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Pelourinho

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Pelourinho; Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

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Steady As We Go

As we all know by now, the world is going through a very tough time right now. Instead of speculating about when will things be back to some sense of normalcy, it would not be right to do guesswork about that as of today. Instead, I think it would be best to remind ourselves of a few things we can do over the next few weeks or months to prepare ourselves both mentally and physically for these challenging times. I would like to give my readers out there some advice which has helped me so far in terms of moving forward with my day-to-day activities and also the larger goals that I have for myself.

  1. Take Care of Your Friends and Family: Now is the time to be there for your family and close friends in any way that you can. Even if you are not in the same city or in the same country, take some time out of your day to call or message them to see how they are doing. If you can do so, try to help around the apartment or house with cooking, cleaning, running errands, etc. This is a time to be close to the ones you love and to be there for them.

Remote work and schooling are important and should be a priority, but you should not forget to make time for those around you and to check in on them. Given how much running around you could be doing, you will likely have more time to reach out to loved ones and really take the time to engage in conversation or have dinner together or just to FaceTime every night before bed. I think it is the #1 priority right now to have during this difficult time.

  1. Look for New Opportunities: Obviously, this is a hard time both employment wise and financially. If you have to find a new job or a new opportunity, do your best to be prepared to find those jobs and work opportunities even if they are not ideal for your long-term career pursuits. In a time like this, it would be best to swallow your pride and expand your availability for jobs that will be coming down the pipeline. You have to do what you have to do within reason to keep the lights on and feed your family. It may be working to stock shelves to delivering groceries or to work as a receptionist but if it comes with health insurance and a decent wage, it may be in your best interest to take that opportunity at least for a few months.

Nothing is permanent and even if it is not a job you want to be doing, consider it a way to build up your resilience and to be helping others especially if the job calls for it. The wider you broaden the search, the better off you will be. You just want to make sure you polish off your resume and your cover letter to update it after a gap of some time.

  1. Be Kind to Others: People are stressed out and worried. You have to act like that is currently the situation and give others the benefit of the doubt. You don’t know what is going on in their lives during this crisis and it’s not something you should be asking about. Be respectful, patient, and kind. Don’t be demanding, rude, or just overall a bad person to others. There is such a thing as karma, and it can accrue in both good and bad ways especially now. I do believe that you should treat others the way you would want to be treated and that is how you should approach life under quarantine.

Tempers can flare with ease and things can get out of control so just be aware of your emotions, realize that nothing is worth a verbal or physical confrontation over (especially toilet paper), and always remember to say please and thank you. It does not cost anything to be nice and you should always leave the house if you have to now with that in mind. Good manners will always help you get through a crisis like that.

  1. Volunteer and Donate If You Can: This is only a suggestion but this is the time to give blood if you are eligible, donate extra food and clothes to those organizations who need it and can vouch as to where the money is going, and also see if you can deliver groceries if you have free time. It should go without saying that you should only be volunteering in public if you have a clean bill of health and have not been traveling overseas in the past two weeks. I have seen numerous remote volunteering opportunities pop up in the past week include video conferencing with senior citizens and asking as a pen-pal for them as they stay secluded at home and could use a friend.

Get together with some friends and put together a spreadsheet of organizations / places in your local town or city that are asking for monetary donations or for food/clothing/supplies, etc. It is a misconception that you need to leave the house to donate or to volunteer. In a time like this, sometimes, people especially the elderly or the solitary just could use someone to talk to or listen to them. I have heard stories of mental health professionals volunteering their time for free to help those people in need and that warms my heart quite a bit. If you are not completely healthy and/or free of symptoms, you should not be volunteering outside of the house!

  1. Stay Home and Wash Your Hands: This advice should go without saying by now, but it should be repeated that you should not be leaving your home unless your job requires it or if you need to pick up groceries or go to the pharmacy. I try not to compulsively wash my hands but it’s better to overdo it than under-do it so make sure you sing the ‘happy birthday’ song twice and use enough soap for the 20 seconds it takes to wash your hands.

