics papers (her work is theoretical).  During this time, she didn’t have a job and didn’t know the language well enough to have any friends.  She said watching a soap opera was critical to her mastering the language.  Fortunately, they both found jobs at a less reputable college at Victoria then once she got tenure, she was able to earn a salary from there and both her and her husband returned to teach at UnB and they had a son here who is also amazing.

Me outside the library where Reva spent so much quality time 
He went to public school then switched to American School of Brasilia, an exclusive, expensive school where ambassadors tend to send their children.  They were able to send Amit here since the husband recently retired from the University and decided to teach physics and calculus there for a couple years.  (This school is where Reva wants me to work- we’re visiting on Wednesday with a copy of my CV (don’t worry parents, I’d have to finish my degree first…))  Amit went to Stanford for his undergraduate degree with dreams of becoming a doctor.  He traveled to India after his freshmen year for a community service project.  He met another man who ran eleven schools as well as planting a ton of trees who inspired him to build a hospital that would serve 100,000 rural villagers in this isolated area.  He partnered up with four fellow students, now who live all over the northwest: including a chemical engineer turned actress who is working out of LA, a lawyer in Seattle, another lawyer in Portland.  They’ve been working on this Hospitals for Hope project for over 12 years, remotely.  They’ve been really creative with fundraising- they had a colleague write up their story as book whose proceeds benefit the project, a professional photographer sell posters of the village to raise money, as well as more traditional events.  They just completed construction on the hospital last May, with the help of a construction company who agreed to build for free.  All these people are in their mid-20s and did this while working full-time jobs.  Amit got accepted to Yale medical school but has been working as a project manager for Google instead.

This afternoon I’ve been helping Reva with some technological issues, including trying to compress a video of an event related to this project into a form where it can be shared.  But I highly encourage you to check out the link to their website and help out in any way you can.  Reva wants me to convince my mother, who she knows is a nurse, to spent a couple years serving (I’m sure that invitation extends to all my medical school friends!).  Now that they’ve got a building, they need people to work there and run it.

There's so many problems in this world- I hope I find a cause that I'm passionate enough about to improve the world in a significant way.  I'm excited for my interviews to start tomorrow to hear more inspiring stories!  And meanwhile, my first talk is rapidly approaching...

Good times with young and old

Yesterday ended up being a pretty special day- didn’t see too many city sights but I since we were able to cover the vast majority of hotspots in a couple hours, I’m sure there will be plenty of time for that.

The community lunch at the temple was really fun.  It began people taking turns reading and reflecting on brief quotes from scriptures.  This part was in Portuguese so I could pretty much follow along- one of my favorites was something along the lines of “an elephant may be big and strong but it takes an ant to pick up a piece of sugar”.  Reva and her husband continue to amaze me.  One of the discussed themes was modesty and her husband talked about being in California for a conference and offering to help a man pick up a projector.  The man said he didn’t need any help but once the presentation got underway, they realized the ordinary, modest man that was lifting his own projector was being awarded the Nobel Prize!  They said, in Switzerland, they asked a man to take a family picture at the World Economics Expo and that man was very humble and said he couldn’t work a camera… they later realized he also won a Nobel Prize.  I’ve gotten to know some amazing people but I can’t say I’m close to regularly rubbing elbows with world-renowned greatness!

Speaking of greatness, the average age of attendees at this lunch was significantly past retirement but they had many amazing stories.  Through a translator, I was talking to one retired army general who literally looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger but better.  He was 81 and had been doing yoga for 61 years.  He makes Dick Clark look like a raisin- everyone should do yoga!  I also met an Italian countess who biked 16 kilometers during the world war.  I talked extensively with a couple “younger” women (40s-50s) who spent time studying in the US- a civil engineer and an environmental scientist.  They were amazed that I chose to come to Brazil of all places, and that I was travelling alone as a young, female physicist.  They are already trying to convince me to come back and volunteer for the Olympics or the World Cup- my Visa doesn’t expire for 10 years so it’s certainly possible.  Don’t know if I’ll ever finish my dissertation with all this traveling but it may be worth it! J  And Reva wants me to work at the prestigious American school in Brasilia after I graduate so I’ve got options! 
Round 1 at the community luncheon

Lunch itself was delicious of course- although all attendees were Brazilian except for one Chinese woman and an Indian man but most the food was Indian.  Spiced chickpeas, a delicious saffron rice, a pumpkin curry, Arabic lentils, Reva prepared beans harvested from the temple, fresh lemonade from the lemon tree, another fruit juice which was delicious, a French pear tart, strawberry ice cream, almond milk balls and sesame seed dessert.  

