Our big day started off nicely. Since Kali had arrived a day later than intended, she had missed the first walk down Copacabana Beach. Copacabana was just as beautiful as the first time I walked down it, although thankfully a little cooler. At Kali’s insistence, the three of us shed our socks and shoes and trekked down to the shoreline to enjoy the sand between our feet and the cool water rushing around our legs. Once we reached Forte de Copacabana – signaling the end of the beach – we continued around the corner to Ipanema, the neighboring beach and enjoyed the lovely coastal views so unique to the city of Rio de Janeiro.
Instead of walking back to our hotel, we decided to take the Metro back. I come from a city of only around 230,000 people, and as such, I have very little experience with underground transit. However, I have been to cities such as Shanghai, Taipei and Chicago and therefore have a general idea of what to expect when taking the Metro. I expected white, smooth-paneled walls, bright lights and basically a very artificial-looking tunnel-like system. What we found however, was an interesting mix of the natural and the artificial. The Metro stations had all the elements of a well-functioning station, stairs, platforms, tracks, lights, but all within the context of a large stone cavern. The walls weren’t smooth or white-paneled, but were exposed stone faces of the ground underneath. Rashiq commented on the beauty of this juxtaposition, saying something like “it’s not trying to be something it’s not. It looks like a tunnel in the ground and that’s what it is.” And I have to agree with him. After his comment I noticed that even the above-ground tunnels through Rio’s various hills were the same, the tunnels weren’t smooth concrete but rough edges of stone. I think this kind characteristic – the combination of natural and man-made – is found throughout Rio’s design. Just looking around one sees both hills and buildings, both towering together, almost complementing each other on the skyline. Rio de Janiero is home to the world’s largest city-surrounded urban forest, which is simply a testament to the cities continual respect of the natural world by integrating the natural and man-made worlds. For this reason I think Rio is a great city for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.
At 12:20 we all climbed into a shuttle bus and headed to the Rio+20 Pavilion Center, where we would be participating in the “Students for Sustainability” presentation/debate/competition (still not quite sure how to label it) in the UNEP Pavilion. Before the start of the presentations, we were given a little time to browse the Pavilion Center, where I quickly visited the pavilions of Brazil, Italy, China, USA and a few others. While the Pavilions were not as large or architecturally pleasing as the pavilions at the World Expo 2010 Shanghai, I was glad to see the emphasis on Sustainable Development.
In the UNEP Pavilion, six podiums with microphones were set up, each labeled with the team’s country. The Future Influencers sat behind the Multinational Podium, which I’m sure raised a few eyebrows in the audience seeing as all other podiums only had one country represented. Funnily enough, I noticed that within the program, my name was listed as “Ethn Yen”… I guess I deserved that. Thankfully, my name was written correctly on my name tag (although I was now part of the “Mutlinational” Team). It was great to hear what the other five teams were working on, each presentation definitely piqued my interest, and I could easily tell that each team put in hours and hours of effort into their projects and presentations. The format of the presentation consisted of presentations by two teams, and then a 20 minute Q&A session would commence between the two teams and the Judging Board which included the CSO of Siemens, CFO of Siemens Brazil, Chief Technology Officer of UNEP, the Director of Energy and Climate Change for the World Resources Institute, and a leading professor at COPPE. While the other teams had very locally-focused problems and solutions, our City Community idea worked on a far larger scale, which was an interesting change of pace. Our presentation went pretty smoothly, although I could have done better. But I came away from the presentation with a little more experience under my belt. In the end, the Judging Board awarded the second place prize to the South African Team for their work in energy production in remote villages and the first place prize to the Chinese Team for their work in converting waste oil into biogas. Both teams fully deserved their awards and I’m proud to be able to know all of the Students for Sustainability. While our team didn’t win, we were pleased to hear that the World Resource Institute was very interested in our idea and the promise it shows. It was an incredible honor to be a participating member of this event and being surrounded by so many incredibly intelligent, creative and passionate students and professionals.
After the end of the event, pictures were taken and Siemens TV approached a few of us for an interview. I’m sorry to say I probably didn’t provide Siemens a single usable sound bite; it was the first time I’ve ever been interviewed, perhaps with a few more I’ll get better.
Dinner with the Students for Sustainability was certainly a great time. The restaurant was once again a Brazilian Barbeque like the one I experienced on the night of my arrival. Thankfully, this restaurant provided us with small cards with one side labeled Sim and the other labeled Não to inform the waiters of whether or not our stomachs were ready to handle the massive influx of meat.
After Dinner, the Rio Team invited us for a night out in the neighborhood of Lapa, an area known for its historical monuments and nightlife. Being only 18, this was in fact the first time I was able to enter a Night Club (in the US you have to be 21) so it certainly was a nice way to relax. All in all, the day was full of new experiences that opened my eyes to the beauty of Rio and reaffirmed my passion for Sustainable Development with the knowledge that there are many friendly and intelligent people out there in the world just as, if not even more, passionate about it than myself. Thank you Siemens for giving me this incredible opportunity!