If you can go for a walk on your own, it is great to get some fresh air even if it is just around the block. You will need some sunlight (vitamin D) and as long as you maintain your social distancing of 2 meters (six feet), there’s nothing wrong with walking for 10-15 minutes to clear your head and shake off the inevitable cabin fever.

  1. Cleaning, Cooking, and Organizing: A good way to avoid being lethargic during this time is to occupy yourself away from work and/or school by keeping things neat, tidy, or clean in the house or apartment where you reside. Daily tasks like cooking meals, cleaning your room, or organizing your papers will definitely keep you busy. Currently, it’s ‘Spring cleaning’ season so you will have your work cut out for you these next few quarantined weeks if you have not cleaned your place since the beginning of the wintertime.

Who knows? If you found extra items or clothes around during cleanup time, you could perhaps donate them when you’re finished collecting all those things you may not need but may help out somebody else during this tough time. With restaurants closed for the time being and delivery every day an expensive proposition, now is the best time to crack open your old recipe book and take your cooking more seriously.

You may be able to eat healthier now more than ever with the added time to cook and prepare your meals in advance and it is a good way to bond if you have a family or a loved one with you. Organizing extends to your personal computer and devices as well to make sure your files, bills, and documents are in order. Don’t forget to take the time to give your phone, tablet, or laptop a good cleaning too because it is a germ magnet and it would be wise to keep it clean as much as possible.

  1. Get Some Exercise In: Gyms and fitness centers are closed. No more pools, saunas, or even Yoga classes. So, what do you do now? Well, it can be easy to give up on your fitness goals but luckily, we have the Internet and delivery services are still working. You can utilize both to keep working out as there are hundreds of home workout exercises and guides out there now. Most of the information is free to use and easily accessible especially with YouTube videos showing you exactly how to do these exercises.

I believe you don’t need much to do these workouts as most of them can be done just with your bodyweight when it comes to pull-ups, sit-ups, pushups, squats, crunches, etc. If you can spend the money, it doesn’t hurt to get some free weights or some barbells in order to add some weight to your exercises. You can also get creative by doing some Yoga and Meditation with just a simple mat.

Due to the Internet, you can look up practically anything fitness related to create a good 30 to 45-minute workout. As if that wasn’t enough, you can always use your body to move quickly with sprints, hill runs, jogs, or a brisk walk if you can get out of the house for a bit. It won’t be the same as going to a physical gym, which has a ton of equipment and a sauna or other great amenities but it’s better than nothing and it is relatively easy to make the most of it.

  1. Flex Your Creative Muscle: If you have some extra time on your hands now, put it to good use by being creative. Sit down and figure out how best you want to pass the time in a productive way. Perhaps you can learn an instrument, pick up a new language, or even write an eBook or an entire book. Harness that energy into action to make the most of your time spent indoors and without most of the distractions that we have in our normal daily lives.

In the next weeks and months, I am positive that there will be an absolute growth in creative pursuits, both online and offline. There are a number of skills and traits that you can work on almost always for free or if you spend money, it is likely be a worthwhile investment from the right teacher. It is also a great time to develop that business idea or side hustle you have been thinking about but never actually committed to. You can always bounce these ideas off your family and friends or if you are able to do so, try to find like-minded people through your network or your organizations to see what they think of your idea and if it has some potential.

Isaac Newton, for example, worked day and night, when a great plague was spreading around the world and due to the time he had to just sit, learn, and experiment, he was able to come up with the brilliant equations and inventions that helped invent the modern life that we have today. Even if you fail, it is better to have tried and done your best than to have wondered later on, what if?