Interesting thing about this luncheon- I was talking to a Brazilian about how much I loved potlucks and apparently there is no word for this in Portuguese but he loved learning the English word.  He thought it made since because everyone brings a pot of food and you hope that you get lucky with good food.  He said the closest thing he could think of was so-called "American parties" that he used to go to when he was 13.  For these parties, the girls would bring snacks and the guys would provide drinks.  Which I guess happens in America- I was just talking to Scotty last weekend and he was reminiscing about game nights during undergraduate when the boys would bring wine and the girls would provide appetizers of cheese and fruit.  

After that, I had my first international couchsurfing adventure- Gilberto invited me to his friend’s birthday party and barbeque.  The house was gorgeous- I wish I remembered to take a picture before it got dark and started to downpour.  But there was a nice covered cabana, pool, brick oven for cooking the meat and most of all great people!  A surprising number of which had spent at least a little time in the US and much time listening to American music and watching American movies so I had plenty of people to talk to.  I learned how to play Truco, a popular Brazilian card game.  The first game was very close and we were defeated to a last round which dramatically left things up to chance (someone made a comment that American games never end that way).  The second game was high stakes since the losing team had to dive in the pool (the clouds were coming and it was colder at this point).  Despite my complete lack of a poker face, I learned to shout Truco with such fierceness to make the other team run and Gilberto and I were victorious when it mattered!  I stopped playing after that game to end on a triumphant note- I guess if you don't score in any Brazilian game you have to crawl under the table so I decided to avoid that possibility.  

I had my first caipirinhas and those didn't disappoint.  The drink is made by mashing limes with sugar cane, then adding vodka and ice.  I've been warned that caipirinhas cause Americans to drop to the floor like flies because they are so sweet and delicious.  I couldn't resist having more than one but they told me I handled it like a Brazilian.  I also learned some interesting random facts about Brazil- no casinos in this country, all Brazilian beers are Pilsners (from what what I tasted and what I heard, American beers are infinitely better) and no guns are allowed even though this country has a reputation for being a country of thieves, and a haven for South American outlaws.  I had many interesting conversations comparing the politics, quality of life, etc. with people who had spent time in America but I'll save that for another post because this one is getting long and I'm getting tired of writing.  

The evening ended with people taking turns playing the guitar, makeshift drums and singing.  I recognized a Bob Marley jam and Adele's "Set fire to the rain".  But they were playing quite the variety- from Brazilian pop songs to samba-ish tunes and some rapping.  I'm looking forward to experiencing more Brazilian music.

That's all for now- more later!
New Brazilian friends at pool party

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Wait.... Am I in India or Brazil?

Not like I'm complaining... it's pretty fun to have the best of both worlds.  In Brasilia, every Sunday the city ropes off 16 km of one of the main roads for people to bike, walk, skateboard and run.  Such a good idea to promote getting people outside and exercising.  My hosts invited me to join them for a 6 AM walk (4 AM my time...).  Unfortunately, there was no way my body could wake up that early today.  And it would be great to run around especially because I'm signed up for a half marathon the week I reurn.  However, the arch in my foot has been bothering me and I haven't been able to run at all in the past couple weeks.  Reva noticed it swelling and me limping yesterday so I'm trying to take it easy so I can at least do as much hiking, walking and exploring as possible!  Reva invited me to do yoga with her during the week and go to the gym with her husband so hopefully I won't get totally out of shape.  Brazilians are infinitely more active than Indians- I've definitely noticed many of them playing sports, running and biking around.

