Thoughts on Brazil.

Brazil. What to say about Brazil. i’ve been here since January 31st (it’s the 10th of February today.) Let’s start with facts – I love facts. Brazil is big. It’s about the size of the US, if you don’t mention Alaska. For some reason Simone hasn’t taught me how to say “you have a very nice little country.”

Countries by size – note the fall off from Australia(number 6) to India (number 7.)
Russia 17,075,400
Canada 9,976,140
United States 9,629,091
China 9,596,960
Brazil 8,511,965
Australia 7,686,850
India 3,287,590

Countries by GNP – note that the US kicks ass. Some statistics I have seen have Mexico higher than Brazil, but these are the latest. Mexico is about half the size of Brazil – see next stat.)
United States 8,708,870.00
Japan 4,395,083.00
Germany 2,081,202.00
France 1,410,262.00
United Kingdom 1,373,612.00
Italy 1,149,958.00
China 1,149,814.00
Brazil 760,345.00
Canada 612,049.00
Spain 562,245.00
Mexico 474,951.00
India 459,765.00

Most populous countries. Brazil is fifth. Bet you didn’t know that.
China – 1,294,629,555
India – 1,065,070,607
United States – 293,027,571
Indonesia – 238,452,952
Brazil – 184,101,109
Pakistan – 153,705,278
Russia – 144,112,353
Bangladesh – 141,340,476
Nigeria – 137,253,133
Japan – 127,333,002
Mexico – 104,959,594
Philippines – 86,241,697

What does all of this mean? Brazil is economically head and shoulders over the rest the countries in South and Central America I’ve seen. It’s civilized, and it’s pretty similar to the United States. Of course, there are differences. Here are a few of them. Let’s start with the negative.

Crime. Lot’s and lot’s of crime. I’m not really talking about jaywalking or bad driving (which I don’t think is a crime here.) I mean don’t stop at red lights at night because you might get mugged kind of crime. Simone, who is (I’m guessing) upper middle class here (father, brother and sister are all lawyers, but her sister is an actress, private catholic school growing up, etc.) had her purse stolen at gunpoint at a red light. Her brother, driving her fathers HiLux (AKA – 4 Runner) was kidnapped at gunpoint and help for a couple of hours before they let him go, keeping the truck. During the kidnapping, they told him they were going to kill him, etc. He had trouble sleeping for a while.

I was trying to figure out initially if she was over reacting about crime when I first met her, but I’ve been looking into statistics on the web, and found out about the above stories, and well, it’s a problem. The last year I can get statistics for (2003) Sao Paulo – a city of 18 million people, had 4000 + murders (one article listed over 11,000, but I couldn’t find anything to verify that.) The entire US, with 293 million people (from the above statistics) had a little over 14,000 murders. Seattle, with 3 million people (greater seattle area) had, by comparison, 23.

To deal with the crime, most middle class families live very sheltered lives. The houses have high walls, and you park your car in a locked garage. The children go to private schools, and when shopping, you enter a locked parking garage. People don’t walk anywhere, especially at night. Security guards are a huge business here. We went to WalMart (ugh – but her uncle wanted to buy some stuff before he went back to the US, and he works at one in the US.) There were two booths you had to pass through to get a card and to get into the parking lot, which was surrounded by a high fence. Once in the parking lot, you saw a security guard in a tower looking around, and another driving around on a motorcycle. This was common. Simone’s bank is not a normal branch – she’s some sort of five star bank customer, whatever that means. When entering her (five star customers only) branch, you’ve got to get buzzed in by a hidden security guard, one at a time. The first entrance is open to everyone. The second is controlled by the guard and only one person is allowed in at a time. You step inside the second small room, the door behind you closes, then the other door in front of you opens, and you are in the bank. While we were there once, I noticed that they didn’t allow a delivery guy to enter the bank – he had to leave the stuff for someone else to pick up. This wasn’t an uncommon experience.

Pollution. This is only about Sao Paulo, but it’s got a huge amount of pollution. It might just be that I’ve been here long enough for it to affect me, but I some of the same symptoms that you get with allergies but antihistamines don’t help. I even get a bit of a cough on bad days.