We will all get through this difficult time. It will be a tragic time in human history, but you will be a stronger and more compassionate person at the other end of this pandemic. There are often things in life that happen that are out of our control. It sucks and it is demoralizing but you have to move on, move forward, and keep on moving. We have no choice but to move on and to make the most of the time that we are given. We owe it to ourselves, our family, and our community to be the best that we can be especially now. I hope you take this difficult time to be caring, be kind, and be productive. I wish you well and hope you are well.

English Corner – Using Worksheets to Succeed

If you are learning a language such as English, it can be tough to justify doing homework and worksheets and additional activities. However, here’s a secret for you, dear reader: you have to do it as part of the learning process. In order to retain the knowledge, you have learned either through online courses, private lessons, or group classes, you need to have worksheets or activities in order to be able to remember what the concepts were that you have to put into practice. While worksheets alone will not make you an English master, the practice you can gain from them is invaluable.

From my experiences as an English as a Second Language teacher and as a business owner now, I can tell you that any kind of lectures or instructional materials whether they are by video, audio, or in-person should come with some kind of assessment in order to make sure that the student has absorbed the content and can make good use of it. Now, that does not mean repetition or intensive memorization but rather in the worksheets themselves, can they utilize this lecture material to write a paper, interpret a passage, form questions, give some answers, or even create a video or audio of their own.

It is a fallacy that worksheets have to be boring especially with languages. You can use them for many different purposes for English including grammar and vocabulary of course to be general but also for speaking, writing, reading, and listening. A true measure of a student is how they are able to discuss their reactions to a music video or answer questions about a movie scene or as well as ask questions of their classmates and write down the answers.

If you are a student and don’t have access to a private tutor or a regular English teacher, try to go online to different ESL websites to see if there are free resources to use including worksheets. Many sites offer free worksheets categorized by topics and themes, which you can then use to self-study English on your own. A good habit to pick up is to bookmark those websites that offer these free worksheets and use them each day depending upon which topic within English you would like to learn. You do not have to spend any money in order to get access to worksheets and they should cover a wide range of activities from speaking to writing to reading.

Also, paid worksheets that come with course videos or private lesson instruction come with the added benefit of the professor or teacher reviewing your work and correcting your mistakes. Having a private tutor can also help you realize where you went wrong, what you are doing well, and what you still have to improve upon. A course without any activities or worksheets is not much of an English course at all so it is very important to try to be able to evaluate yourself after going through some course material with either a worksheet, activity, or assignment to be graded.

We all know how having Homework especially as a teenager or an adult is no fun at all but for language learning, it is key to use worksheets that are due on a certain date and require grading to be used both in the virtual classroom and in the real classroom. Doing worksheets is not only for learning but for practice and to retain your knowledge. You can also be sure that by saving these worksheets for the future, you will be giving yourself a chance to go back, look at your mistakes, see where you are now as having improved and hopefully gotten better.

This is especially the case with vocabulary worksheets to help make sure you remember many verbs, adjectives, and nouns you may have forgot and to study them in order to improve your memory. Who knows? Perhaps you may have a family member or friend who wants to learn English who you can pass your worksheets on to so they can learn these concepts and skills too. Similar to a downloaded video, a downloaded worksheet can last for a while so you can always go back to it a few days, weeks, months, or even years later in case your English language skills start to get rusty again.

As I have mentioned, practice makes perfect and there are few better ways to make that happen than by working on and then completing worksheets. Whether you self-study and do them on your own, work with a friend or classmates, or even work through them together with a private tutor, English worksheets are a key part of boosting your knowledge of this language regardless of which part you are focusing on. You can do a worksheet on any part of the English language and I would recommend getting started with a base of vocabulary and grammar sheets before tackling the more advanced speaking, reading, writing, and listening worksheets.

Do not forget to take your time, check your work, read out loud the answers, or even seek the advice of a friend but make sure you do the worksheets, get feedback, and then save them for the future. You never know when you just might need them next and they are an amazing resource to have as an English as a Second Language student. Lastly, don’t forget to highlight your answers in yellow or cross them out with red ink. Using black or blue ink all of the time could get confusing for you.