I did elect to join them for their 8 AM prayer service at the Temple of Knowledge- we're going back later for a community lunch so I'll have to take pictures of the grounds.  Outside, they have mango trees, lemon trees, papaya trees, permissions, curry, turmeric.... They had a little pond with blossoming lotus flowers that someone brought back from India!
Beautiful lotus flower

Pretty amazing that they survived the trip.  I guess in general, many of the plants commonly found in Brazil were brought from India- mango trees, being one of my favorite examples!  This temple was formed after Guru Tamil came to Brazil in the mid-1970s.  Supposedly, he had an amazing gift with languages and was able to learn Russian, Japanese, Portuguese, etc. within a couple days.  He apparently made quite an impression- there were about 5-7 Portuguese people at the service all of whom have since made efforts to learn Hindi from Reva and visited India.

The service involved a simple offering then people taking turns chanting/singing in front of a simple shrine (with images of Ram, Jesus, Swami Talik and his teacher), followed by a silent meditation.  Much less chaotic than most of the Hindi temples I have visited elsewhere which had multiple stations, lots of kids running around, priests making offerings and all kinds of chaos.  Since today is the death anniversary of Talik's teacher, there was a special breakfast after the service.  I tried my first persimmon (delicious) and had papaya, cheese, crackers, oat cookies, this ground-wheat-fruit-nut-dish that I remember eating in India and a honey bread with a plum filling that was covered in chocolate.  Accompanied by a delicious cup of chai that instantly sent me back to tea time at Miranda House.  So good!  The woman who made the bread owns a biscuit factory, makes her own honey and generally seems amazing.  The people at the temple aren't vegan (they eat tons of cheese, milk and butter) but they don't eat eggs or anything associated with taking an animal's life which made me even more impressed with the quality of food.  I already requested the recipe and I think I'm going to buy some of her honey to bring back to the US.  We'll be back there later for a community lunch and I hope they have more chai :)
Lunch- so delicious- just a sampling shown here but I ended up having seconds of almost everything!

Let's backtrack a bit to yesterday afternoon.... After being fed at midnight on my plane, fed breakfast at 7 AM on the plane, first breakfast with Belle around 9:30 AM, I barely had room in my belly but everything was made with local ingredients and was delicious.  She cooked okra, beans, cucumber, batata boroa,  (Brazilian root vegetable- a cross between a potato and a carrot- I loved it!), tikka masala, roti and rice.  She promised me cooking lessons and I can't wait to take her up on her offer- she already gave me two links for Indian recipes, one that's all  vegan/vegetarian.  I'll definitely be trying out some of those recipes when I return to the US.

After the feast, we went exploring.  We started at the smaller TV tower where we took an elevator up to get a view of the city.  On the weekends, there's a flea market at the bottom with local merchants with an amazing variety of goods- some tourist T-shirts, leather goods, hammocks, musical instruments,  lots of lace and lots of crafts/jewelry that utilize dried local seeds and flowers.
View from the TV tower overlooking the "cockpit" of the airplane with most government buildings and ministries

Reva and husband at the flea market- lots of creative crafts with recycled goods
 After that, we stopped by a series of the local landmarks.  The cathedral depicted below absolutely took my breath away and is probably my favorite sight so far.  We also went to the Juscelino Kubitscheck (JK) memorial, Povos Indigenas Memorial, saw Alvorada Palace ("palace of the dawn") for the president, drove by the Vice President's place with ostriches wandering around the yard, National museum, Esplanada dos Ministerios, National library (which contains no books) and the national theater.  In some respects, the city is very logically laid out- all the sections are numbered, the roads make sense, there are sections of three-story-cheaper-apartments, six-sotry-condos with elevators, houses on the North side.  However, supposedly they have one section with all the city's hotels and one section with all the hospitals, one section with all the banks.  I guess it's a good way to scout out your options but besides that, it doesn't make much sense to me!
Nossa Senhora Aparecida Metropolitan Cathedral- Breathtaking!

Reva and I at the Juscelino Kubitschek memorial (told you she was tiny!)
Ok I think we'll be returning to the temple shortly followed by some more sightseeing.  I'm excited!

