Saturday, January 21, 2012

Singapore Savvy

The last four days in Singapore have whizzed by so quickly that I've forgotten to write. Actually, I've gone back to the rudimentary form of writing, scribbling down addresses, phone numbers and notes for work in a spiral pad. I've since dubbed it my "Book of Life." From the moment I touched down at Changi Airport it has been my faithful companion; helping me during house hunting and orientation at Investor Central. It was the only thing that gave me peace during the first few days of anxiety when I was unsure about where I would be living and whether I could afford a place I liked. They say moving is one of the hardest things to deal with besides a death and a birth. I definitely felt the pressure. For three days, I browsed Craigslist and other housing sites, figured out how to get around on the MRT and buses, got lost and viewed places. It was a great way to get to know the city and meet some interesting people. I learned very early not to work with agents, especially if you're only looking for a room to rent. It is a huge rip-off. Their fee is half of a month's rent and they also charge the landlords. They are also very pushy from my experience. The woman I dealt with refused to let the spaces sell themselves. She also showed me expensive places even though I had given her my budget. Overall, it was an unsettling experience. Once I started dealing personally with landlords, things started to go better. They got straight to the point and didn't sugarcoat anything.
The pad and a little bit of luck have since helped me find the room I am writing from now. It's not very flashy, but by Asian standards its pretty big for a non master room and it came furnished with a queen sized bed, a spacious wardrobe, a wooden desk, an end table and a mirror. With a little sprucing up, it'll be home in no time. The common area and kitchen are pretty nice as well. The place also has a good feeling, like its actually been lived in, unlike some of the others I've seen. My housemates seem pretty nice as well, they are from all over the world. Sioban is from Ireland, Angel - the Philippines, Yohan - Germany, Kelly -The States, and Jenny - Korea. Maria, my landlord, has to be the coolest landlord there is. She seems to have a knack for befriending young professional foreigners and has housed people from almost everywhere. She's also famous for throwing huge parties she calls "SingBashes." I'm really glad I found this place, so far everything couldn't be going better on the home front.
As far as work goes, this is where I've been the most surprised. From what my boss had told me, I knew it was a small company, but I was very unaware of how small. The office is located on the edge of the Central Business District in a building that houses numerous other small businesses and a few schools. The place is literally a room about the size of my dorm and a fairly small studio. A lot of the equipment is a bit dated, but the place has a certain charm. From the run through of the position, there is a lot to be done. It seems very demanding for such a small operation, but I think I'll get a lot of hands on experience and I like my boss' scrappy nature. My co-workers Mattina, Sarah, and Amy quickly filled me in on the environment and their relationship with our boss, which seems a bit shaky since he's very demanding, but I think he's trying his hardest to be successful and steps on some toes in the process.
Lucky for me, I arrived just before the Chinese New Year! This means I have a 4 day weekend for the festivities including a parade tomorrow. I hope to unpack and unwind slowly while getting a chance to explore a little bit more. I'm really looking forward to the next 6 months here.
Stay Tuned!


Original Post: August 10th 2011

Looking back on my time here in Bahia, I find that its been filled with life and learning. There is a certain energy here in the squares of Pelerinho, on the beaches of Barra, and ilhas on the coast of Bahia that gives off a sense of excitement. Salvador is a city in preparation waiting for its big break onto the world stage. The not only for the world cup and the olympics, but to be known around the globe for its rich traditions and history. It sounds silly, but soon, people from all over the world, will get a glimpse of orixas, eat quejo quente, and maybe learn a bit of caporiera. I had never heard of the Candomble or orixas before coming here, and I am fascinated by how imbedded this belief is in Bahianos' everyday lives. (Example: My host mom has ritas along with a rosary tied around the gear in her car.) From this experience, I gathered that Bahianos take great great pride in their history and culture, no matter how dark the circumstances. As exemplified by the Ballet Folklorio, they've embraced traditions that have passed from the times of slavery and darkness and chosen to put them on display. This and the many charms of Bahia have had a lasting impression on my view of Brasil. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here and look forward to returning.

Oh, how the time flys!

