A Month after Brasil

It's been a month since I went to Brasil. I am planning on going back, learning as quickly as I can. It's likely that I won't be able to make it back until next winter, but I will plan on it. I need to stay in touch with the friends I made over there. There are many conferences that I can attend to make my stay work-related, but the plane ticket is my main expense. I'm planning on keeping my Brasilian telephone number and giving it to my friends so that they can call me for cheap or free. Of course they can call me on Skype for free as well. We're lucky that we live in such a well-connected society, it's just up to us to stay in touch.

A video I watched today said that Vila Prudente is a favela. I actually visited that neighborhood while I was there and didn't think it was a favela. If that is the definition of a favela, then my eyes deceive me. Certainly the neighborhood may be much poorer than some of the neighborhoods I visited, but it looks quite beautiful (see the street view if you want to know what I mean). Maybe that is the definition of the favela, poverty in a beautiful place. It didn't connect with me that there would be any crime in that neighborhood. The video is about how the residents are getting people involved with documentary films.

What's new with me? Well, since I'm back in Seattle, I may start up yet another blog at blog.altsci.com (not started yet) which will keep a little more info on my day to day and will collect all the other blogs. One problem I have is that I have too many blogs. In one way it's good to separate topics but on the other hand most people who visit my blog are looking for me rather than my topic. I would love to attract more people interested in my subject matter but maybe I should post more subject matter. I can do that.

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Back from Brasil

I finally made it back to Seattle, so I wanted to write a short overview of things from the perspective of being back in Seattle. São Paulo is so very different from Seattle. In Seattle, there are no huge walls or fences around the houses. There are no doormen to the apartments. Most of our parks don't have fences around them. Our protesters are still encamped at Seattle Central Community College for the time being (their protesters are encamped at Praça Ciclista near Paulista and Anhangabaú. The weather in Seattle is cold, but not too cold. The weather in São Paulo is awesome, sunny with a bit of overcast and clouds from time to time. The people in Seattle are friendlier than I remember (another greeter I found was a homeless man selling Real Change newspapers, Daniel). Seattle has fewer Cathedrals and in less promenant placement. Seattle's Airport to Downtown light rail is much cheaper and convenient than the bus or taxi to Guarulhos. Seattle's major university is further away from downtown and requires a bus, but São Paulo's major university requires a metro and a bus. Seattle and São Paulo both have wonderful forests a few hours away. São Paulo's forests are slightly more accessible because you can walk 2 hours from the bus to the forest. São Paulo has more food vendors and many more vitiminas than Seattle. Seattle's buildings don't require any identification to enter the elevator. São Paulo's museums are cheaper and there are more public places. There are long streets in Seattle on a grid with numbering in useful patterns. There is no place in Seattle where I feel unsafe. I never felt unsafe in São Paulo but I am a pretty strange guy. I don't know about other people. Homeless people who sleep on the sidewalk in São Paulo are not harassed as much as in Seattle. There are the same number of panhandlers in São Paulo as Seattle. There are the same number of expensive cars in São Paulo as Seattle. There are many many more small cars and motorcycles in São Paulo. The method of crossing the street in São Paulo is completely different than Seattle (in Seattle, pedestrians have the right of way always while that is totally not true in São Paulo). There are many places in São Paulo where cars don't go because people fill the street. There are feiras (farmer's markets) many days of the week in São Paulo but only a few days in Seattle and never in the street. Cars in São Paulo will often run red lights at night not respecting the lives of pedestrians. Cars and motorcycles with sirens in São Paulo will break the law of the road and no one will flinch. Women in São Paulo dress very scantily. The metro of São Paulo changes the dynamic of the city so that people go out more. Wireless networks are strange in São Paulo. There may be something about the networks I was using, but they were flakey except for the Netgear. Electricity in São Paulo is half 110V (good for US devices) and half 220V (very bad for US devices, good for European devices). Not all are labeled, but smart people label them. The outlets are very often 2 prong, so bringing a 3 prong to 2 prong will save you days. A splitter wouln't hurt either. On my last days in São Paulo, they added a bunch of Natal decorations. This is similar to Seattle, but their decorations are a bit bigger. Graffiti in São Paulo is more common and much higher quality. There's an alien language used in many of the worse graffiti which piques my interest. Of course, it could be a simple substitution cipher which I would very much like to crack.

So giving this long list of differences, there must be a clear winner. And there is. São Paulo wins the city contest. Between Zurich (I stayed for 2 weeks of work), Berlin (3 weeks in the dead of winter), Tokyo (1 month in spring), Seattle (10 years), Spokane (19 years), San Diego (15 days over 10 years), Las Vegas (20 days over 7 years), and Kopenhaven (aka Copenhagen 2 nights), I pick São Paulo as the winner of all cities I have visited. I no longer seek the best city in the world, I have found it. I love Tokyo and I'll visit it and Berlin again, but São Paulo beats them hands down. Instead of promising to return when my tour of the world is finished, I will simply visit it as soon as I have time and things in order. My intention to visit Africa and Australia (the last two continents I have not visited) will have to wait until I have twice as much free time and money or a coincidental reason to visit them.

On my return trip I met a man briefly who visits São Paulo every year for Formula 1 races. He's a big fan and he remarked that people in Brasil are huge sport fans and that they are passionate and are open with their feelings. They sing and stand up all throughout the races. This is the Brasil I know and love. Even though I don't like sports as much as they do, I understand why they like their sports. So long as their feelings show I will say that's the Brasil I know. Also interesting he said that he also has traveled many places and that the Brazilian enthusiasm is not so in other places in the world.

