Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A planned city--Brasilia

Two Wednesdays ago, I went to Brasilia—the capital of Brazil. I explored a little bit of the city, including a visit to “The Lúcio Costa Space,” where I saw the miniature plan of Brasilia, which is shaped like an airplane, and learned more about its planner, Lúcio Costa. I visited the heaven-pointing building that is one of the emblematic buildings of Brasilia—-The Metropolitan Cathedral of Brasilia, which was designed by Oscar Niemeyer. I relished in the sight of “The four evangelists,” a complex sculpture depicting the apostles: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I took a picture with my favorite apostle of the four: Luke. I can’t fully articulate why Luke is my favorite classic apostle (Paul is my favorite of all the people that can be considered apostles)--maybe it has to do with his being a physician and his attention to detail in accounting events. I then went inside the cathedral, moved as any Christian would be, by the sculptures and paintings. As I was coming out of the cathedral, a woman was sitting by the entrance to the cathedral, asking for some financial help. Her choice of location to ask for help shows her wisdom, because I could not imagine how I would come out of a cathedral and then ignore an old woman's request for money--assuming I had money on me to begin with, which I did, as I am sure most visitors did. Her age alone was reason enough to fight most reasons one might have for denying her. Then add the location factor and her request seemed, to me, undeniable. While she received money from many people, it seemed we, as a people, could still always say no.

During my trip to Brasilia, I also attended the wedding of the friend of a friend, hung out and watched movies with some very interesting people, ate the best brownie I have ever had in my life, made new friends, and came back to Belo Horizonte a few days later.

That is it for now.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Beautiful Horizon

Belo Horizonte (BH; "beautiful horizon”) is a lovely city, not only for its parks, museum, and churches, but also for its people. At first, I found it strange that passersby often engage me in little conversations that they’ve freed from the solitude of their minds. Although my Portuguese is poor, I can tell (via their facial expressions and gesticulations) that they’re talking about their observations of the location, people, or situation at that particular time. I feel privileged to be part of their audience as they talk, and I am disappointed that when I am expected to say something, all I can say is: “Eu nao falo português.”

I love that although far from home, I am still able to enjoy “communal dining”—the kind of dining experience where it seems that you are feeding not only your stomach but also that of those around you. Eating is not an isolated event, which it can be even when people eat together. I find this aspect of the Brazilians I hang out with impressive, particularly considering that I don’t speak the language. I don’t know if this "communal dining" that I have experienced with them is because most of my Brazilian friends are Christians—-so, they feel connected with me because they are my brothers and sisters in Christ (and vice versa)—-or if it is really an intrinsic quality of Brazilian life. From my short stay and, thus, limited experience in Brazil, I do feel that Brazilians, in general, seem to be a very warm and welcoming bunch.

It is also a pleasure that the city itself seems so alive—-the city is not often quiet or empty—there are people everywhere, rushing out from seemingly nowhere; it reminds me of New York City. I am a city girl, and I can’t live in a quiet place for too long; I get restless and bored. I love to see people walking around, going about their daily activities. I love to watch people as they speak, to watch the way they carry their bodies, to figure out their mannerisms, and so on. Since I don’t understand most of what people say, I am better able to focus on this people-watching interest of mine, and I feel that I get an intuitive sense of the personality of the speakers. I remember that at a party that I attended about two or three weeks ago, one of the two English speakers turned to me and said, “Don’t you get a headache?” Her question was in response to her observation that I would turn to each person as they spoke and watch them with curiosity. I told her that I didn't suffer from headache; rather, my mind was being infused with pleasure as I watched them. She figured out that I was not listening to them to gain understanding of their speech, which, if I were, would certainly have given me a migraine.

It is amazing that we say (or don't say) so many things, just by varying our facial expressions. Sometimes I see people convincingly go through the dramatic motions of laughing, yet their eyes tell about a different emotion, usually irritation or sadness, but sometimes anger. FYI, a single cranial nerve (cranial nerve 7, a.k.a facial nerve) controls the main muscles of facial expression. Pondering on this a bit, one cannot help but be amazed by the efficiency and effectiveness of the brain in being able to command the expression of a myriad of very specific, emotion-laced faces with a limited number of "tools." From learning about the human body, it is not a stretch to argue that the design of the human body or its workings is (overall) probably the epitome of high productivity or functionality with a conservative amount of resources. For example, our genes--the stuff that command a significant part of who and how we are--is relatively small in number, only about 30, 000. Even a grain of rice (depending on the species) has more genes than the average human!

Anyway, the summary of this post is that I like the city and its people. Until my next post, Tchau!

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Being a tourist

Since I arrived in Brazil in May up until this past Wednesday (when I took a trip to Brasilia), I have been in downtown Belo Horizonte, in the state of Minas Gerais. Belo Horizonte (literally, “beautiful horizon”) is perfectly located to suit my purposes. Although it is not a tourist city, I can easily access the major tourist spots from here. This allows me more opportunities to explore more of Brazil, and it frees me from constant exposure to the fanfare, extravagancies, and downright egocentrism characteristic of tourist cities, which can sometimes be a sort of mental prison in the sense that one can feel that this is where one should be. ------------ (Insert city) –is-the- place- to-be-Why-would-you-want-to-go-anywhere-else mentality.

Ever since I read Jamaica Kincaid’s A small Place, with her decidedly unapologetic and powerful statement that “a tourist is an ugly human being,” I have been more conscious of my role and purpose as a tourist, especially since I have noticed that sometimes a touristy place becomes altered—-sometimes negatively, in the opinion of people with an interest in the natural order of the place—-to suit tourists. Being a tourist can be a weird and unsettling role to occupy. On the one hand, one wants to observe and admire the natural beauty of a site, but by carrying out that desire, one’s presence invariably (eventually) alters the site.

In my next post, I will tell you a little bit more about my thoughts on my main city of residence in Brazil: Belo Horizonte. I would love to include pictures with my post, but I won’t have posting or printing access to any of my pictures until I get back to the USA.

Until my next post, Tchau!

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