Friday, November 30, 2007

Names in Favelas

There are lots of interesting names in favelas. Maybe this is similar to the trend that Freakonomics documented- blacks have more varied names. But sometimes it's just funny.

Despite there being no w in Portuguese, Washington is a popular name. But it can be spelled any number of ways. The most egregious spelling is probably Uaxington. I mean, why not, right?

On Wednesday I found myself substitute teaching and one of the students, a very nice guy in his 20s that's a taxi driver, said his name was Waldinei. But today I found out that he's just too embarrassed to say his real name, Waldisney.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Pineapple and Turkey Sandwich - not bad at all

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Reactions to the incident

Yesterday it was almost worth the cost of the perfume to hear everyone's reaction. Here's a sampling.

•At least they didn't try to plant drugs on me
•"Ryan, you should have called me at that moment, because they would have heard hell from me"
•"The bandidos bribe them specifically to not do anything to the residents. They would definitely have a few words with those officers."
•The police are supposed to be extra cafeful with tourists.

And yesterday I finished moving all of my stuff out of Rocinha (my friend who works for my company in Rio is out of town in New York until Sunday, they day I leave, so I'm staying in his badass place). Before I left, my friend called his bandido friend to "advise" him I was leaving and might face trouble.

I still think I pursued the right strategy given the circumstances. And some people want me to go report it, but nothing is going to happen and there's a chance it could bring more negative things. I also briefly thought about calling up a local newspaper, since they love to write about that type of thing. But then I figured that a) people will assume I was doing something wrong and just wouldn't admit it. b) it might bring negative attention to the place I volunteer, when it really is a good thing. c) it might make it so I am "controversial" and that might affect my chance of coming to Brazil to work for my company.

So it's over. I come home soon. I'm totally safe. It's an experience, and it really puts corruption into context.

Overall, I'm over it. Fatima came over last night and said I should have called her, too. She hugged me when I said they took her gift, and I'll get her something for the next time I come to Brazil.

Monday, November 26, 2007

I'm an idiot, part 3

Hopefully last in a series...... (part 1) (part 2)

Promise me that after you read this you won't say, "that's it, I'm never going to Rio." This will probably make me look dumb, make you less likely to want to go to Rio, and make you less likely to be willing to visit a favela if you do. But honesty and transparency are the name of the game, so here it goes.

Today I got robbed by the police.

The background: I'm living in a favela, where the police don't enter and where lots of illegal activity occurs - most significantly the drug trade. Police sit on the edge, and are underpaid. I've heard they routinely demand bribes of US$250 for people caught with drugs, so they are keen to search people. Especially a white person with a collared shirt on, they just see a money sign. Need to get that 13th month's salary for Christmas, as a friend said.

So for the second time today, I was stopped by the police. But this officer was immediately more aggressive. I had a backpack on and was waking down a street with lots of little stores when a hear "grandao" (really big one). I turn around and there is the officer, probably 30, with a semi-automatic gun in front of him.

I told him I was already stopped once today. He said, "good, well you're being stopped a second time." I knew this wouldn't go over as well. He asked about what I was doing and I told him I was a volunteer, etc. He went through all my pockets, all the way to the bottom. I didn't have much money but I did have my Blackberry (it should tell you how much I love the phone that throughout this ordeal I'm thinking, "as long as I walk away with my Blackberry").

After he finished going through my pockets, he gave me everything back. He grabbed my backpack, and had me start walking toward his car. He then started going through it. I was moving more stuff from Rocinha to Leblon for my imminent move, so I had a memory card, 3 bottles of perfume (more on that later), an alarm clock, and various small items I crammed in my backpack, including a computer mouse and a phone charger.

He started laying it out on the hood of his car and started asking me all kinds of questions. I had a book of photos, and he looked through it and said he was looking to see if I had a photo with bandidos. He wanted to know more about the institute. I told him we have a library and teach languages, etc. He said the girls were just learning English to be prostitutes. He said the whole thing is probably a front for drugs. He said I was probably in the favela to find prostitutes and drugs.

He wanted to see receipts for all the things I had. Of course I don't have any, but I did make one passport was in Leblon. Of course this has never been a problem in the whole year, including the other times I was stopped by the police, but this guy was more determined.

Eventually he called over another officer, perhaps 5 years older. That officer started asking more or less the same questions, then the officers started going into a rehearsed dialogue about how they have to take me to the processing station and blah blah blah. Without my passport they would have to put me back on the next plane to the US. Blah Blah Blah.

