Saturday, June 30, 2007

Translation Gone Wrong

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Google Map of where I'm staying

I'm sure when, but at some point Google Maps started working for Rio. It even has streets and everything

Here's where I'm living:

Monday, June 25, 2007


Cuitiba. To people interested in transportation and planning this is one of the most famous cities in the world. Its busways that ferry passengers throughout the city at high capacity and low costs now serve as a model throughout the world. Above is one of those busways. Passengers arrive and wait in the tubes, where a bus picks them up on an elevated platform and take them to their destination free of any non-bus traffic. This achieves much of what a subway can but at a fraction of the cost.

I have always wanted to come here. When I was in Sao Paulo in 2005 for a week, I had one day for a side trip. I could go to either Rio or Curitiba. I went to Rio, but maybe I should have chosen Curitiba. It exceeded my expectations.

The story of Curitiba mostly revolves around a single man, Jaime Lerner. Appointed during the dictatorship to be mayor, he began a series of bold moves that turned Curitiba into the city that it is today. The dictatorship had given permission to the larges cities of Brazil to build a subway. This included the money to pay for it, but there would be only enough money for one subway line in Curitiba. Instead Lerner said they didn't want a subway. They wanted to build busways through the city instead, but they wanted the same amount of money. So instead of getting one subway line, they got 4 busways.

The busways were also complemented by zoning laws that would coordinate building with transportation. Here's an example. For the busway from the center to the south, the planners looked for 3 parallel streets. They made the center one a busway and the outer two one way streets in opposite directions. In the busway street, if you think of it as 8 lanes, the inner 2 are for buses, the two surrounding those two are for passengers getting on and off buses, and then there were 2 lanes on each side of those for local traffic.

To complement this busway, zoning laws would form a "wedding cake" coming off the busway. Immediately next to the busway builders could build as tall as they want. The the farther away from that zone, the shorter the buildings were allowed to be, all the way until only single family houses. The vision was for a city where passengers could get wherever they wanted on buses.

Lerner also used creativity in securing funding for the many large parks in the city. In one example (Parque Biringi, to the right), the federal government wouldn't pay for a park but they would pay for a sewage project. So Lerner created a lake from a river that would also function as water runoff in a flood. So he got it paid for. Now Curitiba has one of the more impressive public park networks for a city of its size (about 3 million for the metro area).

Lerner also used other innovate methods to make his projects succeed. After car drivers threatened to disobey his closing of certain roads for a pedestrian shopping area, he organized a gathering of schoolchildren to make paintings while in the street. Needless to say, the car protest never happened.

Also, because of the success of the busways, Lerner had to pioneer new construction methods for buses. He managed to get Volvo to build a factory there, but a factory for buses instead of cars. There Volvo made such innovations as the loading platforms, which come out of the side of the bus three feet in the air, to line up with the boarding tubes. When the system was so successful passengers kept filling the buses, they built articulated buses (meaning basically two buses joined together with the flexible part in the middle so it can turn). When those two were full, they built double-articulated buses. They also constructed the boarding tubes, where passengers paid before getting on the bus and waited, to speed boarding time.

One innovation I had never heard of existing in Curitiba before is express buses. These are buses that don't stop at all the stops. That concept isn't new, but the implementation was cool. The city wanted them to link up to existing tubes, but instead of the express buses traveling in the center of the busway, they would travel on the outer lane, with the car traffic. This was so they could cover parts of the city not covered by busways, and with express service. But to do this passengers would have to enter the left side of the bus (instead of the right, like most buses). So Volvo engineered buses that boarded from the left.

To be sure, there are negative sides of Curitiba. For one, despite all of the buses available, Curitiba has the highest car ownership rate in Brazil. This is largely due to the high income in the city (and the incomes grew even higher once Curitiba began attracting rich Brazilians for its quality of life), but is now crowding the transportation network. The busways aren't impacted because of the segregation of the road, but now capacity on the busways is so high that the city is running out of options. On the busiest line at peak times one bus arrives every 50 seconds, which is insane.

Also, the planning sometimes goes awry. One busway that went from an undeveloped area in the north to the biggest employment zone would have been perfect for high occupancy housing, but turned into million dollar condos using all the space instead. Busways all over the city have this problem to a lesser extent as well. The idea was to have lots of people live near the busways, but because the areas right next to them are so desirable the rich end up buying them and then still use their cars.

Still I loved Curitiba. It looks like a city that by and large had a lot of thought put into it. I wish more cities would learn from Curitiba, and I would definitely go again.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Hey didn't you try to rob me?

Today after teaching in the favela, I went to try and scalp tickets for Gotan Project, a popular Argentinian group. It's techno-tango music (Gotan is tango switched in the middle, which is popular slang in Buenos Aires according to Vanessa). I failed to get a ticket, as the show was so popular even people prepared to pay way above face value couldn't get tickets.

