A Right on Time

The birds awoke, chattering to each other from the mango tree below my window. The city slept. The first rays of light brightened the grey clouds hanging just above the towering apartments. From my window I noticed a man pass below, pedaling leisurely on a bicycle. Despite the events of November 8th, 2016, the world had remained intact.

Despite the continuing rotation of earth, I felt as if the universe had crushed a piece of my naïveté, proceeded to light it on fire, bake the ashes into a cake, and then devour the cake with gusto.

In 1932 Rotary founded a public school in a Recife favela. This neighborhood, Alto do Pascoal, was dangerous up until around 20 years ago. This Rotary school is credited with helping the neighborhood develop from extreme poverty into more livable conditions. In 2012, Rotary started a marching band program in this higher quality public school. I am now an honorary member of this band. Despite their poverty, the people I’ve met in this neighborhood are some of the most caring and generous I have ever had the privilege to spend time with. Speaking of privilege; I, the gap-year exchange student from America, am its personification.

While I’ve faked my way through a couple of parades, my most valuable experiences come from my time in Alto do Pascoal, a seemingly different world. People here live deeply connected to one another. Food is prepared for everyone and anyone. Houses are a shared space for anyone and everyone. There is no such thing as personal space and privacy is limited (something both frustrating and extremely rewarding).

The band mostly plays popular music during the parades, songs that (young) North Americans would likely recognize. They also play frevo, a raucous style of Carnaval street music. This traditional style of music and dance is indigenous to Recife, the city I now call home.

The exchange students of northeast Brazil recently met up in the easternmost Brazilian city of João Pessoa. We toured the old Portuguese city, took buggy rides on the beach (a couple people almost fell out), and preformed a song with the Rotary band just mentioned. I was able to play with the band during the joint performance and also stay on for the band’s portion of the program. I survived mostly intact despite the frevo solo the conductor threw at me.

My school last semester, Colégio Damas, is an upper class school. At Damas, my white skin is not uncommon, in fact quite the opposite. At Escola Rotary in Alto do Pascoal, most everyone has darker skin and I am most often the only white person around.

If you inherit a large amount of a special kind of paper, it becomes possible to travel in airplanes, to marvel at magnificent cities, and to take pictures of natural wonders. This is me I’m talking about. If you are as lucky as I am, you may find a high quality education placed your lap. However, if you are not lucky enough to receive these opportunities, then you must work your ass off to feed yourself and those you care about. If you aren’t lucky, nothing will be handed to you and options will be limited. All the same, remember that socialism is extremist, so we might as well forget all about it.

The Pantanal swamplands of central South America brought me peace of mind. No internet,  interesting people, and a beautiful new environment. Within just ten days our group of rambunctious exchange students had formed intense bonds. We hiked through the Pantanal national park, kept our eyes peeled for jaguars, and snorkeled with tropical fish under the pouring rain.

As we were goat herded around seeing the natural wonders of Brazil, a local Brazilian boy faced a very different reality. Wesley is 18 years old and works on the ranch where we stayed in the Pantanal. I found myself constantly surrounded by numerous other people my age, people from all corners of the globe. Wesley is the only kid in the area. He works on the ranch year-round; there is no school anywhere nearby. All of his time he spends with adults 20 years his senior. He has lived in one place all off his life. His travels consist of where his horse or the ranch ATV can take him. Such is the life he was born into. I was born into a life of education and travel. It is impossible to justify the differences in our realities as somehow merited.

Semester number one ended out of nowhere. My summer break lasted from the start of December through the end of January. Technically, I could still call myself an exchange student during my two months off. As expected, school sank into a routine and time passed quickly. The group of Recife exchange students has become very close as we’ve attended various street festivals, dance parties (aka every Brazilian party), and spent days sitting on the city beach. Despite how much time we spend on Boa Viagem, the local beach, it’s not a great idea to get in the water. Although, if you’re okay with being eaten by a shark, I don’t see a problem. The way I see it, these sharks have every reason to keep Boa Viagem consistently ranked as one of the worlds most dangerous beaches. We humans decided to prioritize our economic needs over the ocean habitat and built a handy shipping port for ourselves. Seeing as this port entirely disrupted the estuaries the sharks depend on, an arm and a leg here and there is probably deserved. I would be angry too.