I've always thought that in this situation I would just say, "okay take me to the processing center." Just make it known I wouldn't bribe them. But they just kept going. I had my stuff all over the car at this point. These guys were in my face, and they had nothing else to do.

For a bit the original officer started being nice, even saying he's learning English. But this was a mirage. I would later realize it was just them injecting their version of being friendly into what was otherwise a business transaction.

The other officer then had me zip down my pants. He then had me pull down my boxers. I said that was private and he was like, "what are you a woman? Are you gay? We're men here." I said, "it's just not necessary." He said, "well, you're being searched."

That was moment number one of my newfound understanding of what corruption means. I started to realize these guys were going to get their way one way or another. Would they resort to more humiliation? If I did get in the car, would they drive me somewhere to beat me up? The risk/reward ratio for resisting was looking worse every minute.

All of a sudden I started thinking maybe it wasn't worth trying to tough this out. It dragged on a bit. I asked the one if he had a girlfriend or wife, and he said yes. I said I understand the hard work it is to be a police officer, so for the inconvenience I'd let him take one of the perfumes home to her.

The perfumes were gifts for Fatima, the lady I lived with for 6 month in Leblon. I really liked her, and wanted to get her something. She loves perfume, and since perfume is about half the price in the US, it's like getting her twice as much. I had three kinds that cost about US$100 total.

He wasn't amused, and said, "you don't understand, we have big problems here." To be honest, I was pretty sure I was going to have to give more than just one bottle of perfume, but that was my test lob. They had already asked me how much they were worth. I've never bribed anyone before, so I didn't know how to go about it. And if I could, I really wanted to give those to Fatima, because she really was wonderful to me, and it would cost me about US$250 to replace them here in Brazil.

It dragged on a bit more, and they started filling out paperwork. My address, etc. I have no idea how long this would have gone on had I not simply capitulated.

The one started asking about the perfumes.

"This is for females?" he asked as he pointed at each bottle. I saw where this was going......

"What can we do to fix this situation?" I said.

"I don't know, what are you thinking?" The officer said.

Sorry Fatima, no perfume for you this trip.... Instead these asshole police officers are going to give them to their wives. I just hope the wives realize they were stolen.

The officer smiled. "From the heart?" he asked.

"From the heart," I said reluctantly. In my head I'm just cursing this asshole for making me say I wanted to give it to him.

Lesson number 2 about corruption - it isn't explicit. The officers need to at least abstractly justify it in their heads. They have to be able to at least plausibly think it isn't just theft.

The officer then tossed the other valuables back in the bag. I zipped it up, he shook my hand (like I said, it's a business deal to them), and I walked away, dismayed. There leaning on the windshield of the car were the three perfume boxes. Both officers walked away a bit, not touching the perfume. Presumably they need to leave them there so they can "find" them later.

I got on a van, in disbelief that after months living in a favela it's the police that cause the first incident.

I didn't expect to be shaken up by something like this, but it was really bizarre. It's not the money, or even Fatima's gift, but rather the feeling that this is just so detrimental to Brazil. I mean, if you can't even trust the police....

Actual conversation today

Today I met with a partner of my company to talk about the Brazilian economy. The following exchange actually happened:

him: so what got you to Brazil?
me: I'm here on a Fulbright Scholarship.
him: Is that what Bill Clinton did?
me: No, that's the Rhodes.
him: Oh, wait, I was a Fulbright.

Revistado de novo

Got stopped by the police again least they didn't dig their fingers deep in my pockets like last time.

This is would-be corruption. They just want to see if I have drugs so they can force a bribe.

I was a bit scared because I had a bunch of valuables with me (I'm moving my stuff out of the favela gradually for my impending departure). But I haven't heard many tales of the police simply stealing stuff.

Still it's sad that a) the police assume if a white person with a collared shirt is only there to buy drugs, and b) I've been stopped after taking a cab out of Rocinha 2 out of 7 times.
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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Being an Expat in Sao Paulo

Housing: An old, 1,000-sq.-ft., two-bedroom apartment in a building with a doorman and swimming pool in expat-friendly neighborhoods will rent for around 2,200 reals (about $1,200) a month. Newer apartments in the same neighborhood will go for around $2,000.