But what was a rush was when I was getting on the bus to go home. All of a sudden two teens (one pushing the bottom end of that range, the other pushing the top), got on the back of the bus to try and sell candy bars.

I instantly recognized them. They were the two that tried to rob me in April. I don't think they recognized me even though I kept staring right at them. I was very curious. Is stealing their part time gig? Is selling candy on the bus? Or did they give up stealing?

I kept looking at the young one in particular. He looked so confident talking to people on the bus. He just got up there, talked about what he was selling, then went down the aisle. He walked confidently, clearly unaffected by the constant swaying of the bus. He had done this many times before.

He wore a tank top with dark shorts and cheap shoes. On his arm he had very amateurish tatoos of letters. When he was selling to the seat behind me I tried to study the tatoos. There was a line going down and a line going across his arm. The one going down said C A T (heart symbol). The letters were sloppy and not in a straight line, though whoever did it tried to make it one. The line across was a strange pattern of vertical lines that I couldn't make out. It was a deep tatoo, the kind where you know it's been there awhile.

They really just didn't recognize me, which leads me to believe they've just tried to rob a lot of people.

They sold a surprising number of candy bars and then got off the bus. Ironically they got off just after the tunnel where they had tried to rob me.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Chicken Hearts, yum

Spent the weekend in Curitiba, which is famous for its planning and transportation. I'll have a more detailed post soon but I wanted to show a picture of the chicken hearts which are a delicacy here. I finally got the guts to eat a plate after a few drinks one night. If you look at the one near the bottom just to the left, you can see the different chambers. Looks gross, but tastes good actually.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

"just forget it"

After teaching tonight, a group of Brazilians and volunteers went to a pizza place in the favela. The food was fine, except for the fact that the pizza didn't have tomato sauce. Instead, ketchup is their tomato sauce and you just put it on top.

But the interesting thing is when the bill came. We had ordered two pizzas, garlic bread, fried cheese (which is what they call mozzarella sticks. To me ours sounds a lot more appetizing), and various drinks. But the waiter left off one of the pizzas.

We thought this might be an error. I organized the billing (which besides making it easier on the group let's me put any cash on my credit card and thus use my card as a discount ATM), and told the waiter to just put the extra pizza on my card. At first we thought he just had a separate bill. Then we thought he wanted us to pay cash instead of put it on the card. Then we realized he was leaving it off the bill and hinting to us to tip him part of the value of the pizza instead.

Corruption doesn't just happen in the government.

So his employer lost the $10, the waiter kept $5 of it and we kept the other $5.

As we walked out, I looked over at the owner and wondered if he knew it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Caetano Veloso

I'm pretty much down to do whatever, so when a couple friends asked if I wanted to go to the Caetano Veloso conert I said, "sure, who's that?"

Turns out I definitely should have known that. He's a very famous Brazilian musician.
Fatima (the lady I'm living with) couldn't believe I didn't know who that was. She put on his CD before the concert to demonstrate.

Brazil is full of different music types. The have all of the main types as in America, plus extra ones including samba, forro, and others. People also often say they like MPB (or popular Brazilian music), which isn't really a type but rather means any song that is popular. So CV counts as MPB.

Anyway we basically just thought this would be a particularly cool concert because it was a big name and they were filming the DVD for his newest CD. We were hoping for something pretty crazy. Turns out it was relatively subdued.

In hindsight, this should have been pretty obvious. The guy is 64, but still acts like he's 20. This makes for really awkward stage movements, and he even dances like a gangster at some points. My favorite part is when he flicks his hands like Ali G. Straight throwing up gang signs and it just looks funny. But apparently the hand flick is normal here...

He has a huge library of songs, but because it was the DVD for his latest, he was doing a bunch of his new stuff. As far as I can tell, Brazilians love singing along, and indeed a couple songs were pretty cool with everyone getting into it. But by and large we were a little underwhelmed. The concern was at Fundacao Progresso, which used to be a Samba School but now is rented out for concerts and such. It's basically a giant tin shed with seating. The acoustics were bad. We ended up going up to the top off to the side on an empty railing and danging our feet below, which was cool.

Also, yesterday was Valentines Day, so there was massive making out. From above it becomes almost disturbing. Kissing in public is very much in style here.

Anyway hopefully we'll go to some more upbeat shows. As the year goes on the Carnaval practices will get bigger. Those will be cool.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Helicopter Ride Around Rio- highly recommended

You won't find many that will argue that Rio is the most beautiful city in the world. The rock formations, the sweeping cliffs, the bay. Basically every trip to Rio includes seeing Christ the Redeemer and the Sugarloaf. But rather than just go to them, when Vanessa was in town for her only Rio visit in May I thought it would be awesome to see them by helicopter. We almost didn't get to go- the first day wouldn't work because of rain and we had only a small window to go the second day. But we lucked out. We went up and got some amazing pictures. Granted it was a little hazy that day, but once it started downright pouring less than an hour after we went up we decided it wasn't so bad after all. Highly recommended.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Working for the Brazilian Government (dinner convo)

At dinner on Friday, the topic of what everyone was doing after college came up. Most of my friends are about 21 or 22 and will soon finish college. Some have specific fields they are interested in. Breno, for instance, does biology research but really wants to be a musician.