Original Post: July 31st, 2011

So I was just informed that we have come to the end of our 3rd week in Brasil. Since last weekend, the days have somehow started to merge and blur together. I'm guessing this is my mind trying to distract me from the fact that we are leaving in less than a week. Nevertheless this past week did happen and we did some interesting things…

We started of the week visiting a public school where Prof. Fred teaches geography. He emphasized that the school was poor, and compared to the private high schools, I agree it was underfunded. However, just returning from a place where many children didn't have a proper classroom, resources, or trained professional teachers, the children of Bahia were doing pretty well. In the case of any urban school where kids are underprivileged and the school is underfunded, it will be difficult to teach. But in my opinion, it is not the funding that is the problem, its keeping the kids motivated to stay in school. Afterward, we visited a "favella" which turned out to be a lower middle class neighborhood. Some of the houses, while still being stacked close together, had swimming pools and satellite TV. There were nice cars in neatly built garages and even a very clean, modern public park. This made me realize that I have to change my understanding of poverty when I hear about it in class and see it for myself.

The highlight of my week had to be attending the Ballet Folklorio in the historic district, Pelerinho. The performance was an ode to the mix of African, indigenous, and latin culture in the form of dance. There was chanting, singing, and amazing dancing! I apologize for the lack of photos, none were allowed during the performance. Most of the performance was centered on the "orixas" (oh-re-sha). Dancers were dressed in each god or goddesses' traditional wear and took on the personality of their orixa. It was fascinating. There was also a section focused on the mixed martial art and dance capoeira. This fight/dance scene was worthy of comparison with action movies, only it was live! I really enjoyed this performance and hope to see it again, hopefully in the states. The company has taken the Ballet Folklorio to the US in the past, as well as Germany and France.
On Friday, the group traveled to a town city called Cachoeira. It is a historical town located on a river. From what little I gathered from the tour, it was important to the founding of Brasil by the Portuguese. We had lunch at a really nice farm and went to a hand-made cigar factory. I'm not much of a smoker, but from the tour, they were pretty high quality cigars and the aroma in the warehouse from the dried cigar leaves was rich.

Priah Do Forte, Tortugas & Thoughts in Week 2

After settling into my second host home, I find that I am starting to understand Portuguese a bit more. As far as speaking, it's still a work in progress. The week was filled with lectures focusing on Brazil's economy and government. In many cases they were linked due to Brazil's former military dictatorship government owing and operating many of its businesses. We also discussed the future of Brazil and the changes the government and people need to make in order to make Brazil a power player on the global stage. Honestly, most of my research before coming here had to do with colonization and the slave trade. I find that these discussions helped me get a more well rounded view of Brazil, something other than the beautiful beaches and tourist attractions. Brazil's young democracy, growing economic status, and possessing the bid for not one, but two major international sporting events while exciting, seems a bit overwhelming for the average Brazilian. Many locals have the "let's cross our fingers and hope" outlook when asked about Brazil's ability to erect stadiums, train a new workforce, and properly expand its airports among other logistics nightmares. Nevertheless, the future of Brazil looks bright all things considered.

On Friday, we took a field trip to Priaha do Forte. Built by the Portuguese sometime in the 16th century, it was very first building in Brazil. Now, left in ruins, we walked around what used to be a feudal castle that began the colonization of Brazil. Complete with slave quarters and a chapel, there wasn't anything different about this forte than any other castle/forte from the colonial era. Like others from its time, the property was situated on the coast, north of Salvador and offered a breathtaking view of the Atlantic. After visiting the forte, the group spent the day in the very tourist friendly beach town. It offered an array of typical gift shops and themed restaurants, but also contained a turtle (tortuga) sanctuary. This beach is famous for the turtle mating season, and of course it is properly capitalized on, offered tourist a look at everything to do with turtles. Although they are cute, there isn't a lot to do with turtles.

On another note. Iwent on a one woman mission on Thursday to wax my eyebrows. Another girl in our group went with her host mom the day before and we had the afternoon off. So off I went on the search for this salon and of course the directions were a bit faulty. The numbers on the buildings were confusing and not in order. (not that I expected them to be) But i couldn't even located the building by name! After asking several people, them all pointing me in the same direction and still not finding this almost non-existent salon. I took a turn and wound up in a twilight-zone reminiscent mall. There were dozens of stores BUT they all were either formal/prom dress stores, or wig/hair beauty shops. With evening approaching, and after almost 2 hours of looking for this place, I gave up. In defeat, I began my walk back to my apartment in Campo Grande. Only i stopped for two seconds to check out items from a street vendor and there it was. This beat up building with the name barely visible with the number in the most obscure corner. The salon was located in a rented space inside of what looked like space used for offices, maybe twenty years ago, But in i went, and found a pretty top notch hair and nail salon with all the decor and trimmings. Eyebrows were taken care of to my liking and I rushed to get home before dark.