Cost of Living: Thanks to Brazilian automotive taxes, a new Toyota Camry retails for about $80,000. A Ralph Lauren short-sleeve shirt runs about $85. A Big Mac costs $4.10. A liter of low-fat milk costs $1.10, while a grande latte from Starbucks costs $3.70. At a nice Italian restaurant, dinner for two with a few glasses of wine might cost you about $75.

Downside: Few countries have seen their currencies appreciate against the dollar faster than Brazil. The dollar has lost nearly half its value against the Brazilian real since 2003. Someone making $55,000 a year in 2003 would have made 192,500 Brazilian reals. Now that salary is worth 99,000 reals. Safety is another issue. In mid-2007, members of the PCC prison gang went on a rampage throughout Sao Paulo, killing cops, burning buses and stalling traffic. Civil police officers stood outside their barracks at all posts in the city, armed with pump-action shotguns and bullet-proof vests.


Live from Salgueiro

Salgueiro is like Mangueira but a Mangueira where you can actually move. It's still packed, but just not like sardines.....
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Friday, November 23, 2007

Complaint about Brazil - cheddar cheese

It's Thansgiving weekend so I feel like I can rag on the Brazilian food I don't like (and keep in mind I like so much, especially the meat and fruit).

What they call cheddar cheese is terrible! It looks like dark orange cheese whiz and tastes like someone took the Velveeta mix and combined it with mayonaise. I ordered it early on in my year here and that was it. Here a friend ordered it with french fries. I asked that they bring it on the side.
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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Complaint about Brazil- no pizza sauce

Even if you ask for tons of pizza sauce, you get basically none. So you have to adapt. In my view, there's two options. You can put ketchup on top or you can order a margherita pizza so it already has tomatoes on top. Makes you miss Pizza Hut.

This was a pizza we ordered at my friend Daniel's house. Even in the favela, people get late night pizza cravings. And yes Rocinha has pizza delivery anywhere, even if it means a long, steep hike for the delivery boy.
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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bus danger

The story behind how this bus ended up going the wrong way on a one way street and plowing into a car and taxi is odd. It happened right below my friend's apartment, and the doorman had the story. Apparently a bandido got on and started robbing everyone. As he was in the back, the driver opened the front door and ran out. But he forgot to put the car in park, and it kept going until this accident. The police then came and shot at the bandido.

As I was taking this pic the lady who's car was hit asked if I could send her the pic. The blackberry always comes in handy.
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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Clouds running into hills

The picture doesn't do it justice, but it's fun watching the clouds curl over the sharp peaks in Rio.
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Monday, November 19, 2007

The universal advantage of the incumbent


"Don't trade the certain for the uncertain". - political candidate in Rocinha.
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Sunday, November 18, 2007

What I'll be doing next year (a series)

Jeff sends me this article about management consulting:
The myth of the management consultant in general and McKinsey in particular has never been stronger. McKinsey consultants are restructuring the educational system of Israel, advising insurers on dealing with Hurricane Katrina, comparing the performance of Indian and American companies, reforming the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Even Time Inc. is a client.
And this is interesting.
President Dwight Eisenhower actually did hire McKinsey to redesign the presidency.

An unpleasant start of the day

6 in the morning and it's Sunday so of course I'm woken up by the sound of pigs being slaughtered. It really is a horrible sound.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

3rd floor of 2bros finished

To you it looks like just a classroom, but to us it marks a big step forward. 2bros is the NGO I work for and they have gone from one very tiny classroom to that tiny classroom plus 2 larger classrooms. It's exciting times.
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Friday, November 16, 2007

Rain turns streets into rivers in Rocinha

Heavy rains all week. Send some of that to Atlanta! They need it.
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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Response to a friend asking whether to rent or buy

Why you might want to rent:

•keeps you more mobile. So you can take a job in a different part of the country, for example.
•keeps you more flexible. Maybe now you want roommates. Then in a year you have a girlfriend and want to live with her. Then the next year you want to live by yourself. Say your income triples. In all of these instances you'll want to be flexible to be able to adjust your housing needs. Much easier renting rather than owning.
•fewer hidden costs. Owning has lots of costs you don't see if you rent. Property tax, insurance, yard maintenance, etc.

And the big one
•cheaper (sometimes). The prices for houses got so inflated that you could simply rent much more house for your buck than you would get buying. Even accounting for the tax break, in many markets it just made more sense to rent. Also, when you rent you don't have the risk of housing depreciating, and the fundamentals, despite recent drops, still suggest a further negative outlook in housing prices.

