Current Date: Friday, January 30, 2003 1:00 p.m. (Sao Paulo)
Greetings, salutations and a happy Friday to all! Here comes the first of many journals that I promised you two weeks ago. This one was interesting for me since I wrote most of it so long ago but I have pretty much left it as it was.
Thanks to all for the well wishes and words of encouragment. I love reading your replies so feel free to pay me back with equally long e-mails. Happy reading.
Well, the last couple months here in SP have been VERY good to me. The city has started to become a home for me and I am loving it. I always say that you have to give a city atleast 6 months before you can really settle in and start enjoying. I am just about at the 5 month mark here in SP and my list of complaints is getting shorter and shorter. The thing that sucks is that I think I am going to have to leave soon. It's not because I want to...it is because I still want to travel more. I still want to go to so many places in South America. At the same time, I don't want to leave here yet...I mean, I am having a blast and loving living in Brazil. Monday I have to tell Mark if I am going to leave next month or if I am going to stay through Christmas. These last few days, it's all I can think about. I have been having that same feeling that I had when it was time for me to leave Houston...sort of sad to leave behind a place and people that I enjoyed so much. Just like I knew then, I know now that many more wonderful people and great adventures lie ahead...it's just that it is difficult to leave a place and keep moving. Perhaps I'll never get used to it. Deep down inside, I know leaving is the right thing to do, and so most likely I have entered my last month in Sao Paulo. I'll do my best to make the most of it, but am going to be very sad to leave.
So things have changed around the apartment in the past several weeks. A month ago, a new teacher started working at the school, an Aussie guy named Jaymie. His story was not so different from many other gringos I have met here in Sao Paulo...he met a Brazilian girl who was studying in Australia, they fell in love, she moved back home...so he decided to move to Brazil and try things out here for a couple years. So he moved here and moved into her house with her Mom...and you can guess the rest. You take a guy, move him half way around the world to a country where he doesn't speak one word of the language and take away his girlfriend buffer zone...well, that can put a pretty serious strain on a relationship. It took three weeks before he moved out of her house...not really that surprising. Anyway, we have an extra bedroom...sort of. In Brazil, it is quite that norm for people to have a maid and someone who cooks their food for them. Often times, the maid is a live-in, so just about every home has a small room that serves as "servants quarters". Our apartment has one, but as those who have seen it can attest...it is more of a cupboard than a room. The entire room is literally the size of a twin bed. Anyway, it was a place to crash, so Jaymie moved in here with us. It has been great having him around...we've had a blast going out and wreaking havoc on the SP nightlife. Having Jaymie around has been good for me too...it's always good to have a good wingman. We are similar in a lot of ways too and have become very close. To be honest, he is probably a big part of the reason I don't want to leave here right now. I can't even count the number of times we have rolled in at 7:00 a.m., changed, and gone directly to work. Good times, good times. Unfortunately, many of our tales together can't be repeated here, but let's just say that Brazil is a really good place to be if you are trying to get over a girlfriend. Things haven't exactly finished between the two of them so maybe it will pan out for them, but I doubt it. She is not exactly the sanest person in the world.
So now it is me and two Aussies here in the apartment. After getting to know several Aussies (starting with Dave WAY back in Parati...man, that was a looooong time ago) I think that it is a country that I MUST go and visit. Many folks here say that it is similar to Brazil with respect to the people...seems true in my experience so far.
What else can I say about things that have happened since my last message. I haven't talked much about the school except mentioning my contempt with the owner, so I should probably say some things about it. After all, I spend a considerable amount of my time there and it really has been a wonderful experience.
So this is how things generally work: The classes are always small, maybe 1-5 people so it probably is a bit different than most of you think. Generally, we have classes in the morning...the most painful part being that they start at 7:30 everyday. Morning classes run until about 10:30...then sometimes (WAY too often lately) there are a couple afternoon classes and then from 5:30 to 9:30 is pretty booked. Some days are lighter than others and what classes you teach changes everyday so nobody has the same group too often. Of course we all have favorites and least favorites, but these things happen. They certainly are a cast of characters...you could probably write a decent sit-com revolving around the lives of some of these folks. I'll mention some here just because I don't want to forget them.
My favorite class is with two gorgeous girls (surprise, surprise), Patricia and Tatiana. They are best friends and have been for many years. They actually both went to live in California for about 8 months in 2002 and their experience was both good and bad. We have become pretty good friends and I even went on a road trip with them back at the end of August to a beach town a few hours from here called Maresias (see the pictures online). Tatiana (rather, her parents) have a house there. The weather wasn't the greatest that weekend but we still had a great time. There is a fantastic club there called "Sirena" that easily has a capacity of a couple thousand people. We went there and had a blast together. A funny little side story from that night. In the club, this guy came up to me saying that he remembered me from Buzios...a quickly corrected him saying that I had been in Brazil for quite sometime but I live in SP. The guy says, no, I remember you from back in February...you were taking pictures of everybody there! He remembered me from SIX months before that. Hilarious. I later went back to view the pictures but didn't see him in any. Anyway, Patricia and Tatiana are great girls and it always makes me happy when I have class with them.