The trials of trying to look like a lady abroad =P


Original Post: July 17, 2011

First impressions

After the long journey from Boston to Bahia, I didn't really know what to expect upon setting foot outside the airport in Salvador. I can't really remember anything from the first few hours but the famous "chip! chip!" incident and the breathtaking sight of "favellas" carved into the hills. From the bus, I could immediately gather that these were poorer areas of the city, and seeing what looked like shacks literally stacked on top of each other like colorful life sized legos intrigued me. As for the rest of the city, quite honestly, I wasn't impressed. Arriving in Victoria, a more well off part of town, I was greeted with lines of skyscrapers. Some more fancy than others, it was a pretty bland plan of buildings, whether a private edificio, a hotel, or government building, all were built like standard condo skyscrapers. I was really disappointed that I was feeling like this, it was a first for me. I didn't have any out of this world expectations of Brasil, so I couldn't understand why I felt this way. Along with disappointed, I also felt a little overwhelmed. Over the first night in the hotel, I self diagnosed this nervous feeling as a sort of reverse culture shock. I have just returned from a far less developed country about two weeks ago, and barely had time to adjust to life in New York before shipping out to a different continent. After some much needed rest, I attempted to wipe my initial reactions from my mind and take a walk outside the cluster of skyscrapers. When my roommates and I reached la priah de Barra. All of my feelings of disappointed were gone. Every person I saw spanned every variation of skin tones. It quickly became apparent that many people here were of African descent. At this moment I felt a bit of relief, similar to what I felt in Ghana when I realized that here, I am not a minority.

How I Met My Mother

On our first day at ACBEU, our language and cultural school. We were oriented to the ins & outs of Bahia and afterward, introduced to our new mothers. Homestays are a major part of this program. They are supposed to help us get a better grip on the Portuguese language, and naturally integrate students into the city of Salvador. My mother, Arlene is a petite woman, recently divorced with a fourteen year old daughter, my new sister Maria Clara, and a cute dog named Lila. I also have another sister from NU named Janet. We were immediately given keys to the house, shown around and informed that Their casa was our casa. So far this has been a very different experience from other dialogues, we live in an upper middle class neighborhood called Graca, and have found our way around pretty easily on the frequently running buses.

Historia do Brasil.

After moving into our apartments, it was time to get acquainted with the rich history of Bahia, essentially the birthplace of Brasil. Dr. Fred (pronounced "Freh-gee") met us at the old town's center, Praca de Ser. This is also the location of les Levantras, elevators that connect the upper city to the lower city with an approximately 15 second ride. Fred began his tour by telling us about the first buildings built by the Portuguese in this part of the city. Part huge of Portugal's colonization included the trading of slaves. Many came from West Africa and specifically Ibo, Yoruba, and Ewe tribes among many others. Many ancient African traditions and religions have a strong presence in the lives of Bahians and Brasilianos in general. Including the widely practiced religion of Candomble. It is belief system based on nature, music, and rituals complete with deities dedicated to water, fertility, weather, etc. Many people in mainstream religious communities associate Candomble with devil worshipping and voodoo. While it has rituals and practices that delve into the realm of voodoo. Fred made it very clear that Candomble is NOT a devil worshiping religion. We visited an are gallery with an exhibition by photographer Pierre Verger, who was given a rare look into the sacred and secret traditions of Candomle.


At the end of the week, I got to visit one of the favelas i mentioned earlier. We were taken to a small after school music and dance program called Bangucaco. The children and adolescents there greeted us with a vibrant performance on various creatively crafted drums and other instruments. This program was started for the kids to stay off of the streets and give them refuge in music, dance, arts, and media. For most of the kids it is a second home. Parents and people from the neighborhood often help out at the program and kids who grew up in Bangucaco also come back to instruct and guide newcomers. After meeting the kids on the first day, and getting a brief background and tour of the place, we returned the next day for some fun activities. The kids hosted workshops to teach us how to play their drums and dance the Samba, Capoeira, and some traditional dances for carnival. The kids possessed an endless energy for their passions, whether it be music, dance, or both. One girl, Stephanie, insisted that I ,continue to dance after almost 3 hours of non-stop grooving to the live drumming supplied by the kids. At that moment, my energy spent, Stephanie's smile encouraged me to power through for, one, than two, than three more dances. The kids and this program are absolutely amazing.

Until next time, Tchau!

I am starting to condense all of my blog posts onto this one so bear with me. The following is my single blog post while i was in Ghana last year. Since I was in a village, there was seldom access to the internet and to be honest, I got lazy.