You may want to rent if you find a deal, if your market offers a better rents vs. prices equation, or if you know you will stay put for a half-decade or more.

Still, I understand this isn't a rational choice sometimes. I'm currently helping someone I'm (very) close to find a place to buy, despite knowing it will give him less house for the dollar than renting. Sometimes people just want to own their house.

Tropa de Elite

Go read my guest post over at The Global Buzz. It's about the cultural phenomenon of the year here in Brazil, the movie Tropa de Elite. It comes out in the US on January 25, and it's a great movie. It deals with the battle between police and drug gangs in favelas in Rio.
The movie raises multiple questions. Are the tactics depicted in the film acceptable? Where is the line between justice and excessive violence? In the favela I live in, Rocinha, the biggest in Brazil, police don’t enter except on raids. Bandidos roam the streets with free abandon, wielding an array of rifles, submachine guns, uzzis, and pistols. Some have gold plating or brazenly state the name of the gang.
Tropa de Eilte, of course isn’t the first great Brazilian film documenting the reality of favelas in Rio de Janeiro. The co-author of Tropa de Elite also wrote Cidade de Deus (City of God), which became an international hit in 2003 for the story of the fight between Lil Ze and Knockout Ned. What not everyone realized is how close to reality that film was. Cidade de Deus exists, and is not too far west of Rocinha. I went there yesterday to meet a friend.

The fight between Lil Ze and Knockout Ned actually happened. The actors almost exlusively came from favelas and had no acting experience. Instead, most scenes were improvised. To this day, you can go to a Baile Funk (funk party) at the place where Benny weas killed. At the end of the movie, when the Runts take over, you’re seeing the beginnings of the Comando Vermelho, the gang that controls that favela to this day.

Best seats ever

Across the stage on top is Lula's box.
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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Xmas in Brazil

On Christmas day, it will be hot and humid in the Rio summer, but there will be Santa Claus in a wool suit.
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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

My friends know cool stuff: Jon Lange

Jon Lange is another friend of mine from the University of Arizona. He was a stellar accounting student and is supremely organized. Seriously I wish I had his organization skills. I wanted to get his opinion on how to buy a car because I was very impressed with the discount he got. On a very desirable Toyota Camry as well. I think most people think they get a good deal when they buy a car, but that usually just means the salesman did his job. But I know for sure that Jon got way better than a typical price. And if you knew him you would know it's not surprising. If you have a company and want a great purchaser, he would be your guy.

How to Buy a New Car

I just bought my first new car; so RJ thought it would be a good idea to share my experience with anyone who is interested. I originally thought I was going to buy a used 2006/2007 Honda Accord, but after I found out the 2008 was set to be a new body style, I wasn’t too happy about that. So my first piece of advice is, which is a popular opinion: never buy a car that has a new body style just a year or two ahead of it – you will take a big hit on the resale value!

Below is how I went through the whole process of researching, shopping and eventually purchasing a new car. I have talked to a few smart “car” people about the price I paid for my car and from what I gather, I did a good job – so here’s how: (please note that I am not saying this THE ONLY WAY to get a good price on a new car, just that this worked for me so I assume it could work for you ☺.)

The Research Process

• Start the research process by going to the car makers’ websites (i.e.:, checking local newspapers weekly, & lastly, I highly recommend going to These resources will give you a great idea of options, features, specs, pricing (MSRP & Invoice) incentives, current specials, etc.

• Once you have researched what kind of model and features you want & get a basic idea of pricing, start calling all the local dealers in town.

• You will very quickly find out that these car dealers REALLY do not want to give out price quotes over the phone. They want you to come in and get in front of them – after all – sales is 10 times easier in person than on the phone! Another reason for this is they know if you get a quote over the phone for a specific car, you will just take that quote, call the next dealer and shop the daylights out of all the dealers, creating a bidding war.
• Tell them this when they ask you to come in, “Well, I work about 70/80 hours a week, so I just don’t have time to stop by in person, but let me assure you, I know what I am looking for and I am ready to buy as soon as I find the right car.”
• In realty, I recommend starting this process about 2 months before you want to buy – you will want to start building a relationship with the dealers if you want the best price.
• Continue to talk with them whenever they call you and just put up with their BS sales crap.
• At first, I couldn’t take dealing with their calls, but I quickly learned that if you entertain their stupid 3 / 4 minute calls, and be polite, they will grow very fond of you. Think about it…how many sales people call rude individuals every day, and they get so pissed off when a customer is rude to them – it really makes a difference when people are nice to them!
• Always take notes on what they are telling you regarding price, incentives, specials, etc. so that if they are lying, you can reference that conversation.