Despite all of this activity, I still have plenty of downtime. I usually watch netflix in Portuguese to pretend I’m being productive. I’ve also come to appreciate the northeastern Brazilian tradition of hammock naps. I still enjoy the food here, but I’d be lying if I didn’t miss garlic, or any other flavorful thing or spice on the planet.

I travelled to Rio de Janeiro with my host parents Mauro and Suzana. The stunning views are reason enough to visit. From high above, I witnessed the undeniable grit of Rio side by side with beautiful oceans and awesome mountains. Below Christo Redentor (aka big Jesus statue thing) I witnessed many people from around the world, in attempts to be like Jesus, pose with their arms outstretched. I joined the club. Despite my efforts and the effort of world tourists, I would argue we came up short in the Be Like Jesus category. Christ the Redeemer inspires pilgrimage from around the world; hundreds of people gathered with me in awe. However, very little of the behavior I noticed had much anything to do with the (alleged) son of god.  The golden calf…I mean stone carving, failed to inspire emulative behavior influenced by the (reported) actions of Jesus Christ. Everyone, myself included, pays money to see the statue, takes the picture, and marvels at the favelas below (from a safe distance away). For the full spiritual experience, it seems important to ignore and push through the strange neighboring people. To remember your time with him, feel free to indulge in a handy Jesus keychain on your way down. In conclusion, the whole experience reminded me of the Vatican.


Week five of school. The whole student part of exchange student is starting to sink in.

Today Dilma Rousseff was impeached as president of Brazil and Michel Temer was sworn into office. Life here seems to be continuing as normal. Many people including my host dad, both of my history teachers, and many students I’ve spoken with, believe the the impeachment to be a parliamentary coup orchestrated by the opposing PMDB party. The senators who started the impeachment proceeding are PMDB members and the former VP turned P also just happens to be PMDB. Meanwhile, none of the people I’ve spoken to support Dilma or her PT party either. They see Rousseff as a failed leader who handed an impeachment opportunity to the PMDB. At the same time, her budgetary misdemeanors seem hardly worth a legitimate impeachment.

My host dad Mauro once took to the streets in support of Lula and the PT workers party. Now he says the PT’s mask of political purity has been removed. They are now just as corrupt as everyone else in the Brazilian government.

My host mom believes that Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a founding member of the PT and former president of Brazil, will succeed in retaking the presidency after Temer serves out the two remaining years of Dilma’s term. You heard it here first. Suzana, my host mom, thinks it’s time for change, not a return to blatant populism. Many believe Lula to be at fault for Brazil’s economic crisis, blaming his fiscally irresponsible socialist policies. They say his policies are about votes, not the economy. On the other hand, the fiscally irresponsible handout program of Bolsa Familia cut dire poverty by 28% in a decade. Everything is complicated.

The ideal leader would be someone who can look after the poor and make intelligent economic decisions at the same time. This someone also shouldn’t be corrupt. This is a far fetched idea at the moment.

As much as my host dad thoroughly despises Michel Temer and the PMDB, he believes that the economy will improve under Temer and foreign investment will return. He also says that while the Brazilian economy may slowly rise out of crisis, the cycle of extremely divisive and corrupt politics, present on all sides of the aisle, will continue unchecked.