Scenic Salvador

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

‘The Last Samurai’ – Film Review and Analysis

‘The Last Samurai’ (2003) is an epic drama film that takes place in a unique period of Japan’s history and highlights the conflict between modernization and tradition, between cultures, and also between different styles of warfare. However, it is not just the conflicts that are highlighted in this film but also the cooperation and the understanding that can happen as well in certain aspects such as between cultures. While this film is not specifically based on a true story, it is based on a number of true events that took place in the latter half of the 19th century for Japan and highlights the role of Western influence in Japan during the period of the Meiji Restoration or Reforms.

The main character, Nathan Algren (played brilliantly by Tom Cruise) is a Captain in the United States Army of the 7th Cavalry Regiment. Nathan is a veteran of the American – Indian Wars and perhaps the Civil War as well. He is a bitter man who is suffering from trauma related to the atrocities committed against the Indian tribes during these brutal battles. When the film starts, we can see that Nathan is an alcoholic who is regretful over the orders that he had to follow and what happened to innocent Indian women and children whose lives were disregarded by his commanding officers.

However, for lack of purpose or money, or perhaps both, Nathan is recruited by his former commanding officer, Colonel Bagley, whom Nathan still resents for his role in the Indian massacres, to help train Japanese soldiers in the Western way of combat to put down the Samurai rebellion, which is ongoing in Japan. Algren is dealt a bad hand as he has to train peasants and not actual soldiers who are firing guns for the first time and would be better suited to the farms than to the battlefield.

In addition to that, he is expected to lead them soon into battle against the Samurai for which they do not have enough time to prepare. One of themes of this film is how good men are often corrupted by following misguided orders by their superiors and often end up harmed, captured, or killed for the negligence or ignorance of those with a higher rank. Nathan is a good soldier, but he cannot train peasants into soldiers in the time that is given to him especially when he is not familiar with the ways of the Samurai and how lethal they can be compared to his peasant conscripts.

In the battle between his soldiers and the Samurai, the Samurai end up killing most of them through surprise attacks and then an ambush in a refusal to fight the way of the ‘modern’ army that Nathan has assembled. One of Nathan’s fellow American army colleagues is killed in the battle while most of his army is decimated. Undeterred and with nothing to live for, Nathan fights the Samurai ferociously and is able to hold his own. Instead of killing him, the Samurai’s leader, Katsumoto, decides to capture Nathan instead and hold him as their prisoner. Unbeknownst to Nathan, Katsumoto sees something in Nathan and believes that he is a good warrior, who although tries to kill the Samurai, may be one of them due to his capacity to fight to the last breath.

At first, Nathan is not treated kindly by the Samurai given that he is a former enemy and that he also killed the husband of Katsumoto’s sister who resents Ethan’s presence in their village. Nathan also has his preconceptions and stereotypes regarding the Samurai and their culture. Over time though, Nathan starts to acclimate to his new life as a prisoner. He embraces the Japanese language and culture as well as earns the respect of the other Samurai by learning swordsmanship as well as how to train with others.

He also finds he has an affection for Katsumoto’s sister and ends up befriending her son as well. While it is not easy, he gains an appreciation for the Samurai and their way of life. He even begins to resent the modernity and the loss of the tradition that is being imposed on them by the imperial Japanese government. In this way, ‘The Last Samurai’ does an excellent job what it means to ‘go native.’

When you live in another country for long enough, you start to really embrace certain aspects of the culture and also if you take a liking to the language, you may realize you may want to stay there now that you’re acclimated rather than return to a home culture or country whose flaws become so visible to see when you were blind before to them. This movie does a great job of showing ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and how powerful it can be over time especially if you have a romantic interest in a woman or a man after a long enough period of time.