Visiting the Dealer

• ALWAYS ALWAYS go to the dealers at the end of the month. If you can go on the VERY LAST DAY of the month that is THE BEST…they always want to hit their month-end numbers!
• Late summer & very early fall are always the best months to buy a car because dealers need to clear the lot for the next year’s models. July 31, August 31, or even December 31 are probably the 3 best days to purchase a vehicle. (December 31 because of the year-end.)
• Bring a notepad with you to take notes on pricing
• Make sure to have an appointment or let your salesman know when you’re coming in:
• You absolutely want to work with the person you have been speaking with on the phone (as you should have solid rapport with them already and they will want to work with you – they have time invested in you so they WILL try get you the best deal.)
• NOTE: you are selling yourself to them just as much as they are selling to you. You want the salesman to think of you as a friend, a buddy, and in general a nice person – if they think of you this way, they will fight for you to get you the best price possible. If you are a jerk, believe it or not, it will affect their desire to sell you a car!

Talking Pricing at the Dealer

• After taking the test drive, be prepared to talk pricing. Even if you are not ready to buy today, act like you are!!! This is the only way to get EXACT price quotes.
• Have other solid quotes with you from other dealers - you can make them up if you want, but keep them reasonable – the point is to let them know you have done your homework and you will not be taken for a ride.
• This is a great line, and worked with everyone I told it to: “Well, here’s the price XYZ Dealer gave me, it’s a great price, but I really did not like their sales reps there…they were rude and aggressive and I don’t want to deal with that. If you can beat this price, I will give you the business. I have enjoyed my experience here, so I would prefer to deal with you.” (This line accomplishes many things at once, and it is a nice compliment to them ☺.)
• VERY IMPORTANT: Keep in mind the sales rep you are dealing with is probably the 3rd person in command – so he/she is not making the pricing decision. He/she takes your request to the manager and they say yes/no, or the manager will take it to his/her boss, the director, who says yes or no.
• Be firm and no matter what they give you in the first bit of discussion, know they CAN AND WILL DO much better than that – I promise!
• Here’s how you know you have done a good job when talking price:
• If the Sales Rep gets so frustrated (NOT mad, but frustrated – there is a very big difference!) with you that they get the Manager – you have done a good job.
• If the Manager gets so frustrated with you (again NOT mad) that they have to get the Director to try and close you – you have done a GREAT job and I would bet that you are getting the lowest price they can offer.
• IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO KNOW THAT YOU WANT TO FRUSTRATE THEM, IN A TEASING MANNER, THOUGH. Build rapport, keep it fun and light - just very politely let them know that you are an informed, knowledgeable, yet willing and ready buyer.
• For Trade-ins:
• If you have another vehicle, which almost everyone does, when you are shopping for your new one, keep this in mind when considering a trade-in vs. selling on the open market: the amount of trade-in value for your car is deducted from the gross price of the car, which results in about 8.1% additional tax savings!
• Example:
New car purchase price: $30,000
Your car trade-in value: $10,000
Net purchase price: $20,000
Tax Rate: 8.1%
Total price w/ tax: $21,620
Real Value of trade-in: $10,810

• So, the actual value of your trade-in is $10,810, not $10,000. Do not forget to factor in the cost of getting your car detailed, fixed-up, marketing & advertising dollars, taking phone calls, making appointments to show the car, and the list goes on if you try to sell it on the open market.
• Another pro-trade-in comment: the dealerships will only do a quick 5-minute inspection of the vehicle.
• Generally the inspector guy will check the A/C, pop the hood, verify mileage, check the tire-wear, look very quickly at dings/dents, and then they are about done. If you have leaks, squeaky brakes, bad hoses, belts, battery, or anything else that can’t be seen by just a quick glance, you will get away with it at the dealer! I highly recommend trading in your car, if you can get within about $1500 or less of what you would get on the open market.