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Surrounded by mango trees and sunshine #heaven!

So my first flight was delayed which basically gave me no time to make my international connection but after a record-breaking sprint in a random, uninformed direction, I miraculously got on the plane to Brasilia right before they sealed the doors, amazing all the travel agents who thought I won't be able to make it.  And my luggage came with me, which is even better.  I had heard that the city was laid out to look like a bird/airplane so I was really looking forward to getting a bird's eye view during the decent but all I could see was the wing of the plane.  The actual plane.  Not the part of the city that is supposed to look like the wing of the plane.  I should have another chance when I fly to Sao Paulo...

I arrived to a gorgeous mid-80 degree, slightly breezy, sunny day.  Reva is the most precious human being that I have ever encountered- she's a teensy, tiny Indian woman who comes up to the height of my elbow.  She's almost 70 years old but has a ton of energy and is incredibly welcoming, generous and curious.  I instantly felt right at home.

On the way home, Reva and her husband (also a physics professor at UnB) pointed out some sites including the World Bank of Brazil which supposedly contains 8 floors of solid gold bars underground.  Brasilia is on the Unesco's World Heritage list largely due to the architecture designed primarily by Oscar Niemeyer.  He supposedly died recently after living to the ripe old age of 105, which is pretty amazing!  I know seeing the Cathedral he designed is definitely on my to-do list.

So it's been a pretty relaxing morning here at their apartment.  It's a gorgeous airy space with a lot of Indian decor.  Supposedly they have trees that grow seventeen types of fruits surrounding their apartment.  Including mango trees- I've smelled one of the mangos they've picked recently and literally started drooling.  We're going on a fruit tasting adventure when we walk to a community event at a temple tomorrow.

They had a family friend, Belle stay with them last night since she's in town for a start-up conference.  She's probably not over the age of 30 but she sounds incredibly accomplished as a sought after keynote speaker, author of a book and reputable start-up starter.  I really enjoyed talking to her and wish she'd be around longer- she invited me to the conference but she said it's mostly groups of people working on start-up projects today (with minimal speakers or workshops).  She's currently in Sao Paulo after living for 7 years in San Francisco.  Partially to be with a man that she instantly fell in love with after a couple years of him trying unsuccessfully to meet up with her.  It was a precious story and she offered to show me around Sao Paulo if our schedules align when I'm there for a couple days.
View from Reva's apartment- the windows are open, the breeze is blowing- it is blissful.  

The delicious breakfast they insisted on feeding me even though I ate on the plane- fresh squeezed orange juice, melted mozzarella on toasted bread
Speaking of food, it's almost time for lunch (some sort of okra creation) and then I think we're going to go sightseeing.  It's so nice to be here!  Just gotta renew motivation to work on my talk- I guess she e-mailed the entire university about my colloquium and reserved the big lecture hall they use for international speakers. :o The pressure's on!

Friday, 22 February 2013

Tchau Estados Unidos!

Whoa 70 page views yesterday!  Hopefully I didn't bore you and you'll keep reading.  I'm sure it'll get more exciting when I'm actually somewhere!

Greetings from the Raleigh-Durham airport.  Ever the multi-taker, I'm hiding in a corner with my earbuds practicing my Portuguese as I update.  Currently, I'm on the lesson that boggled my mind when I was refreshing my Chinese as well- I'm learning the words for "ladder", "umbrella" and "sunglasses"when I don't know any food words yet which are kind of necessary for survival.  Well, maybe umbrellas are too if arachnids are going to rain down from the sky.  Wonder if there's a word for spider-umbrellas.

Anyway, even though I'm not quite out of the country, I've made sure to immerse myself in internationalism.  I went to the couchsurfers potluck last night in Raleigh which was a blast.  There weren't any Brazilians but I did meet two girls who spent a semester in a different part of Brazil and raved about it.  Apparently I need to try the feijoada in Rio (I don't know what that's supposed to be either- I miss the two dorky, male graduate students who shadowed me in Taiwan, never speaking but instantly google-imaging any hard to explain Chinese words with an image on their ipads).  Another guy I met traveled around Brazil and had several contacts he suggested I get in contact with, including a hostel owner in Sao Paulo who I found is currently in Nashville but his hostel has a bar and it looks like a fun place to hang out.  And there seemed to be a decent number of people who were relatively new to couchsurfing but I definitely met some seasoned vets who have been members for six years and had good advice about best practices in general.