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Camping is fun

Camping is Fun by Javantea Nov 15, 2011

Yesterday I told my new friends the story of why I don't like nature. Before you start writing a passionate defense of nature, I think you should skim this blog. I have decided to retire that story. It's more than 15 years old and that is perhaps too long to still be good evidence against such a large and diverse subject as nature. Similarly, people, men, women, cities, corporations, dogs, criminals, bars, and governments cannot be written off so easily. That's right, even governments that are corrupt in hundreds of countries, countless provinces, states, counties, and cities cannot be completely written off. Why? Because power corrupts, governments that properly subject power to checks and balances can actually solve the problem. It's just that practically none of them have. Instead of rejecting the concept of government, why don't I just reject the notion of every government that has so far existed? Certainly, certainly I could do that. Then instead of an anarchist I would consider myself a minimalist and a perfectionist. That isn't easy to defend philosophically but it's at least fair to governments that may actually work somewhere. Reading a few paragraphs of Thoreau's Civil Disobedience again, I remember that my notion of anarchism comes from the sound philosophical tradition of nature. "...when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which the will have." So let us use every available moment to prepare for it.

Nature is not all the same. Nature is by nature naturally diverse. The rain forest in Brasil is not the same as the rain forest in Western Washington. The fruits in Brasil are not the same as the fruits in Eastern Washington. This weekend I went camping to prove to myself that I could chill out with friends in a natural environment and leave the computer in my backpack. It was away not for 2 days but 3 and a half days: Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and half of Tuesday. But this isn't about not using the computer. It's quite the opposite, it's about living. Living, yes. I do pretty well at living in the city. I live at a Hostel for a week and I don't have many problems. Complaints, yes. Pains, yes. Culture shock, yes. But what about nature? What about rain? What about torrential rain? What about a trail that is generally difficult and dangerous? It wasn't that bad. It was actually pretty mild compared to what I did when I was 12 years old. Have I told you about my 80 mile ride repeated 4 times in 4 days at age 16? Anyway, during the hike I fell once and my wrist started hurting. Similarly in the city I grabbed a handrail in the metro and hurt my wrist. It's not nature that is dangerous it's statistically unsafe conditions. If you avoid them, you become phobic. If you engage in them, you are counting the hours before you injure yourself. If you are in nature for 4 days, the likeliness of getting hurt are medium. If you are in nature for 2 days per month, you are looking at a nearly 100% chance of getting hurt over the course of your years.

Avoiding danger is a good idea in moderation but it is not practical. The whole idea of telling impressionable children "Don't talk to strangers" is illogical. At some point they will have to talk to strangers whether the stranger is a classmate, a homeless person, a person at the bookshop, or the waiter at a restaurant. If you say, "Water, please," in United States of America, you could get water or you could get a question. I honestly wish that Brazilian waitresses would ask questions in a regular pattern so that I wouldn't have to ask someone for help, but every time they give me a new question I get the chance to show off how unique and helpless I am. Strangers are helpful. When you know how to order a meal at every restaurant you want to go to, you may not need help from strangers, but if they need help from you, it's great. "What a wonderful good deed I have done today to help a stranger!" you might tell yourself. But of course you should feel good about helping a stranger. They are in need and if it doesn't come from you, who? How much I have learned from people who are genuinely helpful, happy, and kind? A perfect society designed to welcome the foreigner that doesn't know the language may choose to speak an international language, but would totally miss the point I have stumbled upon here. People are naturally helpful. How do we bring this out in people where the society has a reputation of being unhelpful? Have you heard of the Rain City Superheroes? They have trained to be able to defend themselves against attacks from unruly criminals and walk the street so that people can feel safe even when people say that unsavory folks are about. If you've seen a video of them in action you can honestly say that what they are doing is haphazard situation management like a bouncer of the streets. If we have bouncers of the streets, why don't we have greeters? On Saturday the Free Hugs movement in Brasil hugged my friend and me. They are one set of greeters of the streets. Who else can we say are greeters of the streets? The person who has a lighter in front of a bar can be a greeter. Many people are addicted to smoking because of the friends they have made borrowing a lighter. How do you pick which person when asking a question? The person who looks like a local. There you go, look like a local in a tourist area and then when someone asks you directions, you offer to walk them the whole way. On the way you talk to them about anything they are interested in. How difficult is that? Not at all. How about the reverse greeter? I'm new in the area, could you tell me about this? If they are busy, they will say they don't know. It's nothing personal. If they help you out they may be interested in becoming friends.

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Having a Wonderful Time

It's so easy to have a wonderful time in São Paulo. Everyone is so nice. I can't go a few minutes without someone saying hello, what's up, let's chat in Português and then saying hi in English after they hear my accent. There are surprisingly large number of English speakers in this area and they are all friendly.

On Thursday night I went to a high class dance club that was packed until after 6:30am when we left. It was playing drum and bass and was very interesting. I now also know that shorts are not allowed at such places unless there are significant mitigating factors. Guess how I know?

I finally got to see Capoeira. Right on the street a block from the hostel they were singing, playing authentic instruments, and dancing. Amazing. One guy did a backflip right in the middle of it.

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