Buying the Car:

• Once you get down to the exact price, here are the last few things I would recommend:
• Make sure you are getting a quote that is ONLY the price + tax, title & license
• If they try to charge you for crap such as a destination fee (about $660), a paint protection package, an Arizona desert package, blah blah blah, tell them “absolutely not” – only the huge suckers get charged that stuff
• You can listen to the extended warranty pitch, and all the other additional things available to “help the new car owner”, but my recommendation is to NOT PURCHASE any of that extra junk right then.
• You can always go back and buy it after you have sufficient time to thoroughly read it.

Well, that’s about all I got for now. I personally had a great time going through this process – and it was REALLY rewarding getting such a good price on a car I wanted. If you are wondering, in total between research, dealership visits and phone calls, I probably spent about 40/50 hours buying a new car – but it yielded about $2,000 in additional savings of about $2,000 over the average car buyer purchasing the exact same vehicle that I did. So, strictly mathematically speaking, I earned about $40/$50 per hour by doing my homework. Some may say that’s a great value for your time, some would think that’s a waste, but if you enjoy the process and like feeling like you got a deal, which I absolutely love, then do your homework! Best of luck, email me at if you have any questions.

Rocinha turning the tables on the economy

In today's newspaper, there's a story that says that Rocinha's economy is growing so much that now 6,000 people from outside the favela have jobs here. I've run into some of them myself, for instance at the gym I work out at.

Also, today I walked across the favela with my Apple MacBook in plain sight and nothing happened. Of course this is what I expected, but it's just so funny compared to how cautious I was when I first got here.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Dr. Todd gone

It was very cool having him here. My friend who is doing a year for my employer here and went to Harvard noted one of the advantages of going to a state school when he said he didn't have a professor that would come visit him.

And I think Dr. Todd liked it a lot too. He saw about 40 birds he had never seen before, including a pair of toucans right in the middle of the city (in Jardim Botanico). He says you have to travel very far to get a more exotic bird than that.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Myers-Briggs in action

Today I lost my cell phone. I was waiting for a bus with Dr. Todd, who left today, and it must have fallen out of my loose cargo pocket.

But I wasn't really shaken up. I know I lost my numbers, but I can get them again. The phone only cost $75 and I already used it all year. It just wasn't a big deal. I've seen others get all bent out of shape upon losing their phones or get them stolen, but I was over it in 10 minutes.

I started thinking about this in the context of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test (wikipedia), which I took at training in October. The test categorizes people based on four categories. My type was INTP, introverted, intuition, thinking, perceiving. Without getting too much into the test, let's focus on the last category.

Each person either favors Judging or Perceiving. At first it's probably easier to understand if you consider judging the same as organized and perceiving the same as disorganized. So I'm disorganized. Naturally this has some downsides. The stack of papers on my desk is an issue...

But it also has advantages. One is being more able to deal with change and be flexible. Surprises can be positive, as opposed to negative.

And while losing the phone was definitely negative, I quickly adapted, and life goes on.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Coolest bird moment ever

On the way to Ihla grande, we were walking from the bus station to the boat. A dog friended us, hoping for some food.

Dr. Todd loves bird-watching, so we stopped to watch a bird on a goal post. Turns out it is an owl. I used his high powered binoculars, and really decided the owl was beautiful. Then as we kept going, the owl turned to face us.

"He's watching the dog, not us," Dr. Todd said.

We kept going, no longer watching the owl. All of a sudden, the owl swoops down over us, screams at the dog, and pecks him on the head before flying off back to his post.

Dr. Todd said that makes his top 10 list of bird moments from decades of watching.

The next day the owl was in the exact same spot. Here's a picture.
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TP time

Something I've made the adjustment to but that was very weird at first- you don't flush TP down the toilet here. Every toilet has a trash can next to it and you put the TP in the trash can. If not the pipes will get clogged.

The adjustment is easier for some than others. One friend who visited in July said he just can't do it, because he's not a "barbarian." He was half-joking, but he did clog the toilet on two occasions.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Major oil discovery south of Rio;jsessionid=6A9A6DD5B4C1FFECDDDE4F63A22D2D8F

Just as I'm at Ilha Grande, south of Rio, the state oil company Petrobras announces the discovery of a major reserve, the Tupi field, right nearby. The discovery will boost their reserves 40 percent and put them about between Nigeria and Venezuela on the world's list of exporters.

The field lies deep below water, rock and sand, and then salt. This shows the value of Petrobras becoming a global leader in deep exploration, so necessary because the ocean gets very deep very fast, unlike say the North Sea.