But Sete (the number seven, his nickname), ever the realist, made the statement of the day:
Here the top students all want to work for the government. It's there that they get to make the most money. The government controls the money, and the higher you go, the more opportunities to get a bigger share of it. It's the most prestigious job.

Prestigious? I couldn't believe it. I'm always curious about Brazilian's attitudes toward corruption. A common theme is that they think it's a natural part of the political process, and they also in my opinion overestimate the degree to which it happens in developed countries.

In the US we have blatantly obvious and legal corruption such as a lot of pork-barrel spending and a lot of spending in instances such as war and natural disaster. But in the US you don't see politicians taking $100 million in cash out of the ministry of energy.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Animal Game

This article talks about the "jogo do bicho" or The Animal Game. It is iconic here in Brazil. It's a betting game where people pick numbers based on 25 animals. They get paid based on which numbers are drawn. The game is illegal, but alas this is Brazil and so is deeply a part of the country. It is headquartered in Rio and has ties to the samba schools.

There are multiple cultural references, and numbers are then permanently attached to the animals. For example, the 24th animal is the deer. Since "deer" is slang for gay here (as a noun), 24 is also the "gay" number. People say things like "that's so 24". For my 24th birthday this past month, it was a running joke.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Myths and Realities in Rio

Just read this article in the NYTimes about the Pan-American games in Rio next month. The games are the western hemisphere's Olympics held every four years. They're going to be a big deal, and Rio is hoping to use them to convince the powers that be that they deserve a shot at the 2016 Olympics.

As usual, though, Rio can't get mentioned without the crime. This paragraph is so typical of the "Rio's frickin gorgeous but it's so dangerous" story I always hear:
Nestled between verdant mountains and an azure sea, Rio is without question a stunning site for the games, and more than $1.5 billion has gone into the preparations, including the new 45,000-seat João Havelange Stadium. But as hospitable as the city can be, it is not without problems for visitors, particularly when it comes to safety.
And then elaborating on the dangers:
It is no secret that Rio is crime-ridden and quite violent, and becoming more so: the heavily-armed gangs that control the hillside squatter slums known as favelas are growing increasingly bolder in their assaults and threats, even in the city's most elite neighborhoods.

The above paragraph is generally the truth, though for people that know nothing about Rio they will read that and get a dramatically different picture than reality. There's a huge disconnect between what people read in newspapers and what is actually happening, even if what they read is true. I think people read something and assume that's normal. But it's news for a reason.

Here's something that happened last Tuesday in Rio. Read it and guess its coverage in the newspapers.

- two vans full of rifle toting men from one favela traveled to another favela and opened fire on the drug posts. Nobody died, and one person was injured by a stray bullet. The police temporarily blocked off traffic in the surrounding neighborhoods but everything was back to normal by the end of the day.-

Having only read things about Rio prior to coming, I would have assumed that happened 10 times a day based on some accounts. But that was front page news, including a full page spread after the jump. That also warranted a detailed 7-step infographic, a timetable, and a detailed map. Granted the particular favelas involved made it a bigger story, but I think you get the point.

Back to the NYTimes article. Finally, here's another paragraph urging caution that ends with an accusation that makes it sound like Rio basically has gunfights going across 5-lane highways every day:
Particular caution may be in order for those events, which include soccer, track and field, that are to be held at the João Havelange Stadium. Access looms as a potential problem there, especially when competitions end after dark. The stadium is near a highway — the LinhaAmarela, or Yellow Line — that is regularly the site of assaults and gunfights between the police and gangs, and other routes go through neighborhoods that many Rio residents prefer to avoid at night.
Aren't there plenty of neighborhoods in most American cities that you would avoid at night? And I would say most US sports arenas/stadiums are in those areas. Head one block south of Chase Field or US Airways Arena and you're in sketch-town.

Granted, it's dangerous. Absolutely. The drug gangs and police fighting each other causes a lot of crime and tourists get robbed a lot (but mostly in Copacabana, which is famous but basically sucks and is more dangerous for a tourist than actually being in a favela).

But stories like this make it seem like Rio the Wild West, as if the gangs are just having open season with machine guns on the tourists. In fact, the last thing the drug gangs in the favelas want is to draw attention to them, and there's no better way to draw attention to them than doing something during the Pan-American Games. I predict there will be minimal crime problems at the games. By the end people will be talking about the scenery and the warm people more than the favelas and crime.

And Rio is safe to visit. If you come before I leave here, I'll even show you a favela. Come visit!

PS: Oh and another myth: Any supposedly "Pan-American" soccer tournament that doesn't include a single Brazilian team needs to stop the false advertising.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Glad I didn't go to that game