Last weekend I attended a reunion for all of the exchange students in my region of northeast Brazil. Interacting with kids from around the globe made out to be an experience I won’t forget. The Mexicans were the loudest, the Scandinavians the blondest, The Taiwanese the easiest to identify, the Indians the darkest, the French the most elegant, and the North Americans the most familiar. Just to name a few. All of these differences ended up being entirely meaningless and no one seemed to care about them. Instead of focusing on what separated us, we shared our love for dancing to trashy music and sucking at volleyball. Everyone hung out in groups of people from who knows where, despite people from the same nations being inevitably drawn towards each other at some points. Not surprisingly, English ended up as the common language of the group. This works out for me, but one kid from Taiwan has to learn English and Portuguese at the same time.

My philosophy class presents an interesting clash of philosophy. First we say an Our Father prayer to God, then we read from our textbook about the philosophical ideas of people like Friedrich Nietzsche. Hmmm…

Sociology class turned out to be a sociological case study in addition to my favorite 45 minutes of the week. Feminism was the subject our last discussion. A clear divide emerged between those who were paying attention and taking the class seriously, and those who were talking and cracking jokes. One of those groups was made up of women, the other of boys. You know which was which.

Pernambuco people
none of us know what we are doing
the “Americans”



Traditional Instruments
action shot
Recife residents
good stuff
youth exchange is good for the world

Look! A second post!!

Colegio Damas, my new school, requires students to pay to attend. In Brazil, if you can afford to pay for private school, you go to private school. No question. In general, Brazilian public schools, despite recent improvement, provide a less than desirable eduction.  This means rich people get a good education and poor people get a bad education. If I were to find one reason for such a large economic (not to mention racial) divide in Brazil, this would be it.

Mauro Senior, my host grandfather and animated old Brazilian man who everyone seems to know, told me of a time when Brazilian public schools were better than private schools. A time when the historic school downtown educated the future leaders of the country and was not in a state of decay. He hopes things will improve.

Last week I joined the school soccer team. I’ll be training with them twice a week. I’m the worst player on the team, but I can keep up most of the time. Keeping up is much more than I can ask for having joined a random team in Brazil of all places.

My host brother Rafael left for a three month stay in California last week, and today my host sister Leticia leaves for France for her year long Rotary exchange in France. I get the feeling this is some sort of turning point for me.

Everyday I meet new people. A new person tells me his name and then my brain instantly forgets that name as it attempts to figure out what the hell this new person is saying to me. Then a different person introduces herself. Repeat process.

exploring downtown!
Dia dos pais
Me and the first Dutch Governor
Governor’s Office
Central Plaza in Recife Antiguo
Taxi boat


These are Letters

I now live in Recife, Brazil.

It’s currently the middle of winter and also currently 85 degrees fahrenheit outside. Recife is the home of 3.7 million people and 3 competing soccer teams. I have so far avoided picking which team to follow, despite many pleas to support the right one. Thanks to imperialism, locals speak the language of Portuguese here. I, on the other hand, do not.

I live with the familia Sampaio e Silva, all wonderful people. Suzana and Mauro, the parents. Leticia and Rafael, the kids. Eliane the maid. Mauro writes software for Motorola and Suzana teaches at a local university.

I now attend Colegio Damas, a private catholic school, a five minute walk from my bed. Uniforms are required, which makes my life easier.

People here are unapologetically friendly, a little crazy, and outwardly loving to each other.

During my time in school I have learned how light travels through glass, how to make friends without understanding them, and the redundancy of fear in human interaction.

Fear is meant to protect us at our most vulnerable, yet it is of no use when attempting to fulfill a human goal.  When presented with an unfamiliar situation and a new culture, fear urged me to book it home. Useless.  In a new class and country, one may be mobbed by many young people on the first day of school. In this situation, smiling and reaching out proved to be the better option than jumping out of the window.

A beach two hours south
A beach two hours south
A familia.
A familia.






Colors in Olinda
new friend!!
new friend!!