The news sent Petrobras shares rocking up 14 percent, adding billions in value.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

No fear

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Professor Visiting

Today a professor of mine, James Todd, arrived in Rio. He's visiting me for 5 days. He's a huge bird fan, so he wants to see as many unique species as possible. We may head over to Ihla Grande, but only if we can just get this rain to stop.

Sad note on Dr. Todd: He is the reason I got to meet William Rehnquist junior year, and now he knows Sandra Day O'Connor. He arranged a meeting with her in Phoenix the weekend I was there, and if I had just said I was in town I could have gone. Ahhhh!

Brk.b above $4500 a share

That didn't take long! I freaking love Warren Buffett! Up over 50% since I first bought it and had others buy it. And up on a day when the market was down, which isn't new at all, of course.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Back in Rio

Back in Rio for my final month. A thought: in a community where people walk around with huge guns, umbrellas are dangerous. You never know right away if it's a gun, or an umbrella. Scary stuff.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

My friends know cool stuff: Dan Tuttle

Today we turn to an interview with my friend Dan Tuttle, who went to U Arizona with me. Dan has an amazing travel and language portfolio. He has spent two stints in Tanzania, a year in China, and is now spending a year in the Soloman Islands. In Tanzania and in the SI, he was working for Support for International Change, which develops HIV education classes. He's working on becoming an expert in Chinese-African relations and investment. His blog, which I love because it has lots of personal stories, is here.

You've rapidly progressed through a series of languages. What are the keys to fast and effective learning?

Know what learning style you have, then adapt the information you get to that style. I'm visual, which isn't ideal for languages. If I write a word down in a funky font after I hear it, though, I'll remember it in the future. Having a desire to communicate is obviously key, too. I hate being unable to joke and quip when abroad, so my language drive is just a desire to show people the not-stodgy part of my personality I had a rough time with Chinese humor, which is based on complex wordplay and a wide vocabulary. Many people ignore opportunities for passive exposure as well, such as listening to local radio. Language is all about imitation, so the more constant the input you dredge up, the more naturally your brain will adjust.

What are the relative difficulties of the ones you've learned?

Hardest to easiest: Mandarin Chinese, Swahili, Spanish, Melanesian Pijin. I'd never recommend Mandarin to anyone. Swahili agreement is hard to get right on the fly. Spanish is goofy (beautified) English, Pijin is goofy (simplified) English. I've learned only the most basic conversational French, which I'd put between Swahili and Chinese because of its contractions and articles and conjugations.

What do you think you will learn in the next 5 years?

In the next five months I'm hoping to get Roviana, the local tribal language here around Munda. It's probably in the same difficulty slot as French. I'd really like to make my Chinese fluent, but that would require finding a cool job in China starting next October or so (any leads?). I'm split between reviving Spanish, plunging into Portuguese, and figuring out French. It's all contingent on where there's good work to be done. I do want to spend time on more global languages--no more Pijin or Roviana--after this year is over.

Can you comment on PetroChina's involvement in Africa? Is Warren Buffett right that he shouldn't feel he is supporting the war in Sudan by holding PetroChina shares? (Note: I asked this question before we learned that Warren Buffett had sold his entire PetroChina stake, which he said was 100% for valuation reasons).

I have never been convinced that economic withdrawal from troubled states is a good move. Yes, China's oil interests in Sudan and doctrine of non-interference in other countries' affairs stalled efforts to stop the war. Being on the Security Council gives you that power. Many people don't realize that this war has been going on in various forms for twenty years, it's rooted in conflict over fertile land, cattle, water, and the scarce resources of the country in the first place. To my knowledge, the oil issue is relatively new fuel for the fire. I think of it this way: if oil production in Sudan collapses, will the elites perpetuating the war be dethroned? Unlikely. Will the people at the bottom suffer greatly? Assuming that some use kerosene, that gasoline still powers the presumably little public transportation in the area, yes. Will it bring an end to the war? Not as far as I can tell. Conflict in Sudan is deeper than a dispute over oil revenue rights.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Brazil getting World Cup 2014

It's going to be crazy....they're already obsessed with it.


Driving in Arizona after being in Rio

I drive like a grandma now! In Rio everything is so gridlocked that going 30mph feels blazing. Then I get to Phoenix and Tucson and drive slower than everyone else.

At least it's safer.