Greetings everyone! I have returned to the USA after almost 3 months in South America. It feels good to be able to see family and friends here again, but of course I am also a bit sad to be so far away from all of the wonderful people I met during the trip. Also, I have decided to move to the Washington, DC area and start a part-time masters program in statistics at Georgetown as of January 2011. Since my company has an office in Arlington, I will continue working full-time.

That said, I do have a few more stories I’d like to share from my time in Brazil. When I left off last time, I was in the Amazon. From Manaus, I took a plane to Rio de Janeiro. While there I stayed with my friend Leo’s family in a neighborhood called Humaitá. Leo, who once lived in Charlottesville and has a PhD in Philosophy, shared many fascinating insights into Brazilian history and architecture as we wandered around the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake, the Botanical Gardens, and of course the famous Ipanema and Copacabana beaches. Rio reminded me of Hong Kong in many ways. Both are cosmopolitan, semitropical coastal cities where steep, lushly forested mountains form a backdrop to skyscrapers and crowded beaches. One afternoon, Leo and I hiked up to a cable car station to watch the sunset from the top of the Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf), a giant vertical granite pillar jutting out of the shallow bay near the financial center. After stumbling back down the trail in the dark, we joined Nicole, an American W&L alumna who now lives in Brazil, and her husband Amod in the Lapa neighborhood to experience Rio’s legendary nightlife. It was just as impressive as one might imagine, with hundreds of people dancing in the streets (and it wasn’t even Carnival). On another occasion, Nicole and Amod took me to a street party in a favela near their home in the fast-growing suburb of Recreio dos Bandeirantes. While it is true that many favelas are basically slums and can be dangerous due to drug gangs, this one was relatively safe, and the people were quite friendly. It was amazing to see not only 20-somethings, but also older married couples and children dancing until late at night. While I admire the Carioca spirit of conviviality, I’m not sure I could survive trying to live there, because the constant excitement can be exhausting at times. So, when Leo needed to fly to Canada for academic business, I decided to explore some of the surrounding countryside on my own. Having the opportunity to visit a place as unique as Rio de Janeiro was certainly a dream come true for me, but Brazil is huge and diverse, and I am also glad I had the chance to see other aspects of the country, about which I will write soon.

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While visiting my friend Raniere in Manaus, we decided to go to the cinema. I wanted to see “Wall Street” but it was only playing late at night, so we got in line for the wildly popular action movie “Tropa de Elite 2.” At first, when I saw the poster, I thought it was a dubbed American film because the star appeared to be Mark Ruffalo. This made me want to leave immediately, since I consider him a terrible actor. Nevertheless, we went into the theater and to my pleasant surprise, the movie was entirely in (not dubbed) Portuguese, and the actor in question was actually the talented Wagner Moura. The plot focuses on a corps of police officers wrestling with both external threats from Rio de Janeiro’s notorious favela gangsters as well as politically connected corruption in their own ranks.  Overall it was a pretty good movie even though I didn’t understand everything. It reminded me of Hong Kong’s “Infernal Affairs” (which Americans know as “The Departed”). Here are pictures of Mark Ruffalo and Wagner Moura. Can you tell which is which?