How to spot a jackalope:


Shangai Stuff

The next day was meeting day. My dad had a meeting at the Shanghai youth center. It is a whole building whose whole purpose is to help kids. My dad was going to try to see if he could help some kids get into college into the United States. We got into the fancy meeting room that they only gave to the Gweilos. Even with the signs that said no smoking it still smelled like cigarette smoke. I heard dad’s talk about who to get into college for about the one hundreth time. But luckily I had dads computer so I played some games on it to pass the time. After the meeting we were of course taken out to dinner. In China it is all about the food. There was great food and they were all impressed with my sick nasty chopsticks skills. The day before Sirey and his mom Lingia had invited us to spend the afternoon with them. We told them we probobly wouldn’t make it because of my dad’s meeting. But they came anyway and waited twenty minutes for us to get back to the hotel. Together we walked to old town and visited a garded that used to belong to an aristocratic family but is now a park. You could see where the family lived in all the old style chinese buildings. We walked around some more and had a nice day. we then went back to our hotel and they went back to their friends in which they were staying. after resting our feet for a while in our hotel we went out to meet my parents old friends Edie and Mark Millar and their children Reid and Nora. Mark was not their because he was out on some business trip. First we met up at their apartment by taking a taxi. Their apartment was very big and very nice. We then walked to a nice Shanghainese food. After dinner we went back to their apartment for a lttle while when it got late we said goodbye and thank you and took a taxi back to our hotel.

Bottle Opener Building

The next day was our last day in Shanghai. My dad didn’t have any meeting that day, so we decided to do some touristy things. We ate breakfast at our hotel as we always do. The food is included and is pretty good. The Chinese dishes were good but the American style breakfast foods were a little different. The bacon were just slabs of flavorless pork fat. The sausages tasted like precooked hot dogs, and the French toast looked like it had been soaked in raw egg for 24 hours.

Anyway, after breakfast we decided to visit the Shanghai Financial Center, the tallest building in Shanghai and currently third tallest in the world. But the cool about this buildings that is better than than the ones taller than it is that the observation deck is taller than any other. Also from one angle it looks like a pyramid and from another angle it looks like a bottle opener–like you would use to take the cap off a bottle. We bought tickets to take the elevator up the building. But there is another cool thing about this building. It has two observation decks. One is below the hole and another one is above. We decided to go to the higher one. And the higher one … drum roll please..has glass floor! Bwahaha! It doesn’t have an all glass floor, but it is pretty freaky. After taking alot of pictures and being freaked out on the top, we decided to take the elevator back down.

When we got out it was just the perfect time to get ready to leave for the airport. But there was more confusion. A typhoon was scheduled to hit Hong Kong that day. We tried to call the airlines to find out if the flight was still scheduled  but we didn’t get anyone and there website didn’t say anything either. It probably did but we were on the world’s slowest hotel computer, so it was very hard to get any information out of it. So we decided to go to the airport anyway, and if our flight was canceled.  Oh well.

Turns out the flight was still scheduled, and we had another great Hong Kong Express flight (which is totally better than United Airlines). It also turned out that the typhoon took a 90 degree turn and totally missed Hong Kong.

At the Hui’s House

So far I’ve stayed four nights at the home of Saiyu Hui and Dora Ho and their three boys, Theo, Kyle, and Neil. I call Saiyu and Dora “uncle” and “auntie,” because that is pretty much what kids call their parents’ close friends. Theo, Kyle, and Neil call my dad “Uncle Mark.”

They live in a village near the new town of Ma On Shan in the northeast part of Hong Kong. They don’t live in a huge house. It’s a small apartment in a three-story building. There are two small bedrooms. The first is for Dora, Saiyu, and Neil (he’s two years old). The other is for Kyle and Theo.

They have one common room with a piano, a bunch of toys, a couch, two chairs, a TV, and a dining room table. Also there is a very small kitchen where they cook and where the helper named Annie lives. I’m going to have to figure out where Annie sleeps.

Having a full-time helper is really cool and totally different from what I am used to. Having help means no chores whatsoever. Annie cooks, cleans, does the laundry, washes the dishes, makes beds, and takes care of Neil as a nanny. I think it’s very luxurious to have all this help. Growing up with it would be heaven.

