Back to work

I come back from an incredible nine-day long vacation, the kind that if I had it my way, I’d never return home from, and somehow within an hour of starting work again (from home, though), a colleague decides to pick a massive fight with me and call me a lot of demeaning adjectives, making sure to use words like “always” and “this is standard for you all the time.” As you can imagine, I didn’t just sit there and take it like a punching bag, and I fought back. Needless to say, we got nowhere with the conversation and it ended with a massive lingering conflict.

It’s hard working in the industry that I am in – as a woman and as an Asian American. It’s a male-dominated, very white place (that is, my company), and people love to make sweeping assumptions about how you will act based on your background and your title. As an Asian woman, people assume, whether consciously or subconsciously, that I will just take orders and not question authority. Well, I wasn’t brought up to be a doormat, so that’s never really going to work for me. I will always say what I think whether people like it or not. If that’s something that gets me to be unpopular or even fired, then it’s probably a testament to that place’s terrible environment and low standards of work, innovation, genuine accountability.

Sao Paulo street art

Sao Paulo, despite being the most populous city in Brazil, always seems to get slighted because of the glamour and glitz that is Rio de Janeiro. Rio’s gorgeous beaches, urban jungle (with an actual jungle in the middle of it), and relaxed Carioca ways seem to attract more tourists than Sao Paulo. I had a number of people tell me prior to leaving for this trip that they were excited for the Rio and Iguazu Falls portions, but much less so about the Sao Paulo end. That makes me pretty sad because despite our short time in Sao Paulo, I really enjoyed our time here and only wish we had more time to explore its many facets.

The most striking thing during our short visit to Sao Paulo was by far the number of incredible street art murals we saw all over the city – during our (like New York-priced, sadly – we weren’t lied to by Cariocas when they told us that cabs were expensive in Sao Paulo!) cab rides and our strolls. Some appear more like glorified graffiti, some are caricatures of famous celebrities around the globe (with what appear to be political or challenging questions scribbled in Portuguese), others look like they took painstaking efforts and several dozen different colors (and hours) to produce. The last place where I remember constantly seeing street art was in Philadelphia, but because Sao Paulo is obviously far larger (and felt more spread out) than Philly, it was almost overwhelming. It was almost similar to how I felt when we were at Iguazu — when you thought you had seen the best, you walked a few more feet and realized… you hadn’t seen the best yet and were constantly being impressed and having the last sight out done.

I guess as I have thought more about it, the one word that constantly reappears when I think of our time in Brazil is “overwhelming.” It was so overwhelming in some of the most positive ways.

Iguazu Falls

Although Iguazu saw the failure of my poor DSLR camera, it was definitely an experience in itself going to see the falls. When I saw Niagara Falls in Canada last summer, I already thought that they were incredibly large and stunning that I couldn’t fathom what Iguazu or Victoria Falls could be like. The color of the water, a bright blue, was just so clean and refreshing looking, as though you just want to put your mouth out and have a taste.

Well, I definitely would not say I would want to drink any of the water from Iguazu Falls… because although the gorgeous (Photoshopped) postcards show gorgeous shades of greenish blue, the water was anything but that color. It was this deep… brown color. That’s not the color most people associate with pristine water.

The number of falls that make up Iguazu is just mind-boggling, though, so you forget the murkiness of the water itself. There’s a long trail that you walk along for all the views of the falls, and along each stop, you just see more and more beautiful and more stunning views as you continue your walk. You think it’s all over, and then you just see another set of the falls that outdid the last set in another way. It’s like one of those things that you see and know is real, but you wonder how it came to be and how you are so fortunate to see it in all its beauty and glory. It’s another unreal experience during this trip.

Poor T3i

I can’t believe it. After only 23 months of use, my Canon Rebel T3i camera just stopped turning on while at Iguazu Falls today. It was only sprinkling rain a bit outside while we were photographing, and suddenly, it just wouldn’t turn on. I could hear it making beeping sounds when I pushed any of the buttons, but the screen did not turn on and I was unable to take any more photos. It’s been through more wetness than it did today.