Original Post: April 28th, 2011
Hello All! So I’ve been put to shame by my friend David’s blog (check it out: into writing about my experiences so far in Ghana. Being the most horrible journalist I can be, and essentially disregarding the expensive three years of training at Northeastern’s finest Journalism department, I forgot to pack a notebook and it seems impossible to find one given my bush residential circumstances. Oh yeah, in case you didn’t know, I live in a small town named Kasoa, almost directly between the capital Accra and the second largest city Cape Coast. But its safe to say, I am in the bush, not literally…literally and figuratively. (Haha) However, it has been the most unique and eye-opening experience of my travels thus far. Echoing my friend Dave’s sentiments, living and working abroad is an entirely different creature than studying abroad. Firstly, I’ve never lived in a pink house while studying abroad.

Yea, my house is bright, and we have a dog named Grace who is the cutest. I wake up around 6am every morning to bathe the children and get them prepared for school. In the afternoon, I look after the little ones (under 9 years old) and in the evening, I bathe them again and serve dinner. This work, although it is simple, has had the biggest impact on my outlook on life, especially my family. I have reconsidered many things I thought to be decided about my future. I guess its all apart of growing up, and growing abroad.

My weekly schedule keeps my very busy and naturally leaves me very tired. From Monday through Friday, I read, and sleep during the evening with some small exceptions like our parties at the local petrol station. (don’t ask) Life is pretty simple here but I thoroughly enjoy every moment of it. However, the weekends are absent from routine and simplicity. Here, no matter where it is (Kokrobite, Cape Coast, Accra) is where the magic happens. I meet people from all over, and get to experience the wonderfulness of Ghana. Kokrobite (Coco Beach) was one of my first destinations. A small beach town oasis of sorts, it has proved itself to be an obroni’s (foreigner’s) paradise. Its about 40 minutes away from our small town and is a guaranteed good time. Its a watering hole of sorts for the volunteer and recent expat community. Friday is cultural night and Saturday is , you’ve guessed it..... reggae night. Needless to say, in the last 3 months I’ve grown tired of any and all things Bob Marley.

When the charm of Kokrobite wears off, and I need a break from the repetitive crowd at Big Milly’s, I head to Cape Coast. The Cape is about 2 and a half hours away, depending on how heavy your tro-tro driver’s foot is. It is a city with a small town feel, which really reminds me of Boston. It lacks the hustle and bustle of Accra while offering posh bars and lounges as well as local drinking spots. And of course there’s the beach. Though for me, the beach is neither here no there. The waves are too rough on this part of the coast to swim safely, especially if your not Nemo. Unlike the clown fish, I won’t be found if I was carried far from shore.The Cape offers other attractions, more fitting for a journalist though. Slave castles. They were my first stop when I got a chance to visit. A two minute walk from my hotel was one of the most visited, and few slave castles that is open to the public. On the outside, the fortress looks run down and poorly restored. Once white stone walls are now a washed up grey. It almost looks as sad on the outside, as it should look. And this is no Hollywood production sad, this is real. Years of human suffering, injustice, torture and death occurred behind these walls. Visiting Cape Coast castle has been one of the most unforgettable and emotional moments of my life. My soul has never been moved the way it was while standing inside the castle. About 20 km away it another slave castle at Elmina. Although it has a similar history to the one at Cape Coast, there are important differences. Both are worth a visit.

Ohh Accra, the beloved capital city. I have a love-hate relationship with Accra. Traveling there by tro-tro/car/bus/foot/mule is a nightmare, but once there, it is pretty easy to navigate. Since I seldom spend time in the capital, any weekend in Accra is a luxury, and I spend money as such. Taxis comfortably replace tro-tros, dinner is served in restaurants with tables and eaten with cutlery instead of wooden benches and fingers. Most importantly, it is the premier place to party and Osu is where most of the action happens. From the posh night clubs, Bella Roma, to the jumping drinking spots, The Container, Accra is the pub crawler’s and party hopper’s haven. It’s the best of both worlds. Also on the coast, it offers a beach and amazing luxury hotels to lounge in(and not spend the money to stay) My favorite so far is Labadi Beach Resort. It has the perfect “hangover breakfast” Served buffet style, it captivates stomachs that have forgotten the comfort foods of home, and its main attraction: REAL CHEESE! Not the Laughing Cow stuff they try to spread on anything and call it “cheese” This is the real deal, cheddar, Gouda, Swiss, mozzarella….you get the point.

Until next time,

“Obruni Bye Bye!” (Kids in the street say this to us)