Potlucks are always a blast but this one made me realize how NC State has really gotten me used to being surrounded by incredible diversity.  Last night, I met people from China, India, Denmark, France and Columbia... besides the Europeans, it wasn't too much different than the ethnic composition of the physics department.  I was also surprised at the disproportionately high percentage of people who work in Information Technology and engineering.  Perhaps those jobs have flexibility and a decent salary to promote traveling?  Also the average age of most of these couchsurfers is mid-30s, which is a little older than I expected but maybe, along similar lines of reasoning, that population has more job stability and income to afford to travel?  I did meet a decent number of State graduate students- the host was getting a masters in math education and planned to teach in China this summer.  Meet a bunch of engineers.  Drank some delicious wildberry sangria, ate a delicious Moroccan Tagine, warm brie on french bread, sweet potato chili, yum yum in my tum.
Some of the food at the potluck

Anyway, I should get back to Rosetta Stone, currently working on "Meu brinquedo esta  quebrado" ("My toy is broken")

But before I go, as promised, a picture of me and my cactus head.  I just woke up and look awful but Elfie looks supercute as always.  Reason #37 why it's good to be a hedgehog: you look adorable even after partying all night.  I miss my snugglemuffin already but I'm sure Lindsay and Sprocket are taking good care of her!

So excited to be in Brasilia- I should arrive there 9:10 AM and I have no idea what my host researcher has planned for me but I got invited to a soccer scrimmage by a video-gamer-guy who I was chatting with for awhile last night.  So that'll be a good opportunity to meet people in Brasilia and he offered to take me around afterward.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Time to leave yet?

Hi all!  I knew it was time do my daughterly duty to add educational value to the Internet when my dad sent me the awkward article "A Hairy Situation: Is the Brazilian wax over?". He says people have been asking him what exactly I will be doing for the next sixteen days in Brazil.  That's a good question- I'm not sure either but I'll tell you what I know so far.

First, some background- for those of you who don't know, I started this blog when I got an American Physical Society fellowship to travel to New Delhi and survey/interview females about their aspirations/experiences studying and working in science.  This Brazilian trip is also funded by APS, and I proposed to use this trip to add another perspective to those findings.  The University of Sao Paulo is currently writing a grant to renovate classrooms to use SCALE-UP (Student Centered Active Learning Environment with Upside-Down Pedagogies).  It's a reformed pedagogy and classroom design that my advisor developed to teach large enrollment university physics courses and it's spread all over the world.  So I'm giving three talks on SCALE-UP at various universities, which is my research speciality.  Speaking of SCALE-UP and this blog, talking about SCALE-UP earned me a free trip to Taiwan (January 2012) so that explains the entries preceding Brazil.  I just found out this afternoon that I got a NSF fellowship to travel to Singapore for eight weeks this summer so I'll be adding some more Asian adventures this June.

Anyway, back to the trip at hand... I'm flying out tomorrow night.  Not really sure how prepared I am for this trip- I'm certainly itching for adventure- I travelled a bunch up and down the East Coast in November and for dissertation data collection site scoping and graduate school recruiting and home for Thanksgiving.  But since then I've been hanging out in North Carolina and I think those two and half months have been my longest continuous streak in the Triangle since moving down here.  So I'm ready for a change of scenery- last Saturday's surprise snowglobe-y snow shower brought some fun snuggles ;) but it'll be nice to feel some real sand between my toes instead of the artificial sandstorm in the whirlwind apparatus at my hand doctor (don't ask).  And this will be my first trip to the Southern Hemisphere.  I know it's dorky but the physicist in me wants to check if the Coriolis effect does indeed make toilets flush in the opposite direction down there...