Another good friend of mine that is a student at the school is Clotilde. She is only 22 but you wouldn't know it to talk to her. She is extremely intelligent and is just finishing up university and getting her degree in electrical engineering. I actually am giving her private classes too so we spend a lot of time together. Her family is great and treat me well. Whenever I go there for class, she feeds me a fantastic homade meal...something that is definitely lacking from my life. I do some cooking here but not much...only pasta and rice with sausage...simple things. Anyway, she is a great girl. One interesting little thing I learned because of her. Here in Brazil, when you are applying for jobs at multinational companies, they require you to take an English proficiency exam. I was giving her a hand with some of the exams and I was surprised to find that they are EXTREMELY difficult. Clotilde speaks very well and writes at a decent level and these exams were tough for her...hell, they were tough for me. I have met many Brazilians here who I believe speak more than proficient English and I would say, maybe 10% of them could do well on those exams. I think even a native speaker would struggle to get 90%. What is even more astounding is that these exams are the first step in the application process...if you don't do well on it, they don't even let you apply for the job. I learned two things from this...1) How serious these companies are about the people knowing English and how important it is, and 2) How competitive the job market is here in Brazil. It really is surprising.
There are plenty of other funny characters from the morning classes we have. There is an old guy named Reubens who is pretty comical. He doesn't speak hardly any English and probably hasn't learned anything the whole time I've been here...yet he still keeps on coming around. Part of his problem is that he shows up at about 7:45 (class starts at 7:30) and then leaves for some mysterious reason at 8 on half the days. He's a cool old dude though and he has class with another Chinese guy named Peng. Peng has got some of the best stories...including being caught, not once, not twice, but FOUR times by his wife with other women. Not that I condone it, but they are pretty funny tales. It sort of gives you a peek into the mentality of Brazilian males...but that is a topic that deserves more attention that I will cover another time. Peng has traveled around the world pretty extensively. He is about 36 or 37 but he lives like he's 22. I always look forward to Monday classes so I can hear his stories from the weekend. That guy lives even crazier than we do.
Another morning class that I like a lot is with a woman named Valeria. She's been coming to the school for a few years and has progressed pretty well. It's difficult not to just sit and talk with her as she also has many interesing things to say and she is also very interested in the lives of the teachers. That is what is cool about the school...not only do the students get to know us pretty well, but we also learn a lot about them as time passes. That also has been especially true with another woman that just began coming to the school just over a month ago...Carla. She worked for a bank down here for 15 years and hated her job so finally she just quit and is sort of restarting her life. It has been great talking with her and hearing about how here outlook on life has completely changed in the last several months and how she now realizes how she had it all wrong before. Not that working at the bank was a mistake or a bad place to work, but she was just a rat in a cage but didn't realize it and wasn't really enjoying life...hmmmm sounds like a lot of corporate USA to me. Anyway, I really enjoy talking with her.
I'm gonna pause for a second here. I realize now that by starting to talk about the many students at the school, I have undertaken a daunting task. I feel that I should say something about almost everyone as to not forget them but that will be tough. Not only that, but I realize that this section will seem quite boring to everyone else in the world accept me, since I actually know all these people...but as I've said many times, these journals are as much for me as for all of you. So, to facilate things for those that are bored I'll divide the following section off...anyone who wants to skip this section, scroll down until you see the aserisks again.
So I guess that's it for the morning crew...the only other day class worth mentioning is a noon class I have with two kids that are 10 and 12 (Vinicius and Thamires). I love teaching them...they are SO intelligent and great kids. I might enjoy them more than almost any other class...well, except with Tatiana and Patricia:)
On Tuesdays, I also have two other groups of kids I teach, but the classes are way on the south side of the city in an area called Interlagos (Those of you who are formula one fans may have heard of it because a well known track is located there). It is pain in the ass to go all the way out there and it eats up the entire afternoon. Every time I am on my way out there I complain and every time I get there I am so happy to see them. You start to feel like they are your kids and it sort of makes me appreciate the love that grows between teachers and young students. The first class has six kids...Mika, Mayumi, Emi, Tiemi, Diego and Edison. They are all Japanese kids between the ages of 9 and 11. I don't think I ever mentioned before that SP has a HUGE Japanese population...many are proud to tell you that it is the largest outside of Japan. I think there are well over a million here. Anyway, the second class has only two kids (used to be 4), Akari and Natalia. They are both 14 and speak intermediate level English. Natalia is amazing...she speaks Porteguese (duh!), German, English, and Russian all at an intermediate level or better. That is amazing. Going out to Interlagos has really become a joy for me every week, even though, as I said, I complain about it sometimes.
