I like to see my life as a book. And I remember quite well the most recent chapters: the chain-reaction that led to my decision of studying astronomy, the first year as a student of physics, then the exchange period to Netherlands, the limbo-like period in which I dedicated to setting myself up to grad school… And now, I have just started it, so the last weeks have been quite hectic (reason why I haven’t written since the beginning of March). Two weeks ago, I moved to São Paulo, the biggest city of South America, so I could study astronomy at the Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of São Paulo (USP).
By the way, people who don’t know Portuguese almost always pronounce “São Paulo” in a weird way (at least for us) – which is completely fine! I always mispronounce Groningen, the city where I lived for one year, since I left there (but when I was there, I was dedicated to say it correctly). If you’re curious about our language, the tilde over the letter A means a sound like the U in the word “dump”. So, the correct pronunciation of “São” uses that sound instead of “Sao”. And if you’re even more curious, São Paulo is the Portuguese name if a saint – more specifically Saint Paul, in English.
I’m not new here in this city. I know, maybe all to well, how it is to live here: the long trips to get around the city, being always cautious with your stuff, the huge quantities of people, planning your day carefully to make it as efficient as possible, and, of course, dealing with the inefficiencies of the systems. And this is what really gets me, because I’ve been spoiled: Netherlands was too efficient, at almost everything. I don’t want to blame this country that I love so much for my frustrations with São Paulo, but it is impossible to not miss how good NL was when everything here is so slow and bureaucratic. Just as an example, when I lived in NL, we could simply order a free pre-paid SIM card for a cellphone and we would get it delivered at home. This can’t be done in Brazil: you have to go to a store and buy it, and this can be a pain in the ass if you live in a city like São Paulo.
Okay, that might have been a dumb example, but there are some other ones, such as the process we have to go through to get a simple magnetic card to use the public transport system here. I don’t have much to complain about the transport itself, because SPTrans, the company responsible for it, has been doing a fairly good job, I think. But here is the thing: in order to enjoy free or discounted transfers between buses, subways and trains, you have to have the magnetic card, and it can only be bought at very few selected stores sprinkled though the metropolis. The ones that carry student discounts have to be ordered by the school, and to get it from SPTrans, you have to wait in a 1-hour long line under the scorching Sun.
But enough complaining. Dang it, I didn’t want this post to have so much rant, but I guess that’s where my thoughts wandered, and I needed to vent. It’s fine that the systems are inefficient, things will never be perfect, I’ll get used to them. What I also need to get used to is the new routine. Grad school is different, there are more responsibilities. There is also the need to show my work to the world. I’ve been doing research on my own pace for some time, but I don’t think there are many products to be shown. I need to get into the game. Once I’m done with moving and dealing with the initial bureaucracies and headaches, I’ll will dedicate 100% to research (or at least that’s the plan). Yes, I do not have a definitive place to live yet, so I’m staying at my brothers’.
If you’re a prospective graduate student for the University of São Paulo, here is a pro tip: you don’t need to live near the campus. In fact, I would recommend not living there, because housing price is bloated, and the region is not very safe – especially to the west and southwest of the campus, where there is a favela nearby. I hear that thieves specifically target students that live around that region, because they usually carry notebooks and expensive cellphones. What I recommend is to get a place near a subway or train station, or near a bus station on a bus-only lane, and preferably in a building with 24h security (which we call “condomínio”). If the trip is too long, I found that the best way to spend the time is with a good book – a paper one, because ebooks and tablets attract too much attention and you may end up being robbed. Well, sorry for these kind of somber notes, but I just felt it needed to be stated.
I have a lot of ideas in mind to write more blog posts (such as the observations I did, pictures I’ve taken, my research projects, the recent astronomical happenings etc.), but I just haven’t found the time to materialize them. It’s been such crazy weeks lately, and it makes me feel bad that I’m not writing or being more productive. Moving is hard, but eventually things will settle down. Until then, I’ll try to keep at least the one-blog-post-per-week pace.