The one positive of this happening is that the camera was working fine during the majority of this trip, and that the memory card was completely fine and we were able to back up all of the photos. I’m just disappointed that my expensive baby didn’t even make it to its second birthday without going haywire. Off to a repair shop, it will go.

Rio juice bars

I don’t think I can remember how many times we have had fresh squeezed and blended juice on this segment of our Brazil trip in Rio. Throughout the city, no matter where you are, there will always be a juice bar at the corner of the street you are on, if not two or three. They will all have a vast range of tropical fruits that you may not have even heard of unless you grew up in South America (or really like vitamin supplements, since a lot of these fruits’ extracts are used in vitamin supplements that people take). Chris always complains that he is guava deprived since he had it so often when living in Australia and can never get it anywhere in North America unless it’s from a juice can I get him from Chinatown, so he’s pretty much refused to order any juice that is not guava, unless the juice bar has run out of it. Passion fruit and/or mango are close seconds for him. I’ve had passion fruit, mango, caju (Portuguese for “cashew,” but NOT nut juice like you are imagining. This juice comes from the fruit of the cashew nut tree – tastes like hints of apple, pineapple, and something slightly creamy?), fruta de conde/Brazilian sugar apple, and acerola (like a tomato-sized berry – very citrusy and sweet).

It suddenly hit me while sitting at a juice bar eating lunch with Chris today that all the juices we have are frothy, thick, and have all the pulp. The people behind the counter are literally taking the skinned fruit and throwing them into blenders. Why can’t they do that in the States? Every time you get juice at the store or at a juice store back home, it’s always clear and generally pulp free, which really defeats the purpose of having fruit. Fruit juice should be whole fruit, otherwise the key nutrients are just being thrown away. It’s part of the reason I detest the idea of juice cleanses (you’re paying a lot of money for the parts of the fruit that aren’t even nutrient-dense) and why I get annoyed at all the fruit juice carton labels that say “Pulp-Free.” I always grew up drinking juice with pulp and never understood why people didn’t want pulp in juice. Isn’t that what’s natural and good?

Last night in Rio

Today is our last full day in Rio de Janeiro, which makes me so sad because it feels like we just arrived. I thought that having five and a half days here would be enough to see and experience most of what this urban paradise has to offer, but I feel like I need to come back here again at least one (or two… or three…) more times to feel completely satiated.

Tonight, we saw our last World Cup game at Estadio Maracana, which was Ecuador vs. France. We were seated on the side of the stadium where most of the Ecuadorians were, and the atmosphere was really intense. I got into it and sided with the Ecuadorians when they started yelling a chant that one of my best friends and I used to use to encourage each other: “Si se puede! Si se puede!” The crowd was even more crazy than Sunday’s Belgium vs. Russia game.

We’ve had a good number of caipirinhas, too many (whole) tropical juices in our last few days (to name a few: guava, passion fruit, acerola, and fruta da conde/sugar apple), and more fish, rice and black beans than we’ve probably had for the last five months. We’ve visited grungy parts of Rio where the smell of hot garbage follows your nostrils everywhere, and lush green tree-lined streets of the most expensive neighborhoods here. Rio is just another example of an international city where the differences are stark between the rich and the poor. Just steps behind a well-manicured middle-class neighborhood could be a drug lord-controlled favela that the government turns its eyes from. So many aspects of this city can at the same time confuse and pique a visitor’s interest. Each day I’ve been here, I’ve found it more alluring and curious, and I can’t wait to come back… hopefully for Carnaval when I can experience another side of how intense the January River city can be.

Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar)

Today, we had a full day with our private guide Katia and her driver Paolo, so we took advantage of all the things this could do for us: a windy drive all the way up to the Tijuca forest, the largest urban (rain)forest in the world, covering almost 12.5 square miles within the city of Rio de Janeiro. Here, we saw the incredible views of Rio, Cristo Redentor, Sugar Loaf mountain, and the beaches from the Vista Chinesa. We also visited the Rocinha favela, a shanty town that just two years ago finally got recognized by the local government. We saw quieter, more pristine beaches along the coast that made the Ipanema and Copacabana beaches seem overcrowded and loud. Interesting events happened along the way. And the day ended with one of the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life at the top of Sugar Loaf mountain.