In the evenings, there are MANY more classes, so I'll talk about some of them too. There is a family that comes to the school that are all in seperate classes. Stefano (the son) is 15 and Alessandra (the daughter) is 17 and have both been coming to the school for several years. They speak VERY well now and are great kids. Stefano loves the NBA so we talk about that a lot...especially since the season is just starting up. Actually, the NBA is quite popular in Brazil. It is surprising how many players the folks down here know. Their mother, Selma, is also a student and has been coming to the school for just about a year. She is still a beginner but is learning quickly and takes school very seriously. She is really funny and probably one of the students at the school that knows the most about me. Selma has class with another woman, Sonia, who I really have a crush on. It's one of those ones you'd never act on...sort of like a student-teacher crush except in this case it's the opposite...well, I mean because I'm actually the teacher in this situation. She's really cute though and has a great sense of humor. The fact that she's married and has been for about 7 years really hurts my chances:) Seriously though, that class is also one of my favorites.
There is another class with an older guy named Alvaro who is cool. He has a lot of great stories about his days before being married. There is this girl that used to come in the morning that just joined his class at night. Her name is Luana and she is this unbelievably gorgeous model. Every single jaw hits the floor when she comes into the school.
Another fun class is one called Manchester that has several people in it. One new girl, Ana Lucia is pretty crazy and also there are two older women, Vania and Neuracy that I like a lot. That class also has two guys...a tall lanky guy, Francisco who's from Belo Horizonte and this guy Silvio. He sort of did the reverse of what I did a couple years ago. After a divorce he went after something he had always wanted to do...he sold all his stuff and headed to the USA for 6 months. He lived in California (I think Santa Barbara) and loved it and although he was about 35 when he did it (nothing wrong with that) he has spoken to me many times about how glad he was that he did it. Of course, being a little older than I am now (and really not that much if you think about it) he was probably more afraid but he speaks very fondly of his time there.
There are still other people worth mentioning...like Percival from Tarbert...a true character. And a new class (Hoy) that is bubbling over with beautiful girls. Every week when the schedule comes out we are all looking to see who ends up with that class. The Windsor class (all the classes have names of cities in England...that is where the original Oxford Street school is) also has some characters. There is this guy Mario who is the kind of guy you sort of love to hate. He's about 45 and a serious capitalist but he has this cool lighter side that comes out after you get to know him. He likes to run marathons so I always tell him about Duane's races. Also in that class is an old woman named Ester who is okay but a bit of a prude. There is a new girl named Priscilla who recently joined that class that I think is really cute.
Anyway, those are just a few of the people that make going to the school a pleasure for me. What I really find interesting is how much you learn about the lives and families of all the people just from talking to them. It is great to see people learining but I must say that I derive more pleasure from the friendships I've formed with some of the students. Most of them, I only see at the school but there are some that I hang out with. Particularly, there is a guy named Leandro who is a student there...I mentioned him in my last journal. He and I have become best friends here in SP and he is a big reason my life here has been so great over the past few months. Both he and his family have treated me VERY well and he and I hang out quite a bit. We really have some great stories, including a recent classic involving this girl named Sylvana (DT) which can't be repeated here. Anyway, I don't even have enough time or patience to touch on all the things he has helped me with here in SP. He is a true friend and a great guy.
Anyway, August was definitely the turning point of my time here in SP. Everything just seemed to start clicking that month. First of all, my friend Jim came to visit and he and my friend Pete (who came to Brazil in July, travelled for 5 weeks and then returned to the US via SP) were both here at the same time. It's always cool to have friends visit. Jim actually went traveling for a couple weeks to the north of Brazil after being in SP for a few days. It was the first time he ever backpacked and he's not exactly the type to do something like that. It really forced him to stretch himself and his comfort zone and I was really impressed with him.
Anyway, at the end of August I went on that road trip with Tatiana and Patricia and then the next week Jaymie started working at the school. From there things have become a blur. It is criminal how much fun we're having and SP is certainly growing on me more and more. It certainly isn't the BEST city in Brazil as I said before but it is really treating me well and I am very happy I decided to stay here. Maybe it's the end of my time here...but when I do go, it will leave behind fond memories life on Ave. Sabia and the Oxford Street School of English. Much like everyday, I plan to spend these next 40 as if they are my last here in SP...having as much fun as I can and just eating up this fantastic opportunity. Stay tuned...
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