Driving. I’ve driven in Mexico City, New York City and now, Sao Paulo. It’s a big, hairy mess. What is odd to me though, is that people are polite. You hardly ever hear anyone honking a horn. Sometimes you’ll hear it, but it’s much different than anywhere else. Maybe people are scared of having to stop at a stoplight. People let other people in, and if you do a U turn in the street, people just stop for you. It’s quite nice, but traffic is still a mess. The lines on the road – I don’t think people know what they are for. After going to dinner with Simones Uncle and new Aunt, I drove. Her uncle said I drove like an american, which I took as a compliment. Her new Aunt said I was a good drive, which wasn’t that big of a deal until I realized that she used to be a truck driver in Santos – a city south of Sao Paulo (I think.) All over Sao Paulo, they have people on these little motorcycles (today, I finally saw a man sized motorcycle – it was a BMW 1100 RT.) everything else has been 150cc or maybe, 250cc. Lane splitting is a national pastime for these guys, and it does help them get around a lot faster than cars, but at a pretty big price. Today I saw the aftermath of my second accident, where one of these guys got hit. It always makes me sad, and glad I’m not on a motorcycle around here.

Portuguese. Speaking spanish doesn’t help – especially my butchered Spanish. And no one speaks english – maybe a word or two, but that’s about it. It would be pretty difficult with Simone around, taking care of me. Some of the problems are pretty mean. I found out, after getting a lot of odd looks, that the word for year (anos), in Spanish, sounds like the word for anus in Portuguese. Frankly, I think that’s just mean.

Getting stuff done. Well, it’s a pain. In my expensive hotel, I was trying to get the hotel to allow Simone to get buzzed from the elevator to the parking garage. Her other option is to walk outside the hotel into the parking garage. Frankly, I can’t think of any reason she should have to walk the extra distance, and outside the hotel (see above about crime), especially when all that is required is for someone to push a button. I went back and forth with the front desk guy, and all he could say is “it’s the rule.” Which makes absolutely no sense. Simone was translating for me, so I couldn’t really yell, since I would just be yelling at her, not at the front desk guy.

Later, we had to get an airline ticket so I could fly to Buenos Aires. We bought the ticket online, but had to go to the office of the company to pay. We gave someone my credit card, and they disappeared for almost an hour. Eventually I said (or rather Simone said for me) it’s been almost an hour – I want my credit card back. I’ll go somewhere else. By some miracle, they were done at almost exactly the same time. Obviously it doesn’t take an hour to process a credit card – they just didn’t think it was a high priority. Apparently much of Brazil is like that – it runs on it’s own schedule. And a lot of it is a struggle.

Size. Sao Paulo is HUGE. I’m staying on the 24th floor of a 27 story building. As I look out my window I see hundreds, if not thousands of huge apartment buildings. In any direction I can look I see large building after large building, for as far as the eye can see. I’m going to see if I can find any pictures to post, but from up here, it looks like a city of 18 million people.

On a related, and somewhat puzzling note, is there aren’t a lot of huge buildings, just lots of tall (20ish story) buildings. The largest building in Sao Paulo, and South America is supposed to be 51 stories, which would put it about 9th in Seattle (going by feet, not by stories.) The largest in Latin America is 55 stories, in Mexico City, and it’s new. I guess it’s more expensive to build the last, higher stories.

Lest you think that it’s all bad, there is a lot of good in the country.

People are polite everywhere I’ve been. Men and women will step aside to let someone pass. That didn’t happen in any of the other S.A. countries I’ve been in. In La Paz, people would just try and squeeze by little old ladies to get somewhere quicker. Everyone is, as far as I can tell by observing, very friendly. When we go to the store, or out to eat, often Simone will get into a conversation with the clerk, or waiter, or whoever. She’s friendly, but I’ve seen other people do that too. I think that is the reason there isn’t the honking of car horns like you see other places.

This place is cheap, sort of. The prices are a LOT higher than La Paz, but then again, it’s almost like living in the US. My very nice hotel, on the 24th floor, with a huge hot tub in the room, a pool, internet, and a fridge, cost me $36 a night – easily the most expensive hotel I’ve meant to stay in. But it’s a good neighborhood, and it’s got secure parking. And the internet. Did I ever mention I really like the internet? Food can be somewhat cheap if you buy carefully. Simone has a housekeeper. I don’t know how much she charges, but it’s pretty cheap, as in close to pocket change, and she’s there about five or six hours a day. Cars are cheap, but then again they are cheap little cars. They do sell my all time favorite small car – the Ford KA.