Because I like to photograph and view photos, I am jaded most of the time because I know how much editing goes into professional photography. A book I read written by a well-known photographer said that even on his most tact-sharp photos, he will still use software to sharpen the image even further. So when I saw images of sunsets from Sugar Loaf, I thought that they were probably too good to be true, like the sunrises in all those photos I saw of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. When my friends and I did wake up at 4am for the sunrise in Siem Reap to see this famous temple, though what we saw was beautiful, it wasn’t anything like what I imagined based on the postcards and online images.

Sugar Loaf mountain’s sunset renders me speechless, though. It’s every bit as spectacular in person as it is in those photos, if not more so. The sky really does turn multiple shades of orange and red and even purple and pink at times, and the endless mountains of Rio, which is all at once a beach paradise, a tropical jungle, and a fast-paced urban craze, makes for one of the best backdrops for this sight. It’s like the Christ statue is enabling the best sunsets right here in Rio.

Today was one of those days for me that was just non-stop fun and joy. It was filled with sights and experiences and tastes that make me wish now more than ever that Ed were still with us, and that I could share with him just one more time why living is such an amazing feeling.

Escadaria Selarón

Today, we explored Rio on our own and walked through Lapa, saw the Arcs do Lapa, the old aqueduct of the neighborhood, and also walked up the Escadaria Selaron, or the Selaron staircase, which were designed and out together by Jorge Selaron, a Chilean-born artist who created these beautiful and eclectically tiled steps as a personal tribute to Brazil. He worked incessantly on these steps and their tiles until the day he was found dead on them with burn marks.

As with major tourist attractions anywhere, the stairs were filled with lots of people, even locals just standing around it, chatting and smoking. As we reached the top, Chris wanted to take my picture right by a mosaic tiled image of the Brazilian flag when we suddenly heard a British man shout out and tumble down the top of the stairs. He looks to have hurt his leg with the fall, and a few men, presumably his friends, run down after him and carry him to a flat spot. We heard him say that he saw someone with a gun at the top of the stairs, so everyone immediately started walking down, including us. No one else ran down the stairs, though, except him, so it was hard to judge what really happened at the top. Either way, we never got up there.


Belgium vs. Russia

After our morning trip up to Corcovado Mountain to see the Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer – he’s about 130 feet tall!) statue, we rushed onto the subway to get to Estadio Maracana, where the Belgium vs. Russia World Cup game was held. We found out that on game days, if you have game tickets, all you have to do is show your tickets to the train station workers, and they’d let you in free of charge four hours before the game, and four hours after.

I’ve never been in a stadium so full of energy before. I’ve been to one professional hockey game and about four or five baseball games in the States, but I’ve never seen chaos, cheering, and pride in the way I saw it today. Thousands of people were dressed up in either Belgium or Russia’s colors, with their faces painted and tall elaborate hats on. The Belgians wore their red devil hats and horns, while the Russians carried in big flags to represent their country. And the “waves” were real waves, not like the boring ones I’ve seen at other games where they half-happen maybe once or twice. I was sitting in an area where there were mostly Belgians with a sprinkling of Russians and their fans here and there.

At the end of the game, Belgium won, and they showed a count of how many spectators were at Maracana for this game today. Over 73,000 people came for this game; I was in a crowd of over 73,000 screaming football (soccer) fans today. And I actually watched the game and enjoyed it. Amazing.

Polícia Militar do Estado do Rio de Janeiro

We arrived in Rio this morning and took a cab from the airport to our apartment in Copacabana. During the drive, we immediately noticed the massive police presence all over the city, from the immediate vicinity of the airport, to along the highways, around the beaches — everywhere. And it wasn’t just local police, either; we saw military police and municipal police in big groups pretty much every 20 to 30 feet along Copacabana beach during our walk to the FIFA fest. I guess the country really is doing a lot to ensure the safety of its international guests during this massive sporting event.

Granted, I have noticed far fewer people carrying DSLR cameras around their necks or on their phones crossing the streets, but I am aware that a lot of these people are not locals (“cariocas”) and are visitors here for the World Cup games. During beach walk, I think I only saw three other people with DSLR cameras. I kept mine in a bag unless I was taking it out for a specific photo.