Algren is also no longer haunted by the nightmares of what he experienced during the Indian wars and has also forgone alcohol as he has found other ways to sustain himself while living with the Samurai. Perhaps most importantly, he develops a friendship with the Samurai’s leader, Katsumoto, who explains to Nathan their worldview and while preserving their 1000-year heritage is so important to them all. Nathan agrees with them and starts to see how important the ways of the Samurai are to Japanese culture and customs themselves.

The biggest turning point in the film is when Nathan begins to fight alongside the Samurai against attacks by both Ninjas, which one of the coolest scenes I have ever watched still. It is an amazing scene when you have Samurai battling with Ninjas and it is a very powerful point in the movie to show Nathan help save Katsumoto’s life. The Samurai are so dedicated to their way of life that they will die or commit ‘seppuku’ (suicide) to preserve their honor.

Without giving away the rest of the film, we can see that the Japanese emperor is being betrayed by big business interests and Western nations in the rapid attempt to modernize. While Japan was right in that it needed to catch up in areas of commerce and warfare, it is also important to remember the ways of the Samurai and to remember their customs as well. It is not right to destroy an important part of their culture and erase it from the history books.

That is what the Samurai leader, Katsumoto, and also Nathan wanted to preserve even if they knew that they were fighting a losing battle. A culture’s customs must be remembered, and its history remembered by all even if the country is to go in a new direction. ‘The Last Samurai’ makes it clear that even if there are no more Samurai, their memory must be retained in the national consciousness and it is important for Japan to not be belittled or bullied around by other powers. Receiving western advice, arms, and goods was a paramount need at that time but not at the sake of destroying a part of Japan that made it a special nation to begin with.

‘The Last Samurai’ is a powerful film because it reminds us all how customs and traditions form the backbone of a country’s culture and its’ history. While nations shift and change, the traditions and customs should never be forgotten by its people. That is the main message of the film and why the Samurai fought and died to preserve their place in Japanese society rather than be changed into something they are not. Becoming ‘Western’ because they had to be was an insult to them and something, they were against in an effort to remain as ‘Samurai’ in whatever capacity they could in order to serve the emperor.

It is a powerful film and also shows the redemption of Nathan Algren who went from a drunken soldier without purpose to a powerful Samurai commander who was able to integrate himself as best as he could into a foreign culture and even earn the love of a woman whose husband’s life he had ended. ‘The Last Samurai’ has many themes to it and each one of them are powerful. Remembering traditions, seeking vengeance, earning one’s redemption are all themes to the film and make it stand out still today as one of the best films of the 2000’s and maybe of this young century still. I hope you will check it out soon and please always remember the Samurai.

Museum of Japanese Immigration in Brazil

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Historical Museum of Japanese Immigration; São Paulo, Brazil

Cultural Spotlight – Carnaval

No one country does the festivities of ‘carnaval’ quite like Brazil. A festival that is just more than ‘Fat Tuesday’, it has become more than a month of celebrations beginning in early February and ending in early March even after ‘Ash Wednesday’ has passed by. The word ‘carnaval’ or ‘carnival’ comes from the Latin word ‘carnelevare’, which means to remove or to raise meat signifying how Roman Catholics would give up meat or poultry during the 40-day period of Lent before the Easter holiday. Because of the significance of Lent and not just for giving up meat but for other earthly pleasures as well, ‘Carnaval’ is a chance to enjoy some of those pleasures before the time of Lent and to revel in both culinary and cultural traditions.

Nowhere are these cultural traditions more proudly represented than in Brazil where the whole country has some form of celebration or observation of the Carnaval holiday. From the state of Pernambuco in the North to Bahia in the Northeast all the way down the Brazilian coastline to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, each year there is an informal competition to see which city can put on the best Carnaval and whose parades are the biggest.

Each city is different regarding how they celebrate Carnaval in Brazil but there are some similarities such as having huge street parades where crowds can dance and march to the bands and drum groups assembled as they go through the city. There are a huge variety of costumes, music styles represented but the most common one would have to be ‘Samba.’ In Brazil, Afro-Brazilian culture is heavily apart of Carnaval celebrations from the music being played to the design of the costumes. There are a number of variations of samba represented and they are all represented in the popular ‘samba schools.’