OK – that is all good, but what is _fantastic?_ Well, I hope my mother and other sensitive types have stopped reading by now.

I’m reminded of the conversation I had with god a long time ago.

Hey God – It’s me Greg.
Hey Greg, how’s it going.
Good. Say, god, I’m pretty fed up with these women in Seattle – pasty white, wearing too many clothes, and even a little out of shape. You know what I really want?
What’s that, Greg.
God, I want to live in a country where the women all have nice, full, round, backsides. I’m not much of a breast man, as you know, but I do love a nice round butt. Breast are nice, but anything over a C cup is just too showy – you know, too L.A. I appreciate ’em, but they are just sooo flashy – too much “Look at me, look at me.”
Have you been thinking a lot about this Greg?
God, yes. I mean, yes, God. Oh – and one more thing – just let me know if I’m getting greedy, OK. All the nice backsides are wonderful, but, like art, they need to be displayed. Tight Jeans should be required, like a commandment or something. And Cleavage. Just because I don’t like ’em showy doesn’t mean I don’t want to see some nice cleavage. Women are beautiful, I want to see ’em. Oh – and don’t forget a nice flat stomach, just peeking out from between the jeans and the belly baring shirt. Women tend to gain weight in their hips (again, thanks) – no reason not to see a beautiful flat stomach. Anyway, God, thanks for listening.
Greg – you know I’m a woman, right.
I bet you’re beautiful.

Anyway, god and I talked about just such a place one night (or was it the LSD?) And I land here in Brazil, and it’s like God finally listened. It’s full of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. I don’t mean “I’ve just leaving La Paz, so someone over 5’2″ with a waist is sexy.” I mean that I’ll be walking down the street and, involuntarily, a gasp of surprise will come from my lips. Occasionally I’ll just let out a small, quiet “thank you jesus” or “praise be”, or just a small chuckle and shake my head. Once in a while I drop to my knees and reach upward to the heavens, and start crying at the most beautiful backside I’ve ever seen. People stare, but that’s only fair – I’ve done my share of staring too. Frankly, I want to leave before I get used to such beauty. When the tears are gone, what reason do I have to go on?

Of course, after a full day of trying not to ogle these gorgeous women, I’m famished. That’s where the other really, reallly good thing about Brazil comes in. The word, my friend, is churrascaria. A churrascaria is a brazilian steak house. Incidentally, it reminds me of _another_ conversation with God ( I think I need to cut back on the LSD. ) It is the magic meat land that I thought could never exist. A place where men (OK – in my dreams it was bikini clad women, but that’s OK – they have big knives. Best to keep ’em out of the hands of women, given my past history) wander by bringing you endless amounts of meat. All types of meat – some pork, some chicken, even fish. Ribs, loin cuts, fillets and more. All juicy, and all just for me. I found myself developing a crush on the various waiters, depending on what they were carrying. It’s like I was a teenage girl, and they were a meaty n’sync. The chicken guy – well, he’s not much of a man is he. Don’t even get me started on the guy with fish – let’s just say he’s swimming against the current. The rib guy was the bad boy of the whole thing. Me – I only had eyes for the nice rib roast. The guy bringing it by was tall, with steel blue eyes, and a carving arm made of granite, wielding a knife that could cut the roast just thin enough that you didn’t need anything other than a fork. Oh – and he knew what he had. He was just aloof enough to keep me interested, but not so much that I had to find another. Others tried to interest me. The guy with the pork was certainly tempting – it was very, very good. But this was a damned STEAK house, not a pork house. He was barking up the wrong tree. Of course, there is a very nice salad bar, but I’m no fool. I’ll eat healthy later – as far as I was concerned it’s just there for the ladies. Oh – and how much for this meaty goodness? It’s just R$62, or about $24, and that included dessert.

Brazil – it’s a polluted, crime ridden, heaven on earth.