I can't say I know a tremendous amount about this continent.  My friend, +Carlos Ortiz  has brought some Columbian culture into my life this semester with salsa dancing, lots of empanada eating and even some Columbian empanada making a couple weeks ago.  We'll see how easily that translates into samba dancing and... I'm not even sure what they eat in Brazil.  Coconuts?  I've already gotten an invitation to drink caipirinhas in Rio... not sure what those are either but it sounds delicious and I think I can get used to that.

So there's a couple things about this trip that makes it different than my past few... first, no itinerary.  I know I'm giving talks on February 28th in Brasilia, March 1st in Anapolis and March 4th in Sao Paulo.  I've sent out a few surveys (which were fun to translate) and I've got a couple interviews lined up. But I don't even know for sure where I'm staying.  Initially, I had some guest housing at the University of Brasilia reserved but when my host researcher found out I was a vegetarian, she got so excited that I think I may be staying with her and her husband.  That's the thing about traveling overseas to see people you've only met over e-mail... you've got to trust (or at least hope!) you're in good hands.  But she seems like a sweetie... last summer, when it didn't even seem like I'd make it to Brazil, she invited me to visit her son anytime in California anytime. She's a physics professor at University of Brasilia who grew up in India.  I found her because she contacted my advisor to translate one of his conceptual tests into Portuguese.  So even though her research specialty is in atomic and molecular physics, with an interest in physics education.  She's published on females in physics at Brazil and since she grew up in India, I knew she'd be perfect for what I proposed to do with this trip.  Kind of an exploratory extension of the cross-cultural comparison of female undergraduates' scientific course and career aspirations to add to the data I collected at Miranda College in Delhi and Meredith College, NC, USA.

And there's the language issue- part of the reason I know so little about Brazil is because it is the one South American country that was never discussed in Spanish class... because they don't speak Spanish! So as soon as I heard that I got this fellowship, I requested a Rosetta Stone subscription through the university library.  I got granted access last week and as my roommate (and poor unsuspecting souls like Brandon and Dan can testify, I've been practicing with some degree of devotion over the past week (passed three units in 7 days!).  But it's impossible to learn a language in a week.  Fortunately, it seems similar enough to Spanish that I hopefully can rely on some basic reading/listening comprehension but there are substantial differences that makes speaking really tough!  A new friend in Brasilia thinks I'll be able to survive because Brazilians speak enough English to play video games with Americans and he thinks I'll be able to figure out how to order food at Subway and McDonalds... Oh globalization...

As you can tell, there's going to be quite a bit of independent city hopping.   Between having no set agenda in Rio and hearing rave reviews about couchsurfing, I think I'm going to give it a try this trip.  My friend Eri was a self-described gypsy who literally took a couple years to travel the world literally surfing couches. I'm planning to actually stay with anyone but I've already made a couple contacts in Brasilia and a half a dozen people in Rio have agreed to show me around and in the meantime are sending me a barrage of "besos" and "besitos", as well as providing some good tips.  I'm actually planning to go to a potluck with the Raleigh couch surfers tonight- I'm excited- it seems like a great community (for some reason, I'm envisioning the Apples to Apples card "cults: they seemed nice".  Hopefully that won't be the case haha) and I just love meeting new people, especially those who are well-travelled and curious, like me.

Well sorry about all these words and not any pictures.  It's hard to photograph anything exciting when you are sitting at your desk in Riddick with a lesson to teach on deBroglie waves in 7 minutes.  I've got big boots to fill after my brother's brilliant blog of his summer abroad which earned him the title, "the Australian Mark Twain".  I don't know much about the internet connectivity situation but I'll aim to post daily so you'll know I'm alive despite being in a country where spiders rain from the sky, teenagers get burned alive in pyrotechnic night clubs and people get fried on Mardi Gras floats.  Just got an Emergency Message from the Brazilian embassy that American citizens worldwide have to be on high alert for terrorist attacks and violence... lovely...

I'll try to include a picture of a pre-departure hedgehog hug.  She got a deluxe treatment last night- cage cleaning, warm bath, toothbrush massage, quill spritzing with olive oil and nail clipping so I'm sure she's looking extra pretty!