These small groups of performers sometimes prepare for the whole year before carnaval begins and are competing against each other in the ‘Sambadrome’, which are huge parade grounds and spectator events where these groups are being judged based on a number of factors against other schools. The biggest Sambadromes are in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador along with Sao Paulo and these competitions take places over a period of four nights at the height of the carnaval celebrations. Not only are these groups being judged on their music style and quality but also their coordination, their rhythm, the theme of their performance, and the costumes, which can be quite elaborate and also quite expensive.

While there are different types of samba music involved, there are also lesser known music styles that are represented in Brazilian carnaval. They include ‘Frevo’, which is originally from Recife and Olinda in the state of Pernambuco and ‘Axe’, which is originally from Salvador in the Bahia state which combines different popular Afro-Caribbean music genres together such as calypso, marcha, and reggae. All of these popular music types mentioned have their roots in African cultures and diaspora influences.

In the 19th century, it was quite difficult for Afro-Brazilians to dance, sing, or even parade through the streets of Brazilian cities during Carnaval to express their cultural heritage but today, these forms of song and dance are the heart of the Carnaval celebrations. To put it simply, you cannot have carnaval without samba or costumes or drumlines. In a way, Carnaval is not just a celebration of indulgence and pleasure but of expressing your culture and your heritage. I found Brazilian carnaval to be also about celebrating the diversity and unity of the country itself and how that can bring people together despite past historical injustices.

In order to celebrate Carnaval in Brazil, one does not have to go to a Sambadrome or to march in a formal parade or even wear an elaborate costume. You do have to sing, dance, and even drink or eat a little more than you normally would. The easiest way to celebrate especially as a foreign visitor is to check out some of the ‘blocos’ or block parties. They take place each and every day during Carnaval in different neighborhoods at different times. Each ‘bloco’ has different themes ranging from a celebration of ‘The Beatles’ to ‘R&B and hip hop.’ The blocos can also have ‘electric trios’ which are large trucks with huge sound systems where musicians on top of them sing famous samba or forro tunes to the crowd who often sing along with them as they cruise down an informal parade route.

These ‘electric trio’ trucks or floats can also include drum line groups or instrumental bands who walk down the parade route with these musicians. Each bloco has supporters who have specific shirts or costumes on to represent the theme of the block party as well. The trio truck or float is another symbol of Carnaval in Brazil similar to the block parties themselves, which can last from early in the morning until late at night.

While there is endless debate about where to go to celebrate Carnaval in Brazil, my hunch is that you won’t be disappointed if you go to either Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, or Recife. The great thing about Brazilian carnaval is each city is likely to have a different feel to it as well as different types of music as well as different kinds of blocos represented. Rio de Janeiro’s carnaval is the largest in the world but you may want to go with the carnaval in Salvador to see unique forms of samba and other music styles represented. If you want a somewhat more subdued carnaval experience, going to Sao Paulo may be what you’re looking for.

Carnaval in Brazil is not just about coastal cities as there are celebrations that are lower key and smaller in the state of Minas Gerais, located in the interior as well as in smaller cities such as Manaus, Porto Alegre, and Florianopolis. This month-long celebration has something for everyone and while I have celebrated carnaval before a few years ago in Colombia, I have never seen such a unifying event that brings a whole country together as it does in Brazil. If you are expecting to see a lot of tourist sites and enjoy some museums here, you may want to wait until after Carnaval to do just that. Instead, bring your best costume, study up on your Samba moves, and get ready to buy those tickets way in advance if you want to see the Sambadrome in all of its glory when you visit.

Experiencing Carnaval in Brazil is a really unique experience and opportunity that I would recommend to everybody who enjoys dancing, singing, listening to good music, and experience one of the most joyous celebrations in the world.