Rugby, Chungking Mansions, and Sushi

Today I went to rugby practice with Theo and Kyle. Most of the teachers there were either British or Australian. There is only one Chinese teacher, who is Uncle William—a friend of Uncle Saiyu and Auntie Dora. William has a son named Nick, who also plays rugby. Nick’s mom is Auntie Annie. I think if I lived here, rugby would be a fun thing to do. Nobody plays American football here, which I think is a good thing, because I don’t really like American football. I much prefer rugby.

After practice, we had lunch on the street—literally on the street (you can see the picture of me that proves it!). After lunch, we went into Kowloon and all of the boys took a walk around Nathan Road. We saw all the cool shops and stores—because there is literally shopping everywhere in Hong Kong. We went into Chungking Mansions, which is a big building where there are a lot of little guest houses, mostly run by Indian people. There are lots of Indian restaurants and stores in Chungking Mansions. It’s definitely not a real mansion. It’s kind of dirty and seems disorganized. But it was interesting.

Then, for the first time in my life, I took a double-decker bus. We all sat in the very front seats on the top deck. I took lots of pictures.

We went to a Japanese supermarket and got lots of sushi and Japanese snacks, and had all that for dinner.

World Expo

In the morning  we went down to meet my friend Sirey Zhang to go to the World Expo that is in Shanghai. Sirey actually goes to my school in Denver, but by coincidence we were both in Shanghai at the same time. So, since my dad had meeting that day we worked it out so that we could go to the expo together.

When we got to the expo after taking the subway, my first observation was that there were LOTS of people. I found out later that that day there were 600,000 people there that day. And that many people means long lines.Very long lines. Almost every pavilion had a 5 or 6 hour wait. The only ones that we got into were small pavilions like Bulgaria and North Korea.

The North Korea Pavilion was interesting though because it didn’t give any information about the country but just showed a bunch of happy smiling people. Marketing I tell you! All these pavilions are simply marketing their country. For example, we got into the US pavilion by taking the express lane which you can pay for or use if you are a citizen of that country. The whole pavilion was full of inspirational videos telling you to come to the US.

But the inside of the pavilions isn’t the only cool part. The architecture of these pavilions is really interesting. Not one is boring to look at. We stayed there all day until it got dark so we could see all the pavilions lit up. Soon after that, we took the subway home and I met my dad late at our hotel. Overall it was a very fun day.

Taxi Ride

After the plane arrived, we grabbed our bags and queued up for a taxi.  Unfortunately for us, our taxi driver was sort of grumpy.  It can be sort of hit-and-miss with taxi drivers.

But the taxi ride was awesome.  From windows we saw tons of skyscraping buildings, each one with lights flashing in different colors.  The architecture is really cool, with buildings in different shapes, including triangles or pyramids.  The ride wasn’t too long, because we went into the smaller, closer-in airport.

After some misunderstanding about the address, we managed to get to the hotel.  We got our room and looked out the window.  Our hotel is called Riverview Hotel, and we have a view of the Huangpu River in central Shanghai.  We can see the Bund and the huge skycrapers across the river, which is called Pudong.  The radio tower looks like two bouncy balls on a stick.  The tallest one looks like a pyramid from our hotel, but when you look at it from a different angle, it looks like a huge bottle opener.

We decide to go look for some Shanghai steamed buns for dinner.  Dad had found a place in a travel book.  We were going to take a taxi, but when a taxi driver told us–in perfect English–that it was only a 5 minute walk from our hotel.  On our walk, we saw lots more of the streets and alleyways of Shanghai. After asking a few people we eventually found the place and ate dinner. After dinner we were pursued by someone trying to sell us a cool laser pointer. I thought it was so when he offered it for 50 Yuen ($8) we bought it. We then went back to our hotel and fell asleep.