Brasilia was definitely the most…interesting… city that we visited. It is the capital of the country and is one of the few planned capitals in the world. The designers decided to section off the city based on category. For instance, there is a hotel district, a food district, a governmental district, a nightlife district, etc. This makes sense in theory and is seemingly efficient however; in practice it creates some difficulties.
The only place that we had to eat around our hotel was the mall that was across the street. Thank goodness that food court food in Brazil is not what it is in the US. We had sandwiches, sushi, pasta, pizza, steak, fish, etc. to choose from and it was all very good (even the sushi!) We would see people in suits here grabbing food and drinks after work, families, and couples on dates, etc. It was very funny that the sectionization of the city created for such an interesting mix of people in a food court.
When we visited the military district it was seemingly vacant of all other people besides ourselves and a few employees. Even a beautiful park that was across the street was completely empty. All of the residential areas are called Superquadros and are designed to have “Main Street” like areas with food, markets, pharmacies, etc. for each separate one thus no reason to travel away from home. It is seemingly futuristic and quite strange.
During a visit to the University of Brasilia (UnB) I learned all about the joke of an education system that Brazil has going on. Basically, the public university degree is what is most marketable or valuable to employers, however, to get into the public university you must pass an ACT-like test. The only way to be prepared to this test is to have gone to extremely expensive private primary and secondary schools–thus systematically discriminating and oppressing those who cannot afford them: Afro-Brazilians and impoverished Brazilians. The primary and secondary public school system is terribly underfunded–all funds go to making the public university free to all students– and is notoriously unsuccessful at preparing students for the ACT-like university entrance exam.
Another interesting thing that I learned about is a test that one must take in order to become a public employee. Once you pass this test, it is near impossible to be fired. This creates a lack of incentive to do work well and on time and a lack of accountability when you don’t. I have, as most Americans would, a hard time comprehending this.
A really enjoyable part about our trip to Brasilia was visiting the governmental sector of the city. The Praca de Tres Poderes–Plaza of There Powers– is complete with monuments to previous important Presidents and is, one 3 sides, surrounded by the three buildings of the governmental system: the executive, judicial and legislative. We visited the executive: The Palacio de Planalto. This is where the President works but unlike in the US, she does not live there. Both this buildings as well as Itamaraty–the building of the Ministry of External Affairs– were presented to us by tour guides who highlighted the museum-like aspects of the buildings (the art, architecture, tapestries, etc.) instead of talking about the work that is done in those places. Also, it was well explained, in each building, how many people each room could hold for a party, celebration, gathering, etc. and what type of events are held there. In Itamaraty these included much drinking and many things get broken at these parties (i.e. historical artifacts, paintings, windows, etc.) This, in a building in which we, the lowly visitor, could not even walk on the Persian rugs which the important officials get drunk and spill wine on…
Brasilia was indeed interesting, it is a city that I am glad to have visited and learned about and it is a city that I will be returning to pending the approval of our research grant. I look forward to returning and perhaps gaining a little more of an understanding as to why near 2 million people live there.