Thumbs Up for Brazil

It’s late April and still winter in Beijing, but two months ago, I got a preview of summer when I was in Brazil. I used to think that New York was halfway around the world from Beijing. But after my 14 hour flight to JFK (where I stopped to have lunch in the airport with my dad), I boarded yet another 10 hour flight to Sao Paulo – 17,599km all told as the crow flies. Only Argentina would be farther away.

It’s now been a while since I was there and this interminable Beijing winter has messed with my mind, so I apologize for only sharing the impressions of Brazil that I can still recall. I was there for about a week, in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janiero, and some of the coastal beach towns, mostly to see a good friend and her fiancĂ© who are living there this year, and partially to replenish my body’s store of Vitamin D. I was not there to observe anything intensely, except perhaps how to make a proper caipirinha.

Having said that, here’s what managed to stick in my mind:

1) Obrigada: I clearly don’t speak Portuguese. After living in China for 4 years, when I even tried to speak Spanish, it came out Mandarin. I did learn one word, obrigada, which means “thank you”, and think that’s all you really need. It’s said in the slow, chilled way that all Portuguese seems to spoken there — just enjoying the sound of itself. I don’t know if all Brazilian people are kind and helpful, but certainly the ones we met were (except that taxi driver that gave us a tour of all of Sao Paulo on “the way” back from the Carnival parade). People seemed happy to try to help everywhere we went — so really all you needed to be able to say was obrigada.

2) Diversity: When the flight attendant started speaking to me in Portuguese, I realized that — unlike in China — you cannot tell by looking at someone whether they are Brazilian. Brazil is full of immigrants. How well they get along I leave to other people to answer; the sun was too bright to tell from my beach blanket.

3) Food: Meat, fish, fruit — all amazingly fresh and well-prepared. No wonder my jeans were tight after a week there.

4) Carnival (Mardi Gras): We watched a Carnival parade in Sao Paulo the night we arrived, which lasted for 5 or 6 hours (longer than we did, anyway). The parade went down the middle of a street lined with stadium seats, to which one bought tickets. There were a thousands of people from the local communities wearing extremely elaborate costumes and dancing/shuffling to a repeating samba chorus. Ever few hundred dancers, there would be a fifty-foot tall float, often of a person dancing, with more people dancing on it. At the end, torn up costumes were lying around everywhere.

5) So pretty: Rio de Janiero must be the most beautiful city in the world, with tall buildings woven between green hills and blue lakes. And how our friend managed to keep his eye on the road when we were driving up the coast is a mystery — so pretty everywhere. I hear there’s a rain forest somewhere in there too…

6) Thumbs Up: This I loved: everyone gives each other a thumbs up after asking for directions, or having a door opened, or getting change back, whatever. There was just something really chilled out about the people there, and this thumbs up thing underscored it. Even before I arrived in Brazil, when I was getting my visa at the Brazilian Embassy here in Beijing, the Embassy guard just told me to swing the fence open and go on in. In the U.S. embassy, by contrast, you have to walk through four layers of xray machines, marines, and double-locked doors to get inside.

Sure, there’s more things to observe about a massive country like Brazil — poverty, development, BRIC status, sushi, churches and cemeteries, and helicopters come to mind — but let’s do this instead: when I see you next, I’ll make you a caipirinha, and we’ll find somewhere sunny to chat about it all. Would that work for you? Awesome. Obrigada.